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|Native to||Mexico, United States|
|103 million (2014)|
L2: 7,080,000 in Mexico (2014)
|Latin (Spanish alphabet)|
Spanish was brought to Mexico in the 16th century. As in all other Spanish-speaking countries (including Spain), different accents and varieties of the language exist in different parts of the country, for both historical and sociological reasons. Among these, the varieties that are best known outside of the country are those of central Mexico—both educated and uneducated varieties—largely because the capital, Mexico City, hosts most of the mass communication media with international projection. For this reason, most of the film dubbing identified abroad with the label "Mexican Spanish" or "Latin American Spanish" actually corresponds to the central Mexican variety.
Mexico City was built on the site of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Besides the Aztecs or Mexica, the region was home to many other Nahuatl-speaking cultures as well; consequently many speakers of Nahuatl continued to live there and in the surrounding region, outnumbering the Spanish-speakers, and the Spanish of central Mexico incorporated a significant number of Hispanicized Nahuatl words and cultural markers. At the same time, as a result of Mexico City's central role in the colonial administration of New Spain, the population of the city included a relatively large number of speakers from Spain, and the city and the neighboring State of Mexico tended historically to exercise a standardizing effect over the language of the entire central region of the country.
The territory of contemporary Mexico is not coextensive with what might be termed Mexican Spanish. The Spanish spoken in the southernmost state of Chiapas, bordering Guatemala, resembles the variety of Central American Spanish spoken in that country, where voseo is used. Meanwhile, to the north, many Mexicans stayed in Texas after its independence from Mexico, and their descendants continue to speak a variety of Spanish known as "Tex-Mex". And after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo many Mexicans remained in the territory ceded to the U.S., and their descendants have continued to speak Spanish within their communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. In addition, the waves of 19th- and 20th-century migration from Mexico to the United States (mostly to the formerly Mexican area of the Southwest) have contributed greatly to making Mexican Spanish the most widely spoken variety of Spanish in the United States. The Spanish spoken in the Gulf coastal areas of Veracruz and Tabasco and in the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo exhibits more Caribbean phonetic traits than that spoken in the rest of Mexico. And the Spanish of the Yucatán Peninsula is distinct from all other forms in its intonation and in the incorporation of Mayan words.
The First Mexican Empire comprised what is present-day El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, aside from the mentioned present states of United States; thus dialects of Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Honduran, New Mexican, Nicaraguan, and Salvadoran Spanish were originally included in the dialects of Mexican Spanish.
Regarding the evolution of the Spanish spoken in Mexico, the Swedish linguist Bertil Malmberg points out that in Central Mexican Spanish—unlike most varieties in the other Spanish-speaking countries—the vowels lose strength, while consonants are fully pronounced. Malmberg attributes this to a Nahuatl substratum, as part of a broader cultural phenomenon that preserves aspects of indigenous culture through place names of Nahuatl origin, statues that commemorate Aztec rulers, etc. The Mexican linguist Juan M. Lope Blanch, however, finds similar weakening of vowels in regions of several other Spanish-speaking countries; he also finds no similarity between the vowel behavior of Nahuatl and that of Central Mexican Spanish; and thirdly, he finds Nahuatl syllable structure no more complex than that of Spanish. Furthermore, Nahuatl is not alone as a possible influence, as there are currently more than 90 native languages spoken in Mexico, and they all contribute to the diversity of accents found throughout the country. For example, the intonation of some varieties of Mexican Spanish is said to be influenced by that of indigenous languages, including some which are tone languages (e.g. Zapotec). The tonal patterns and overlengthening of the vowels in some forms of Mexican Spanish were particularly strong among mestizos who spoke one of the native Mexican languages as their first language and Spanish as a second language, and it continues so today.
b, v [b]
|c, qu [k]
g, gu [ɡ]
|cu [kʷ] |
gu, gü, hu [ɡʷ]
|Approximant||b, v [β]||d [ð]||i, hi, ll, y [j]||g, gu [ɣ]||u, hu [w]|
gu, gü, hu [ɣʷ]
ll, y [dʒ]
|ll, y [ɟʝ] ~ [ʝ]|
|Fricative||f [f]||c, s, z [s]
s, z [z]
|ch, x [ʃ]||j, g, x [x]||j, g, s, x [h]||ju [xʷ] ~ [hʷ]|
|Nasal||m, n [m]||n, m [n]||ñ, n [ɲ]||n [ŋ]|
|Trill||r, rr [r]|
Due to influence from indigenous languages, such as Nahuatl, the set of affricates in Mexican Spanish includes a voiceless alveolar affricate [t͡s] and a voiceless alveolar lateral affricate [t͡ɬ], represented by the respective digraphs ⟨tz⟩ and ⟨tl⟩, as in the words tlapalería [t͡ɬapaleˈɾia] ('hardware store') and coatzacoalquense [koat͡sakoalˈkense] ('from [the city of] Coatzacoalcos'). Even words of Greek and Latin origin with ⟨tl⟩, such as Atlántico and atleta, are pronounced with the affricate: [aˈt͡ɬãn̪t̪iko̞], [aˈt͡ɬe̞t̪a] (compare [aðˈlãn̪t̪iko̞], [aðˈle̞t̪a] in Spain and other dialects in Hispanic America).
In addition to the usual voiceless fricatives of other American Spanish dialects (/f/, /s/, /x/), Mexican Spanish also has the palatal sibilant /ʃ/, mostly in words from indigenous languages—especially place names. The /ʃ/, represented orthographically as ⟨x⟩, is commonly found in words of Nahuatl or Mayan origin, such as Xola [ˈʃola] (a station in the Mexico City Metro). The spelling ⟨x⟩ can additionally represent the phoneme /x/ (also mostly in place names), as in México itself (/ˈmexiko/); or /s/, as in the place name Xochimilco—as well as the /ks/ sequence (in words of Greco-Latin origin, such as anexar /anekˈsar/), which is common to all varieties of Spanish. In many Nahuatl words in which ⟨x⟩ originally represented [ʃ], the pronunciation has changed to [x] (or [h])—e.g. Jalapa/Xalapa [xaˈlapa].
Regarding the pronunciation of the phoneme /x/, the articulation in most of Mexico is velar [x], as in caja [ˈkaxa] ('box'). However, in some (but not all) dialects of southern Mexico, the normal articulation is glottal [h] (as it is in most dialects of the Caribbean, the Pacific Coast, the Canary Islands, and most of Andalusia and Extremadura in Spain). Thus, in these dialects, México, Jalapa, and caja are respectively pronounced [ˈmehiko], [haˈlapa], and [ˈkaha]. In dialects of Oaxaca, much of Chiapas and the southern Highland and interior regions, the pronunciation of /x/ is uvular [χ]. This is identical to the Mayan pronunciation of the dorsal fricative which, unlike the Spanish romanization ⟨x⟩, in Mayan languages is commonly represented orthographically by ⟨j⟩. (In Spanish spelling before the 16th century, the letter ⟨x⟩ represented /ʃ/; historical shifts have moved this articulation to the back of the mouth in all varieties of the language except Judaeo-Spanish.)
In Northern Western Mexican Spanish, Peninsular Oriental, Oaxaqueño and in eastern variants influenced by Mayan languages, [tʃ], represented by ⟨ch⟩, tends to be deaffricated to [ʃ], a phonetic feature typical of both Mayan languages and southwestern Andalusian Spanish dialects.
All varieties of Mexican Spanish are characterized by yeísmo: the letters ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨y⟩ correspond to the same phoneme, /j/. That phoneme, in most variants of Mexican Spanish, is pronounced as either a palatal fricative [ʝ] or an approximant [j] in most cases, although after a pause it is instead realized as an affricate [ɟʝ ~ dʒ].
Also present in most of the interior of Mexico is the preservation (absence of debuccalization) of syllable-final /s/; this, combined with frequent unstressed vowel reduction, gives the sibilant /s/ a special prominence. This situation contrasts with that in the coastal areas, on both the Pacific and the Gulf Coastal sides, where the weakening or debuccalization of syllable-final /s/ is a sociolinguistic marker, reflecting the tension between the Mexico City norm and the historical tendency towards consonantal weakening characteristic of coastal areas in Spanish America. Dialects of both the Pacific and the Gulf Coast have received more influences from Andalusian and Canarian Spanish dialects.
A striking feature of Mexican Spanish, particularly that of central Mexico, is the high rate of reduction and even elision of unstressed vowels, as in [ˈtɾasts] (trastes, 'cooking utensils'). This process is most frequent when a vowel is in contact with the phoneme /s/, so that /s/+ vowel + /s/ is the construction when the vowel is most frequently affected. It can be the case that the words pesos, pesas, and peces are pronounced the same [ˈpesəs]. The vowels are slightly less frequently reduced or eliminated in the constructions /t, p, k, d/ + vowel + /s/, so that the words pastas, pastes, and pastos may also be pronounced the same /ˈpasts/.
Mexican Spanish is a tuteante form of the language (i.e. using tú and its traditional verb forms for the familiar second person singular). The traditional familiar second person plural pronoun vosotros—in colloquial use only in Spain—is found in Mexico only in certain archaic texts and ceremonial language. However, since it is used in many Spanish-language Bibles throughout the country, most Mexicans are familiar with the form and understand it. An instance of it is found in the national anthem, which all Mexicans learn to sing: Mexicanos, al grito de guerra / el acero aprestad y el bridón.
Central Mexico is noted for the frequent use of diminutive suffixes with many nouns, adverbs, and adjectives, even where no semantic diminution of size or intensity is implied. Most frequent is the -ito/ita suffix, which replaces the final vowel on words that have one. Words ending with -n use the suffix -cito/cita. Use of the diminutive does not necessarily denote small size, but rather often implies an affectionate attitude; thus one may speak of "una casita grande" ('a nice, big house').
When the diminutive suffix is applied to an adjective, often a near-equivalent idea can be expressed in English by "nice and [adjective]". So, for example, a mattress (un colchón) described as blandito might be "nice and soft", while calling it blando might be heard to mean "too soft".
Frequent use of the diminutive is found across all socioeconomic classes, but its "excessive" use is commonly associated with lower-class speech.
In some regions of Mexico, the diminutive suffix -ito is also used to form affectives to express politeness or submission (cafecito, literally "little coffee"; cabecita, literally "little head"; chavito "little boy"), and is attached to names (Marquitos, from Marcos; Juanito, from Juan—cf. Eng. Johnny) denoting affection. In the northern parts of the country, the suffix -ito is often replaced in informal situations by -illo (cafecillo, cabecilla, morrillo, Juanillo).
The augmentative suffix -(z)ote is typically used in Mexico to make nouns larger, more powerful, etc. For example, the word camión, in Mexico, means bus; the suffixed form camionzote means "big or long bus". It can be repeated just as in the case of the suffixes -ito and -ísimo; therefore camionzotototote means "very, very, very big bus".
The suffix -uco or -ucho and its feminine counterparts -uca and -ucha respectively, are used as a disparaging form of a noun; for example, the word casa, meaning "house", can be modified with that suffix (casucha) to change the word's meaning to make it disparaging, and sometimes offensive; so the word casucha often refers to a shanty, hut or hovel. The word madera ("wood") can take the suffix -uca (maderuca) to mean "rotten, ugly wood".
Other suffixes include, but are not limited to: -azo as in carrazo, which refers to a very impressive car (carro) such as a Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz; -ón, for example narizón, meaning "big-nosed" (nariz = "nose"), or patona, a female with large feet (patas).
It is common to replace /s/ with /tʃ/ to form diminutives, e.g. Isabel → Chabela, José María → Chema, Cerveza ("beer") → Cheve, Concepción → Conchita, Sin Muelas ("without molars") → Chimuela ("toothless"). This is common in, but not exclusive to, Mexican Spanish.
Typical of Mexican Spanish is an ellipsis of the negative particle no in a main clause introduced by an adverbial clause with hasta que:
- Hasta que me tomé la pastilla se me quitó el dolor. (Until I took the pill, the pain did not go away.)
In this kind of construction, the main verb is implicitly understood as being negated.
Mexico shares with many other areas of Spanish America the use of interrogative qué in conjunction with the quantifier tan(to):
- ¿Qué tan graves son los daños? (How serious are the damages?) (Compare the form typical of Spain: "¿Hay muchos daños?" (Is there a lot of damage?))
- ¿Qué tan buen cocinero eres? (How good a cook are you?) (Compare Spain's "¿Eres buen cocinero?" (Are you a good cook?))
It has been suggested that there is influence of indigenous languages on the syntax of Mexican Spanish (as well as that of other areas in the Americas), manifested, for example, in the redundant use of verbal clitics, particularly lo.
Mexican Spanish, like that of many other parts of the Americas, prefers the preposition por in expressions of time spans, as in
- "Fue presidente de la compañía por veinte años" (He was the president of the company for twenty years)—compare the more frequent use of durante in Spain: "Fue presidente de la compañia durante veinte años."
A more or less recent phenomenon in the speech of central Mexico, having its apparent origin in the State of Mexico, is the use of negation in an unmarked yes/no question. Thus, in place of "¿Quieres...?" (Would you like...?), there is a tendency to ask "¿No quieres...?" (Wouldn't you like...?).
Mexican Spanish retains a number of words that are considered archaic in Spain.
Also, there are a number of words widely used in Mexico which have Nahuatl, Mayan or other native origins, in particular names for flora, fauna and toponyms. Some of these words are used in most, or all, Spanish-speaking countries, like chocolate and aguacate ("avocado"), and some are only used in Mexico. The latter include guajolote "turkey" < Nahuatl huaxōlōtl [waˈʃoːloːt͡ɬ] (although pavo is also used, as in other Spanish-speaking countries); papalote "kite" < Nahuatl pāpālōtl [paːˈpaːloːt͡ɬ] "butterfly"; and jitomate "tomato" < Nahuatl xītomatl [ʃiːˈtomat͡ɬ]. For a more complete list see List of Spanish words of Nahuatl origin.
Other expressions that are unique to colloquial Mexican Spanish include:
- ahorita: "soon; in a moment". Literally "right now". E.g. Ahorita que acabe, "As soon as I finish (this)". Considered informal.
- bronca: "fight" or "problem". Literally "aggressive woman or girl, or wild female animal". Commonly used among young people.
- bronco: "wild, untame". E.g. leche bronca: "unpasteurized milk".
- camión: "bus"
- chavo (chava); chamaco (chamaca); chilpayate: "a child, teen, or youngster". Also huerco (huerca), morro (morra), and plebe are used in northern Mexico. All these terms except chilpayate are also found in their diminutives: chavito, chamaquito, huerquito, morrito. Considered informal.
- chequear/checar: "to check (verify)"
- chichi(s): "breast(s)". From Nahuatl chīchīhualli [tʃiːtʃiːwɑlːi]. Considered informal.
- chido: "cool, attractive, fun, etc."
- chingadera: "trash; crap". Considered vulgar.
- chingado: "damned". Considered vulgar.
- chingar: "to screw/ruin/rob/steal/fuck/work/eat". Vulgar.
- cholo: In northern Mexico, equivalent to the English term gangsta; in the rest of Mexico, equivalent to the Spanish term pandillero ("hooligan", "gang member"), which refers to young slum-dwellers living in conditions of extreme poverty, drug dependency, and malnutrition.
- durazno: "peach"
- En un momento: "Just a minute", "Hold on a second", etc. Literally "in a moment".
- escuincle: "a bratty child" or "squirt". From Nahuatl itzcuīntli [it͡skʷiːnt͡ɬi], "dog".
- Este...: a filler word, similar to American English "um". Literally, "this". Also used in other countries.
- güero: "light-haired and/or light-skinned person".
- güey, wey or buey: "dude", "guy" (literally, "ox"). As an adjective, "dumb", "asinine", "moronic", etc. Not to be confused with "Huey" from the Aztec title "Huey Tlatoani", in which "Huey" is a term of reverence.
- hablar con: "to talk with (on the telephone)". Used in place of the standard llamar.
- macho: "manly". Applied to a woman (macha): "manly" or "skillful".
- naco: "a low-class, boorish, foolish, ignorant and/or uneducated person". Pejorative.
- Órale: (1) similar to English "Wow!" (2) "Okay". (3) Exclamation of surprised protest. Abbreviated ¡Ora! by low-class people in their uneducated variety. May be considered rude.
- padre: used as an adjective to denote something "cool", attractive, good, fun, etc. E.g. Esta música está muy padre, "This music is very cool." Literally, "father".
- pedo: "problem" or "fight". Literally "fart". Also, in a greeting, ¿Qué pedo, güey? ("What's up, dude?"). As an adjective, "drunk", e.g. estar pedo, "to be drunk". Also the noun peda: "a drunken gathering". All forms are considered vulgar for their connection to pedo, "fart".
- pelo chino: "curly hair". The word chino derives from the Spanish word cochino, "pig". The phrase originally referenced the casta (racial type) known as chino, meaning a person of mixed indigenous and African ancestry whose hair was curly. Sometimes erroneously thought to be derived from Spanish chino, "Chinese".
- pinche: "damned", "lousy", more akin to "freaking". E.g. Quita tu pinche cara de aquí. ("Take your lousy face away from here"). As a noun, literally, "kitchen assistant". Considered vulgar.
- popote: "drinking straw". From Nahuatl popōtl [popoːt͡ɬ], the name of a plant from which brooms and drinking straws are made, or the straws themselves.
- rentar: "to rent"
- ¿Cómo la ves?: "What do you think about it?" Literally "How do you see it?"
- ¡Híjole!: An exclamation, used variously to express surprise, frustration, etc. From hijo de... ("son of a..."). Also ¡Híjoles!.
- ¿Mande?: "Beg your pardon?". From mandar, "to order", formal command form. ¿Cómo? (literally "How?"), as in other countries, is also in use. The use of ¿Qué? ("What?") on its own is sometimes considered impolite, unless accompanied by a verb: ¿Qué dijiste? ("What did you say?").
- ¡Puta madre!: "Oh shit!". Literally, "Whore Mother!". Considered vulgar.
- ¿Qué onda?: "What's up?". Literally, "What's the vibe?".
Most of the words above are considered informal (e.g. chavo(a), padre, güero, etc.), rude (güey, naco, ¿cómo (la) ves?, etc.) or vulgar (chingadera, pinche, pedo, etc.) and are limited to slang use among friends or in informal settings; foreigners need to exercise caution in their use. In 2009, at an audience for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Mexico and the Netherlands, the then Crown Prince of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, made a statement to the audience with a word which, in Mexican Spanish, is considered very vulgar. Evidently oblivious to the word's different connotations in different countries, the prince's Argentine interpreter used the word chingada as the ending to the familiar Mexican proverb "Cámaron que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente" (A sleeping shrimp is carried away by the tide), without realizing the vulgarity associated with the word in Mexico. The prince, also unaware of the differences, proceeded to say the word, to the bemusement and offense of some of the attendees.
New Mexican Spanish has many similarities with an older version of Mexican Spanish. The small amount of Spanish spoken in the Philippines has traditionally been influenced by Mexican Spanish (as the territory was initially administered for the Spanish crown by Mexico City and later controlled by Acapulco). Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole language in the Philippines, is based on Mexican Spanish.
- Spanish → Mexico at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Similar to Central American Spanish in border zones and on low-class speakers.
- "VoseoEnMexico-Chiapas.pdf". Scribd. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Not to be confused with the poet Bertil F. H. Malmberg.
- Malmberg (1964:227–243); rpt. Malmberg 1965: 99-126 and Malmberg 1971: 421-438.
- Lope Blanch (1967:153–156)
- "Clasificación de lenguas indígenas", Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática, n.d., p. 2.
- Lope Blanch (2004:29)
- Canfield, D[elos] Lincoln (1981), Spanish Pronunciation in the Americas
- This same phoneme is rendered as /y/ by many authors, including Canfield and Lipski, using the convention of the Revista de Filología Española.
- Canfield (1981:62)
- Lipski (1994:279)
- Canfield (1981:61)
- Cotton & Sharp (1988:154–155)
- Lope Blanch (1972:53)
- Kany, p. 330
- Hernández Cuevas, M.P. The Mexican Colonial Term "Chino" Is a Referent of Afrodescendant. The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.5, June 2012.
- "Spanish quote gets prince into trouble". DutchNews.nl. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Canfield, D[elos] Lincoln (1981). Spanish Pronunciation in the Americas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-09262-3. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Cotton, Eleanor Greet; Sharp, John (1988). Spanish in the Americas. Georgetown University Press. ISBN 0-87840-094-X. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Kany, Charles E. (1951) [1st ed. 1945]. American-Spanish Syntax. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-42407-3. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Lope Blanch, Juan M. (1967), "La influencia del sustrato en la fonética del español de México", Revista de Filología Española, 50 (1): 145–161
- Lope Blanch, Juan M. (1972). "En torno a las vocales caedizas del español mexicano". Estudios sobre el español de México (PDF). Mexico: editorial Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. pp. 53–73. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Lope Blanch, Juan M. (2004). Cuestiones de filología mexicana. Mexico: editorial Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. ISBN 978-970-32-0976-7. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Malmberg, Bertil (1964), "Tradición hispánica e influencia indígena en la fonética hispanoamericana", Presente y futuro de la lengua española, 2, Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica, pp. 227–243
- Malmberg, Bertil (1965), "Tradición hispánica e influencia indígena en la fonética hispanoamericana", Estudios de fonética hispánica, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investicagión Científica, pp. 99–126
- Malmberg, Bertil (1971), "Tradición hispánica e influencia indígena en la fonética hispanoamericana", Phonétique général et romane: Études en allemand, anglais, espagnol et français, The Hague: Mouton, pp. 421–438
- Moreno De Alba, José G (2003). Suma De Minucias Del Lenguaje. Mexico: editorial Fondo De Cultura Económica.
- Jergas de habla hispana—A Spanish dictionary specializing in dialectal and colloquial variants of Spanish, featuring all Spanish-language countries including Mexico.
- Latin American Spanish—This is the universal and somewhat arbitrary name that is given to idiomatic and native expressions and to the specific vocabulary of the Spanish language in Latin America.
- Güey Spanish—Mexican slang dictionary and flashcards.
- Mexican Spanish slang—Several hundred words of Mexican slang and English meanings.