Is There Such a Thing as U.S. Spanish?

By Stacey
Jul 23, 2015 · 3 min

According to the 2012 Census it’s estimated that the Hispanic population sits at around 60 million.

Is There Such a Thing as U.S. Spanish? | One Hour Translation

Often when a translator consults with their client regarding which Spanish-speaking public they want to address, the answer they receive is that the translation must be in U.S. Spanish.

It’s The Second Most Spoken Language in the United States

And even though we’re well aware that English is the most spoken language of this country, the Spanish-speaking population in the United States has grown quite considerably over the past few years. According to the 2012 Census it’s estimated that the Hispanic population sits at around 60 million: that makes them about 17% of the entire United States population. It’s also worth pointing out that Spanish is now the second most spoken language in the United States, after English of course, and that after Mexico, we have the second-largest Spanish speaking community. Another notable point is that U.S. Spanish has been recognized officially in certain jurisdictions and that, in many cases, it represents important cultural signals and characteristics of a state.

So, it’s no longer surprising to see bilingual texts on Government websites including agencies such as Medicare, the FBI, and so on. In 1973 the North American Academy of the Spanish Language (Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española) was created, and this Academy is considered very influential when it comes to current Spanish rules.

So, back to translating into U.S. Spanish: how should translations be approached and what differences should we be looking for?

One of the main features that should be taken into account is the influence English has on U.S. Spanish. Because of this we see many borrowed words and the transferring of forms with their meaning; like mopear (meaning to mop) and rufo (meaning roof). There is some debate in these cases as to whether they’re acceptable (because there already are formally correct forms) or if perhaps these are just examples of light use of Spanglish.


We also see calques, sometimes of a single word, like moverse which incorporates the meaning in English of to move, translating as mudarse; or calques that involve more than one word, like máquina de attender which comes from answering machine: in most Spanish-speaking countries this is known as a contestador automático.

Code Switching

In addition we see a lot of the phenomenon known as code switching: this is the use of both English and Spanish in the same conversation. Because of the English influence we can see in writing the use of uppercase letters in titles, sometimes for months and days, and an obvious use of gerunds, different to that sanctioned by the Real Academia Española.

Meeting Client’s Expectations

So, as translators we can’t afford to ignore the growing influence of U.S. Spanish. In the past it may have been considered a deformation of Spanish; however that’s not correct thinking today. Actually, it’s probably more correct to consider it a form of social and cultural expression. Its influence has definitely become very relevant to linguists and the Real Academia Española; so much so that, as translators, we must take this relevance into account in order to serve our clients and meet their expectations.

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