English in New Mexico

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English in New Mexico
Region New Mexico
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

English in New Mexico refers to varieties of Western American English and Chicano English native to the U.S. state of New Mexico.[1] Neighboring languages in the region include New Mexican Spanish, Navajo, and numerous other Native American languages.


After the Mexican–American War, New Mexico and all its inhabitants came under the governance of the English-speaking United States, and for the next hundred years, English speakers increased in number.[2] The numbers increased especially thanks to the trade-routes of the Old Spanish Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. New Mexico was culturally isolated after the New Mexico Campaign during the American Civil War. Aside from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, the isolation was similar to when New Mexico was culturally isolated from the rest of Spanish America. In 1910, English became the more widely spoken language in New Mexico,[3] however New Mexican Spanish is popular and still spoken throughout the state and, as such, is given a special status of recognition.[4] After statehood, the Spanish dialect continued to evolve, alongside newcomers, thanks to increases in travel, for example, along U.S. Route 66.[5] Some words, such as coyote, have become loanwords into American English after becoming so prevalent in Spanish-influenced New Mexican English.[6] Navajo English is a big part of the New Mexican History. There are lots of reservations located in New Mexico. Apachean languages are almost the same as Navajo English and arrived in the southwest from the north by 1500 CE.

Phonological features

According to 2006 dialect research, Albuquerque and Santa Fe natives speak Western American English, though with a local development: a full–fool merger (or near-merger), in which pool for example merges towards the sound of pull.[7] In this north-central region of the state, studies have also documented a local type of Chicano English – Northern New Mexico Chicano English – primarily spoken by rural Hispanic New Mexicans, and characterized by a unique vowel shift.[8][9][10] Such studies show that the English of bilingual New Mexican Chicanos has been found to have a lower/shorter/weaker voice-onset time than that of typical monolingual New Mexicans,[11] and the former are more likely to show monophthongization of the // vowel.[12]

Lexical overview

Scholarship on the English of New Mexico mostly mentions the region's unique vocabulary. The vocabulary of the Spanish and Native American languages has intermixed with English in the state of New Mexico, leading to unique loanwords and interjections.[1] Multiple places across New Mexico also have names originating from various language other than English, including New Mexican Spanish, Navajo, and Tiwa. Due to this, some places even have multiple names.[13]

Words and phrases

Some characteristic usage in English (often borrowed from Spanish):

Spanish arroyo ('gulch', 'creek') is frequently used in the English of New Mexico, as on this sign for a paved Albuquerque drainage ditch that was once a natural ravine.
  • A la maquina [ä lä ˈmäːkinä] (literally 'to the machine' in Spanish): usually used as a startled expression, sometimes shortened to a la.[14]
  • Acequia: the word for 'ditch' in Spanish, and common within the entire Rio Grande Valley.[15][1]
  • Canales: Spanish for 'rain and street gutters', heard in the northern parts of the state.[1]
  • Coke: any generic carbonated soft drink, as also commonly used in Southern American English.[16] In Santa Fe and Albuquerque, however, it is often soda.[17]
  • Corazón: the word for 'heart' in Spanish, can be connotative of sweetheart/dear, courage, and spirit.[18]
  • Howdy (contraction of how do you do): used as a greeting in Western American English, including Texan English and throughout rural regions of New Mexico.[19]
  • O sí (seguro): [14] literally 'Oh yeah (sure)' in Spanish, is used as an ironic reaction or as a sincere questioning of a statement.
  • Ombers [ˈɒmbɚːz]: an interjection commonly used to express playful disapproval or shaming of another, similar to tsk tsk.[14]
  • Sick to the stomach: from Northern American English, a term to describe feeling very upset, worried, or angry.[1]
  • Vigas: the Spanish word for 'rafters', especially common in the northern part of the state.[1]

Miscellaneous features

  • Or what and or no are added to ends of sentences to emphasize or seek confirmation of the prior question.[14] Examples, "Can you see, or no?" or "Are we late, or what?"
  • New Mexico chile has had a large impact on New Mexico's cultural heritage, so large in fact, that it was entered into the Congressional Record as being spelled chile, and not chili.[20][21] In New Mexico there is a differentiation for chili, which most New Mexicans equate to chili con carne.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Encyclopedia.com 2010.
  2. ^ Julyan & Till 1999, p. 12.
  3. ^ Valle 2003, p. 15.
  4. ^ Domenici 2004, p. 10664.
  5. ^ Hinckley 2012, p. 9.
  6. ^ University of New Mexico 1948.
  7. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:67, 70)
  8. ^ Hernández, Pilar (1993). "Vowel shift in Northern New Mexico Chicano English. Mester 22: 227-234.
  9. ^ Busby, M. (2004). The Southwest. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures. Greenwood Press. pp. 270–271. ISBN 978-0-313-32805-3. Retrieved August 29, 2014 – via Google Books. 
  10. ^ Hernández, Pilar (1993). "Vowel shift in Northern New Mexico Chicano English". Mester. 22: 227–234. 
  11. ^ Balukas, Colleen; Koops, Christian (2014). "Spanish-English bilingual voice onset time in spontaneous code-switching". International Journal of Bilingualism. doi:10.1177/1367006913516035. ISSN 1367-0069. Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  12. ^ High Desert Linguistics 2014, p. 21.
  13. ^ Valdez 2011.
  14. ^ a b c d Wilson 2015.
  15. ^ Wozniak 1998.
  16. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:289)
  17. ^ Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  18. ^ Madrid 2011, p. 304.
  19. ^ Skandera 2007, p. 355.
  20. ^ King 2009.
  21. ^ Smith & Kraig 2013.
  22. ^ Montaño 2001.


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  • Balukas, Colleen; Koops, Christian (2014). "Spanish-English bilingual voice onset time in spontaneous code-switching". International Journal of Bilingualism. doi:10.1177/1367006913516035. ISSN 1367-0069. Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  • Gilbert, G. G.; Ornstein-Galicia, J. L. (1978). Problems in applied educational sociolinguistics: Readings on language and culture problems of United States ethnic groups. Janua Linguarum: Series Minor. Walter de Gruyter GmbH. ISBN 978-90-279-7726-7. Retrieved November 4, 2015 – via Google Books. 
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  • Domenici, Pete (2004). "Resolution to express the sense of the Senate regarding English plus other languages". Congressional Record. United States Congress. 145 (Pt. 8: May 24, 1999 to June 8 1999). ISBN 978-0-16-073054-2. Retrieved May 27, 2015 – via Google Books. 
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  • Wozniak, Frank E. (1998). Irrigation in the Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico: A study and annotated bibliography of the development of irrigation systems (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved January 8, 2015. 
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