New Mexican Spanish

Wikipedia has many excellent entries on regional dialects. I’m wary of taking all its information at face value, but the site provides good links to relevant sociolinguistics texts that would be tricky for laypeople to track down otherwise.

That being said, the site has some peculiar un-sourced dialect articles that leave me both scratching my head and yearning for more. One of my favorites is a little artitle entitled New Mexican Spanish. Its section on phonology is particularly notable. For instance, apparently this variety of Spanish renders pronounces /s/ as [h] at the beginning and middle of words so that…

somos así



Also, /b/ before /w/ apparently becomes [g], so that abuelo sounds like aguelo. And /n/ is sometimes inserted before “ch” so that muchos becomes munchos.

I can’t verify whether this information reflects contemporary use, as the article cites few sources. Which is a shame, because New Mexican Spanish has a rich and important history, dating back to Spanish settlement in the area around Santa Fe, Taos, and Los Alamos. I tracked down a century-old text via Google Books on New Mexican Spanish (there are some JSTOR articles, but I don’t have access) which suggests a variety quite different than the kind of Spanish we learn in school.

For instance, according to the author, this dialect would have had a rounded front vowel for /ue/ words like “bueno” (bu̯œno) and “muerto” (mu̯œrto). It also would have had Russian-esque vowel reduction, so that “tirar” would have been tɪɾaɾ, “de nada” would have presumably been something like də nadɐ, and “unidos” would have been along the lines of ʊnidʊs. (If my extrapolations of early IPA are correct).

New Mexican Spanish is, in fact, one of the oldest native dialects in the United States, preceding most of the more established English varieties. Which is why it’s a shame that one of the most recent articles I could find about the topic is titled New Mexican Spanish: Demise of the Earliest European Variety in the United States. Is this dialect still going strong?


About Ben

Ben T. Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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16 Responses to New Mexican Spanish

  1. Sam Huddy says:

    I’ve always been curious about Spanish dialects within the United States. Scholarly papers seem to assume that they mirror whatever hispanophone country is nearest to the US region being discussed, but I know from experience that the Spanish spoken in San Francisco is different from that of Los Angeles.

  2. Nico says:

    It’s strange to think that New Mexican Spanish could have something like heheo, which is previously known to be exclusive to Western Andalusian Spanish. Even then, heheo is not as widespread these days as seseo, ceceo, or even distinción in Andalusia.

    I have no information on the native dialect of New Mexico. Spanish speakers I’ve met from New Mexico were originally Mexican immigrants or descendants, so they spoke Spanish that was familiarly Mexican in accent and vocabulary.

  3. Charles Sullivan says:

    If you live anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania you’re eligible for a library card at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Free Library has online access to JSTOR.

  4. Rodger C says:

    The form munchos is characteristic of Ladino/Zhudesmo too, I think.

    One of my Spanish professors at DLI Monterey in 1969 was a proud speaker of Californio Spanish, as distinct from Chicano. One of its diagnostic fratures was that -illo was pronounced identically with -ío.

    • Sam Huddy says:

      What part of California was he from?

      • Rodger C says:

        I don’t know where he originally hailed from in the state.

        By the way, Nico, surely heheo is found in several New World varieties of Spanish?

        • Nico says:

          I’m not too sure about heheo anywhere in Latin America. I sure have never met a Latin American with heheo. Even if it does exist, I imagine it must be in small, isolated communities.

          Otherwise, heheo is found in Andalucía (southern Spain) particularly in the western provinces of Sevilla, Huelva, Córdoba, and Cádiz. However, this feature is largely concentrated in rural areas and mainly in older people (50+). Heheo is highly stigmatized even by many Andalusians, so it’s quickly fading away. Young people definitely don’t have heheo at all.

  5. Rodger C says:

    I’ve heard heheo from many of the Mexicans I’ve known in various parts of the US and most of the Puerto Ricans I knew in the Army. I suspect Nico and I have been exposed to different classes of Latin Americans.

    • Rodger C says:

      To say nothing of most of the population of Panama when I was stationed there, and a good number of Cubans as well.

      • Nico says:

        Are you sure you mean heheo and not just post-syllabic s-aspiration (debuccalization)? Pronouncing /s/ as /h/ at the end of words and before most consonants is very common in many Spanish-speaking countries (e.g. los niños becomes loh niñoh). That feature is very typical of the entire southern half of Spain, most countries in the Caribbean, and low-lying countries of South America. But they still pronounce /s/ at the beginning of a word and in between vowels. However, heheo is where every single /s/ is pronounced as /h/.

        • Rodger C says:

          Thank you, I indeed see that I was assuming an excessively broad definition of heheo. However, I know I’ve heard Puerto Ricans pronounce la sangre, for example, as /laxangre/.

  6. Carlos says:

    I am from Mexico and I think that the article is a joke. All the “morfological variations” and “fonetic variations” are just bad uses of spanish of the people with very little academic education.

    There are different accents in Mexico, and it´s true that the accent of the people in the north west of the country have certain characteristics like the exposed in the article, but they are exagerated, a lot exagerated. There is no dialect, just an accent that is considered funny for many mexicans and they make fun of it. And the bad uses of spanish exist in all the country, not only in that region, and the people speak “bad spanish” because of their ignorance, not because it is a dialect.

    “Español ladino” doesn´t exist. “Ladino” in mexican slang means a person who is smart but also perverse who takes advantages of others, with bad intentions, etc, it´s used as an insult.

    • Nico says:

      I think that was referring to judeo-español, the old Spanish language spoken by Sephardi Jews and their modern descendants.

      • Nico says:

        Ladino is just another name for it because many Jews in Spain simply called their language “Ladino” (Latin).

    • Patricio says:

      You call others ignorant Carlos, yet your post is rife with misspellings and prescriptivist nonsense. Ladino is synonymous with Judaeo-Spanish spoken by the Jews expelled by the inquisition.

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