Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 403

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 403

of the dialects of single cities, notably Buenos Ayres and the City of Mexico. 16 The influence of the Indian language has been especially studied. 17 But the only extensive treatise upon the Spanish spoken in the United States is a series of four papers by Dr. Aurelio M. Espinosa, of Leland Stanford, Jr., University, in the Revue de Dialectologie Romane under the general title of “Studies in New Mexican Spanish.” 18 These papers, however, are of such excellence that they almost exhaust the subject. The first two deal with the phonology of the dialect and the last two with its morphology. Dr. Espinosa, who was a professor in the University of New Mexico for eight years, reports that the Spanish of the Southwest in its general characters, shows a curious parallel with American English. There is the same decay of grammatical niceties —the conjugations of the verb, for example, are reduced to two—the same great hospitality to loan-words, the same leaning toward a picturesque vividness, and the same preservation of words and phrases that have become archaic in the standard language. “It is a source of delight to the student of Spanish philology,” he says, “to hear daily from the mouths of New Mexicans such words as agora, ansi, naidien, trujo, escrebir, adrede”—all archaic Castilian forms, and corresponding exactly to the fox-fire, homespun, andiron, ragamuffin, fall (for autumn), flapjack and cesspool that are preserved in American. They are survivors, in the main, of the Castilian Spanish of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though some of them come from other Spanish dialects. Castilian has changed very much since that time, as standard English has changed; it is probable, indeed, that a Castilian of the year 1525, coming back to life today, would understand a New Mexican far more readily than he would understand a Spaniard, just as an Englishman of 1630 would understand a Kentucky mountaineer more readily than he would understand a Londoner.
  New Mexico has been in the possession of the United States since