Spanish is the most spoken language in Mexico: 97% of people use it either as their mother tongue or a second language. However, there are 67 indigenous languages in use and they have been protected since 2001 by the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples Law.
The Spanish language arrived in Mexico with the conquerors, and although they came from a lower social strata (prisoners, soldiers, adventurers), it was in Mexico City that the most cultured language of the colony was formed as it was the seat of the archdiocese, the viceroy court and it had a university and the first printing press in the Americas.
The missionaries that arrived were dedicated to evangelizing to the natives in their own languages. For this reason they not only learned Nahuatl, Mayan, Otomi, Mixtec, Purepecha and other languages, but they also organized their grammar and vocabulary.
From Nahuatl come words such as: aguacate, cacahuate, cacao, coyote, chapulín, chicle, chocolate and ejote.
The form and dialect of Mexican Spanish, especially in the central region, shows a mainly Nahuatl indigenous substrata on top of which the Spanish language was built. However, while the influence on the lexicon is undeniable, it is barely felt in terms of grammar.
In addition to the Mexicanisms that have enriched the vocabulary of the Spanish language (such as jícara, petaca, petate aguacate, tomate, hule, chocolate etc.), Mexican Spanish has many Nahuatl words that give it its own lexical personality.
Sometimes the Nahuatl words co-exist with Spanish words, such as in the cases of “cuate” and “amigo”, “guajolote” and “pavo”, “chamaco” and“niño”, “mecate” and“reata”, etc. Other times, the indigenous word differs slightly from the Spanish, such as in the cases of ”huarache”, which is a type of sandal,“tlapalería”, a type of hardware store, “molcajete”, a stone mortar, etc.
The most striking characteristics of the Spanish spoken in Mexico today are the values of the letter “x”, which is pronounced as “ks” (existencia), “s” (xilófono), “j” (axolote, Xalapa) and “sh” (mixiote), and the pronunciation of double consonants such as “tz” and“tl”, which do no t exist in classic Spanish.
Mexican Spanish today is not homogenous, and among the most important varietiesare the dialects used in northern Mexico, the west, the Yucatan Peninsula and the coastal varieties.
The variants are:
- norteña (northern)
- norteña occidental (northwestern)
- norteña peninsular (northern peninsular)
- occidental (west)
- sureña central (southern central)
- costeña (coastal)
- chiapaneca (from Chiapas)
- yucateca (from the Yucatan Peninsula)
The Spanish used in the north of Mexico (Chihuahua, Sonora, Nuevo León, Sinaloa and Coahuila) differs from that of other regions in Mexico mainly in the intonation of words (northern accent). It preserves the same differences that the Mexican dialect has with respect to Peninsular Spanish (the universal use of the personal pronoun “ustedes” in forma and informal situations, the pronunciation of “z” and “c” as “s” and the pronunciation of “ll” as “y”.
Also, the extensive border with the United States and the level of tourism by Americans and Canadians ensures that the English language permeates northern Mexican Spanish. For example, words like “birra” (for “beer”), “checar”, “aplicar” (for “apply”), “rentar” (for “rent”), “carro” (for “car”), “accesar” (for “access”) and “suéter” (sweater”), are all taken from the northern neighbors.
Others are “béisbol” (baseball), “referí” (referee), “lonchería” (snack bar), “lonchera” (lunchbox), “closet” (closet), “hobby”, “folder”, “overol” (overalls) and “sandwich” (sandwich).
For this reason it is crucial to know and use the precise Spanish dialect when translating material whose purpose is to reach the Hispanic market. European Spanish, for example, makes “noise” in Latin America and no marketing campaign can reach its goal if the translation agency is unable to identify the specific Spanish variant.
Moreover, in the United States, all communications addressed to Spanish speakers must consider whether the intended public has Puerto Rican (particularly in the New York area) or Mexican (California and Texas) roots to be as efficient as possible.