Over a quarter of New Mexicans speak Spanish, but it starts to get complicated after that.
Speakers’ backgrounds lead to a diverse spectrum of dialects, and a lengthy history of studying Spanish in New Mexico has revealed that the language is “behaving” differently in the northern and southern parts of the state.
This diverging behavior is a direct result of the influences these regions encounter, based on proximity to the border with Mexico, explains Mario Del Angel-Guevara, a University of New Mexico Hispanic Linguistics PhD candidate and instructor of traditional medicine in Mexico and the Southwest, and he’s looking for more people to participate in his research.
Del Angel-Guevara dives into the impact Spanish spoken by immigrants has on the dialect characteristics found in Northern New Mexico.
“Here in Albuquerque, you have a more diverse community: You have people from Mexico, you have people from Cuba and you have people from Northern New Mexico. You have many languages here,” he tells SFR. “Therefore, language is affected at a faster pace or a faster rate than it would be in more isolated communities.”
Del Angel-Guevara says that while the Northern New Mexico dialect of Spanish can be found in Albuquerque, it is more pronounced in smaller communities such as Española and Taos. Yet that change is inevitable, he explains: “If there are people from different backgrounds coexisting in the same geographical space, they will influence each other no matter what.”
Del Angel-Guevara interviews Spanish speakers who have lived in Northern New Mexico for at least a decade, tracking the different words used to describe objects to assess how dialects have changed over time.
“To call a turkey, people in Mexico commonly say ‘Guajolote’, in Guatemala people say ‘Chompipe’, and in New Mexico…What do you say?” reads a notice requesting participants in the study. Hundreds have already responded and led him to the conclusion that the Northern New Mexico dialect of Spanish faces threats.
“Sadly, when a New Mexican person marries a New Mexican person, even if both of them speak Spanish, they don’t teach it to their children,” says Del Angel-Guevara, “and there’s a long history that explains why.”
He draws a parallel between some families’ hesitancy to speak Spanish with their children and the language and cultural erasure that occurred in boarding schools around the country—where Native children were taken from their homes and forced to speak English.
“There’s a long history of shaming…they are fighting discrimination, they are fighting racism,” he says of the Spanish-speaking community in Northern New Mexico.
But previous research, which Del Angel-Guevara hopes to expand on, suggests that marriages between Spanish speakers of different dialects have the opposite effect on the language’s longevity.
“What I’ve seen is where there’s an intermarriage, meaning a person from Northern New Mexico marrying a person who immigrated from Mexico, their Spanish is revived,” he tells SFR, “because one side of the family has to communicate with the other side of the family, and what do they have in common? Spanish.”
The confluence of these two dialects—and other variants of Spanish present in New Mexico—will invariably result in their evolution as communities around the state continue growing with each other. Del Angel-Guevara hopes to explore how these dialects behave in response to an interaction of cultures.
Those interested in participating in the study must be at least 18 years old, identify as Mexican or New Mexican (having lived in the region for at least 10 years) and be able to have a conversation in Spanish. To participate, contact Del Angel-Guevara at (505)-900-1566 or firstname.lastname@example.org.