Spanish in the United States

Authored by: Kim Potowski

Handbook of Heritage, Community, and Native American Languages in the United States

Print publication date:  January  2014
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415520669
eBook ISBN: 9780203122419
Adobe ISBN: 9781136332494


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Spanish first arrived on the American continent in the 16th century via explorers and settlers from Spain. In 1492, the dialect of the northern region of Spain (Castile), called Castilian, had been declared the official language of the kingdom, which is why today Castilian is often used synonymously with Spanish. The northernmost settlers of the colony called New Spain (which had its capital in current-day Mexico City) lived in what is today California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming. These lands became part of the United States. With the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, resulting in all of the territory’s Spanish-speaking Mexican residents becoming American citizens overnight, many Spanish speakers in the area were not immigrants to the United States but rather descendants of 16th-century colonists from Spain. The Spanish-American War of 1898 saw additional annexations of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Cuba gained its independence in 1902, but Puerto Rico remained a territory of the United States, where Spanish is the first language and residents hold U.S. citizenship.

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