“Spanish Thrives”…or does it?

I’m always happy to see articles about Spanish in the non-academic media. So it was with great interest that I read a recent article in the New York Times, “Spanish Thrives in the United States Despite an English-only Drive”. This article described the vibrancy of the Hispanic community in the U.S. today, touching on its multiple roots — Puerto Rico, Spain, Mexico, Central America, and Colombia are all mentioned — and its cultural manifestations, including food, music, literature, media, and sports.

However, the article also recognizes that this vibrancy is likely to wane, linking to research that predicts that English will, over time, take over as a first language among Hispanics. This buttresses my own reading on this topic. For example, in a 2001 research review, USC professor Carmen Silva-Corvalán wrote that “a pesar de las actitudes positivas, en los grupos 2 y 3 es evidente el uso cada vez menos frecuente del español, incluso en el dominio familiar” (p. 329). (‘In spite of positive attitudes [toward Spanish], second- and third-generation Americans clearly use Spanish less and less, including within the family.’)

The specific linguistic phenomena described in the Times article — “Spanglish” (alternating Spanish and English within a sentence), and the large-scale absorption of English vocabulary into Spanish — are two warning signs, like canaries in a coal mine, that indicate the ongoing erosion of Spanish competence among US Hispanics. Linguists like Silva-Corvalán also describe a third “canary”: the partial or even complete loss of certain complex grammatical structures in the speech of second and, especially, third-generation Hispanics .

Please see this earlier blog post on a related topic.

2 thoughts on ““Spanish Thrives”…or does it?

  1. Patricia Smith

    Dear J Hochberg, This is not in reponse to your most recent column, but it is a concern and a question. At Tufts, where I teach, students for the first time are giving preferred pronouns when they enroll. Tomorrow I will see a student who identifies as ‘They, them, their”, but we speak no English in this class. How do I deal with this in Spanish, especially with adjectives? My native speaker friends tell me there is no way, that the student has to just choose a gender and stick with it. Ideas?

    1. jhochberg Post author

      I agree with your friends. The grammar does not contain a way to express neuter gender. However, you can point out to the student that this is an area of active concern among many speakers of the language, and that, at least, in written Spanish, it has become common to use x or @ as a neuter substitute for o/a, e.g. lxs estudiantes or español@s modern@s. Even in the written language this can only get you so far — you still have to choose e.g. between él and ella, where @ or x wouldn’t help.

      Perhaps you could offer “them” the option of using different genders on different days?? But that would call even more attention to their exceptionality…

      Hopefully this could lead to an interesting discussion about the intersection of language and culture!


      After writing the above I came across this video, which I haven’t had the chance to watch, but could be helpful — it suggests elle as a neuter pronoun (that was in the first 15 seconds!).


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