Traditional New Mexican Spanish: A Linguistic Gem That Could Soon Be Gone Forever

 | April 24, 2023

Credit: Nuestro Stories

When it comes to dialects around the United States, those from New York and the South usually come to mind. But, when it comes to history, culture, and tradition, a dialect from Northern New Mexico is said to be a true linguistic gem. A regional treasure that is fading fast … or not. (It depends on who you ask.)

Before George Washington’s time, over 400 years ago, what is now the state of New Mexico, USA, has been home to a spoken form of Spanish all its own.

Influenced by the original Spanish settlers of the area, as well as various Native American, Mexican, and Anglo populations, Traditional New Mexico Spanish, or TNMS, is a unique form of Spanish still spoken by the region’s locals.

But, some linguists and TNMS speakers believe that, if the area’s dialect is not preserved or passed on to new generations, it could be lost forever.

“Our unique Spanish is at real risk of dying out,” New Mexico resident Cynthia Rael-Vigil, 68, told the New York Times. “Once a treasure like this is lost, I don’t think we realize, it’s lost forever.”

Traditional New Mexico Spanish is a dialect of Spanish that features distinctive vocabulary and grammar, as well as a specific accent and pronunciation that distinguishes it from other forms of Spanish. A unique and important cultural element of the state’s history and identity, TNMS is made up of different verb conjugations and sentence structures as well.

Speakers use words like asina to say así, cuasi to say casi, mesmo for mismo, recordar to refer to despertar, cuerpo to say blusa, and túnico for vestido, among others.

Linguists like Damián Vergara Wilson, PhD, a scholar at the University of New Mexico, and author of the Harvard report “A Panorama of Traditional New Mexican Spanish” believe that isolation contributed to preserving the old dialect to modern times.

“What if we went to Mars on a space vessel and lost contact with other speakers?” Wilson told the New York Times. “That’s what happened here. There was very minimal contact.”

However, others remain hopeful, disagreeing that the regional dialect will be lost: “The language absolutely will survive,” Larry Torres, a linguist and columnist for The Taos News and Santa Fe New Mexican, explained. “It may not be the same language that our ancestors recognized, but we’re using a form of 15th century Spanish with 21st century English.”

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Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
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