‘Estadounidismos’: A New Variety of Spanish

More and more people in the United States speak Spanish; in fact, it is the second most spoken language in the country. As a consequence, many official documents are now written in Spanish. Both public bodies and private companies translate many of their documents. Sometimes it is so employees or users can better understand rules, regulations, guidelines, etc., on other occasions, a translation can help reach a wider potential customer base.

As anyone who has studied the language already knows, Spanish is not the same everywhere. A piece of clothing, a fruit or a means of transportation may have different names in Mexico, Colombia, Chile or Peru. Spanish speakers who come to the United States are of myriad nationalities and, therefore, speak different varieties of Spanish. That, in addition to the continuous contact they have with the English language, has given rise to a new variety of Spanish.

Just as the definition of argentinismo is “a word or distinctive use of a word of the Spanish spoken in Argentina,” or just as colombianismo is “a word or distinctive use of a word of the Spanish spoken in Colombia,” in the latest edition of its Dictionary, the Real Academia Española added the term estadounidismo, whose definition is “a word or distinctive use of a word of the Spanish spoken in the United States of America.” We can say, then, that this new variety of Spanish is “officially” recognized and accepted.

Estadounidismos are not borrowed words or bad translations, but rather entirely new words or new meanings for words that already exist in the Spanish language. Below are some examples:

  • Aplicar:
    • original meaning: apply/employ, make use of
    • estadounidismo: request, apply for a job
  • Beneficios:
    • original meaning: profit, earning
    • estadounidismo:  social benefits/welfare
  • Departamento:
    • original meaning: compartment, administrative department
    • estadounidismo: ministry
  • Elegible:
    • original meaning: eligible
    • estadounidismo: beneficiary
  • Hispanounidense:
    • original meaning: N/A
    • estadounidismo: Latino or person of Hispanic origin who resides in the U.S.
  • Parada:
    • original meaning: (bus) stop
    • estadounidismo: parade

We must be careful not confuse estadounidismos with Spanglish. In an article for the BBC, Leticia Molinero, a member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, explains that estadounidismos “are very common words in Spanish that here [in the United States] acquire a different meaning.” Spanglish, on the other hand, is “linguistic modalities of some Hispanic groups in the United States in which lexical and grammatical elements of Spanish and English are mixed.”

If one thing is evident is that the Spanish language in the United States is here to stay and the acceptance of this new variety does nothing more than confirm it. The next time we have to translate a text destined for Hispanics, we must keep the existence of estadounidismos in mind.