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Hayley Elston
Professor Soohee Kim
Honors 394
9 May 2015
This paper will serve as an introductory look at Spanish as a language and its immigrant
history, current situation, and prospects in the United States. Spanish is a Romance language,
classified by Ethnologue as Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, GalloIberian, Ibero-Romance, West Iberian, Castilian. Ethnologue lists its EGIDS status as 1
(national). There are eight dialects of Spanish recognized by Ethnologue. Spanishs written
language uses the Roman alphabet. It is very similar to the English alphabet, but with the
addition of the letters and Ll, and with W and K only used for words adopted from other
languages. Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with 399 million
native speakers in 31 countries across North America, Central America, South America, and
Africa, and in the Philippines (Ethnologue). According to the European Commission 2012, there
are 38,400,000 speakers in Spain (cited in Ethnologue). There are 89,500,000 second language
users worldwide, making Spain also one of the most widely studied languages (Ethnologue,
Potowski).
Spanish has been spoken in the United States since Ponce de Lens arrival in 1513
(Potowski). U.S. territorial expansions, such as the Louisiana Purchase and annexations
following the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, contributed significantly to the
speaking of Spanish in the United States (Potowski). The World War II bracero program brought
in Mexican workers (Potowski, Calisphere The Bracero Program). Cuban balseros migrated
to the U.S. via raft from 1959-1995, with particular influxes during the Mariel boatlift in the

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1980s and a migration crisis from 1994-1995 (Cuban Rafter Phenomenon, Potowski).
Immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries to the U.S. have often been seeking a better
economic situation or escaping the political unrest in Central America during the second half of
the twentieth century (Potowski).
Spanish has a strong presence in the United States today. Ethnologue gives it EGIDS status 2
(provincial), meaning that the language is used in education, the workplace, media, and
subdivisions of the government. It is the de facto state language of New Mexico (Ethnologue).
According to the 2010 census, there are 34,200,000 speakers in the U.S. (cited in Ethnologue),
and there are 15,000,000 second language users in the U.S. (Instituto Cervantes 2012, cited in
Ethnologue). The U.S. has the fifth largest Spanish speaking population in the world, and
according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 1 of 10 U.S. households in Spanish-speaking (Potowski).
Local dialects include American Spanish/Chicano (Cal) and Isleo (Ethnologue). Certain
varieties of Spanish are more common to certain regions. For example, Mexican Spanish is
typically spoken in the Southwest U.S., while Caribbean Spanish is spoken in the Northeast and
Southeast (Potowski). Among the Spanish speakers spoken in the U.S., almost as many are
native born as are foreign born (Potowski). Word borrowing is a common occurrence, with
English words or modified versions entering the American Spanish lexicon. For example,
wachar has come to mean to watch (Potowski). As of 2007, there were 730 radio stations
and 200 television stations broadcasting in Spanish in the U.S. (Potowski). Western Publication
Research in 2006 found that there were 1,851 Spanish or partially Spanish print publications
(cited in Potowski). Though 21 states have English official language laws, many government
documents and services are available in Spanish, at the state and federal level (Potowski).
Important Presidential speeches have been made accessible in Spanish since the Clinton

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administration (Potowski). Public goods such as the DMV, hospitals, libraries, utility services,
and banks offer their services in Spanish. However, despite the growth, large numbers, and
historical presence of Spanish speakers (native and learning) in the country, Spanish is generally
not held in high esteem in the U.S. (Gruesz). Discrimination is a persistent problem, with cases
of people being suspended or fired for speaking Spanish (Gruesz).
Spanishs status in education is elevated but still flawed. It is the most widely taught foreign
language in the U.S. (Potowski). As of 2002, it was studied by 53% of college students and 69%
of high school students (Potowski). The elementary school level offers some one-way Spanish
immersion programs for native English speakers and two-way immersion programs where native
English speakers and native Spanish speakers learn both languages together, but such programs
are not common (Potowski). Interestingly, there are few Saturday schools for Spanish speakers
compared to those that have developed for other languages, such as Chinese and Japanese
(Potowski). There are some school programs designed for the unique needs of heritage Spanish
speakers, with a focus on reading and writing skills, but they are only offered by 18% of colleges
and universities as of 2002 and 9% of high schools as of 1997 (Potowski).
In Washington, there are bilingual schools, childrens classes, and adult classes, as is
common in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, here are 521,751 speakers in
Washington State, comprising 8.2% of the population. There are 755,790 Hispanic or Latino
people in Washington, who make up 11.2% of the population. In Seattle, Spanish speakers are
4.6% of the population.
I interviewed heritage speaker Guillermo Zazueta, a fellow UW student. His parents were
born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. as young adults. Guillermo was born in the San Diego
area, where he learned Spanish from his parents and attended a bilingual Spanish-English

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preschool and elementary school. He moved to Renton, Washington after kindergarten, and did
not study Spanish again until later in high school. He speaks Spanish mostly with his parents.
When we discussed Spanishs maintenance prospects, he seemed fairly optimistic and said that
he intends to teach Spanish to his children, should he have any. Guillermo pointed out that
Spanish speakers often speak English to each other because it is easier. When he interacts with
fellow Spanish speakers in public settings, he said they respond in English even when both
parties know the other speaks Spanish. Guillermo also discussed the way people with Spanishlanguage names, like his, are often under pressure to use an Anglicized version of their name
when introducing themselves or on rsums.
The maintenance prospects are somewhat positive for Spanish, with factors such as its use in
government and the media helping its chances (Potowski). Geographic concentration is an
important factor; an individual growing up in a city with a large population of Spanish speakers
has a much better chance of retaining the heritage language (Potowski). There is a trend of a shift
to English by the third generation (the immigrants grandchildren), but some studies suggest
otherwise (Potowski). Consequently Spanishs maintenance prospects may hinge largely on
immigration rates, which may be cause for concern since the birthrate of U.S. Latinos (who may
not pass on Spanish through the generations) is outpacing immigration rates (Potowski).
However, immigration rates are high, and Hispanics are projected to be 30% of the population by
2050 (Beaudrie and Fairclough). Though I need to find more research to support this, I think it is
highly possible that the perception of Spanish as a useful language for Americans to learn
(propelled by the large and growing numbers of native speakers in the U.S.) will bolster its
maintenance prospects. Heritage speakers will be more motivated to teach it to their children and
second language learners will be more likely to learn the language and pursue higher levels of

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competency. The next steps of my research include observing and interviewing at a bilingual
Spanish-English elementary school and developing a more nuanced picture of the maintenance
prospects of Spanish in the United States.

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Works Cited
American FactFinder. United States Census Bureau. U.S. Department of Commerce, 2015.
Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
Beaudrie, Sara M, and Marta Ana Fairclough. Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United
States: The State of the Field. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012. Web. 3
May 2012.
Calisphere The Bracero Program. Calisphere. The Regents of the University of California,
2015. Web. 3 May 2015.
Cuban Rafter Phenomenon. Balseros.miami.edu. University of Miami Libraries. 2015. Web. 3
May 2015.
Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. Alien Speech, Incorporated: On the Cultural History of Spanish in the
US. American Literary History 25.1 (2013): 18-32. Web. 3 May 2015.
Potowski, Kim. Language Diversity in the USA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Web. 3 May 2015.
Spanish. Ethnologue. SIL International Publications, 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
The Border: 1942 Mexican Immigrant Labor History. PBS.org. Public Broadcasting Service,
2015. Web. 3 May 2015.
United States. Ethnologue. SIL International Publications, 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.