We all know that the conquest of Latin America was a disaster for its indigenous peoples and languages. Between war, slavery, and disease, the native population was reduced, absorbed, or eliminated in much of Latin America. At the same time, the native languages gave way to Spanish.
Argentina is an extreme example of this tragic pattern. According to the CIA World Factbook, only 3% of Argentina’s population is indigenous or mestizo (mixed). Mapudungun and Quechua are still spoken, but less than Spanish, Italian, English, German, and even French.
Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Peru are at the other end of the demographic and linguistic spectrum. Their populations are largely indigenous or mestizo, and their indigenous languages are still widely spoken, and in many cases recognized as co-official with Spanish. I’ve put together a summary table (below) using data from the CIA Factbookand, where indicated, the U.S. Department of State.
Latin American countries with widely spoken indigenous languages
(Source: CIA Factbookunless otherwise indicated)
When we lived in New Mexico, back in the 1990’s, our kids used to get a kick out of the names of some of the local towns. There was Truth or Consequences, the town that voted to change its name from Hot Springs in 1950 to win the privilege of hosting the radio show’s 10th anniversary special (the TV show came later). Elephant Butte was named for a volcanic rock formation that looks like you-know-what (the whole beast, not just its tuchis). Santa Fe’s Amtrak station was located out of town in Lamy, named for an early local archbishop, and pronounced “lay me”. You can imagine how that went over with our pre-teen boys.
Little did they realize that toponyms, or place names, can be a serious object of study. Like fossils, toponyms are revealing artifacts, vestigial clues to history. This is certainly true in Latin America, where the various country names are practically a mnemonic shorthand for the key aspects of the colonial period: Continue reading →
In parts of Puerto Rico, it’s common to hear a French-style, back-of-the tongue, unusually long r in place of the normal Spanish trill. Puerto Ricans see this pronunciation as a distinctive marker of island identity, and therefore a source of either shame or pride — or both. Author Magali García Ramis described this love/hate relationship in her essay “My Father’s R”. This was her inaugural lecture when she was inducted into the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española in 2009, and is also the title essay of her 2011 book:
En celebración de “Spanish Friday” este aporte es en español. [In celebration of “Spanish Friday”, this post is in Spanish (English translation will be posted separately)].
Les presento hoy un aporte más sobre la erre española. Ya colgué un aporte sobre su pronunciación e identidad, uno sobre su origen latino, y uno sobre las dificultades que tienen unas personas pronunciándola. Hoy consideramos una variación dialectal, la erre de Puerto Rico.
Adapted from Sagredo 2007 under the GNU Free Documentation License
My blogging guru, Tris Hussey, warns that a blog’s first post is always terrible. Nevertheless, I can’t resist devoting this post to the most interesting tidbit I know about the history of Spanish: the relationship between piracy during the Spanish colonial period and today’s Latin American dialect patterns. The following is based on Ralph Penny‘s discussion of the topic in his Variation and Change in Spanish (Cambridge University Press, 2000).