English in New Mexico

Jump to navigation Jump to search
English in New Mexico
RegionNew Mexico
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3

English in New Mexico refers to varieties of Western American English and Chicano English native to the U.S. state of New Mexico. Other languages in the region include New Mexican Spanish, Navajo, and numerous other Native American (mostly Puebloan) languages.


After the Mexican–American War, all of New Mexico's inhabitants came under the governance of the English-speaking United States, and for the next 100 years, the number of English speakers increased,[1] especially because of trade routes: Old Spanish Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. New Mexico was culturally isolated after the New Mexico Campaign of the American Civil War. Aside from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, the isolation was similar to the time that New Mexico was culturally isolated from the rest of Spanish America.

In 1910, English became the most-widely spoken language in New Mexico,[2] but New Mexican Spanish remains throughout the state and so is given a special status of recognition.[3] After statehood, the Spanish dialect continued to evolve, alongside newcomers, because of increases in travel, for example, along U.S. Route 66.[4] Some words, such as coyote, have become loanwords into American English after they had been so prevalent in New Mexican English.[5][better source needed]


According to 2006 dialect research, Albuquerque and Santa Fe natives speak Western American English but with a local development: a full–fool merger (or near-merger) in which pool, for example, merges with pull.[6] In this north-central region of the state, studies have also documented a local type of Chicano English, Northern New Mexico Chicano English, primarily spoken by rural Hispanic New Mexicans and characterized by a unique vowel shift.[7][8] Such studies show that the English of bilingual New Mexican Chicanos has been found to have a lower/shorter/weaker voice-onset time than that of typical monolingual New Mexicans[9] and that the former are more likely to show monophthongization of //.[10]


Scholarship on the English of New Mexico mentions mostly the region's unique vocabulary. The vocabulary of the Spanish and Native American languages has mixed with the English of New Mexico, leading to unique loanwords and interjections.[11] Multiple places across New Mexico also have names originating from various language other than English, including New Mexican Spanish, Navajo, and Tiwa; thus, some places have multiple names.[12]

Words and phrases[edit]

Some characteristic usage in English (often borrowed from Spanish):

Spanish arroyo ('gulch', 'creek') is frequently used in the English of New Mexico, as on this sign, for a drainage ditch whether natural or paved.
  • a la máquina [ɑ lɑ ˈmɑkinɑ] (literally "to the machine" in Spanish): usually used as a startled expression, sometimes shortened to a la [ɑ ˈlɑ] [13][better source needed]
  • acequia [ɑˈseɪkjɑ]: the word for ditch in Spanish, common within the entire Rio Grande Valley[11]
  • canales [kɑˈnɑleɪs]: Spanish for rain and street gutters, heard in the northern parts of the state[11]
  • coke: any generic carbonated soft drink, as also commonly is used in Southern American English;[14] in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, however, it is often soda[15]
  • corazón [ˌkʰɔɹɑˈsoʊn]: the word for heart in Spanish, can be connotative of sweetheart, darling, courage, or spirit[16]
  • howdy (contraction of "how do you do?"): used as a greeting in Southern American English and throughout rural New Mexico[17]
  • nana: a term for one's grandmother, much more widely common than elsewhere in the U.S.[18]
  • o sí (seguro) [oʊ ˈsi sɛˈɡʊɹoʊ]: [13][better source needed] literally "oh yeah (sure)" in Spanish, is used either as an ironic reaction or as a sincere questioning of a statement
  • ombers [ˈɑmbɚz]: an interjection commonly used to express playful disapproval or shaming of another, similar to tsk tsk[13][better source needed]
  • sick to the stomach: from Northern American English, a term to describe feeling very upset, worried, or angry[11]
  • vigas: Spanish for rafters, especially common in the north of the state[11]

Miscellaneous features[edit]

  • Or what and or no are added to ends of sentences to emphasize or seek confirmation of the prior question,[13][better source needed] as in "Can you see, or no?" or "Are we late, or what?"
  • New Mexico chile has had such a large impact on New Mexico's cultural heritage that it has even been entered into the Congressional Record, spelled chile, not chili.[19][20] In New Mexico, there is a differentiation for chili, which most New Mexicans equate to chili con carne.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Julyan & Till 1999, p. 12.
  2. ^ Valle 2003, p. 15.
  3. ^ Domenici 2004, p. 10664.
  4. ^ Hinckley 2012, p. 9.
  5. ^ Dobie 1948.
  6. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:67, 70)
  7. ^ Hernández 1993.
  8. ^ Busby 2004.
  9. ^ Balukas and Koops 2014.
  10. ^ Al-Deaibes 2014, p. 21.
  11. ^ a b c d e Worldmark 2010.
  12. ^ Valdez 2011.
  13. ^ a b c d Wilson 2015.
  14. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:289)
  15. ^ Vaux and Golder 2003.
  16. ^ Madrid 2011, p. 304.
  17. ^ Skandera 2007, p. 355.
  18. ^ Grieve, Jack et al. (2013). "Site-restricted web searches for data collection in regional dialectology". American Speech 88: 413-440. Draft pp. 40, 42.
  19. ^ King 2009.
  20. ^ Smith & Kraig 2013.
  21. ^ Montaño 2001.