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Spanish in Contact:
Issues in Bilingualism

edited by Ana Roca and John B. Jensen

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The Spanish language, with an estimated 300 million native speakers worldwide, comes in contact with many other languages. These range from countless indigenous tongues in Latin America,[1] to Portuguese in Europe and South America, to Basque, Catalan, Galician, and other languages and dialects in Spain, to Arabic in Spanish Morroco, to English and Philippine languages in the Philippines, to multiple varieties of American English in the United States and Puerto Rico. In the Caribbean, Spanish meets French, French Creole, Papiamentu, English, and Dutch. Additionally, Judeo-Spanish is found in Israel and the Balkans, as well as in other parts of the world where, with some local peculiarities, it has survived for centuries in contact with many other languages.

In Latin America Spanish interacts with a diverse indigenous linguistic mosaic. The family of Mayan languages alone, for example, is made up of thirty-one varieties, used in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and in parts of Honduras. Quechua, historically the language of the Incas and more recently declared a national language in Peru, is also spoken in parts of Bolivia and Ecuador, and has the largest number of speakers of all the indigenous languages of the Americas (approximately fifteen million speakers). Aymara, another major indigenous language, is believed to be used by over two million speakers. Tupi-Guarani, a national language in Paraguay and also spoken by indigenous people in Brazil, has roughly three million speakers.

Like the United States and Canada to the north, Spanish-American countries are recipients of foreign immigrants, hosting agglomerations of Italians, Germans, Portuguese, Russians, Arabs, Chinese, Japanese, British, and other nationalities--many of whom preserve to one degree or another their ancestral languages.

In the United States, there are multiple varieties of Spanish which come into contact with English on a daily basis. With ever-increasing numbers of speakers of Spanish arriving every day from different cultural backgrounds, the United States can expect to see increasingly complex demographic and linguistic profiles (Elías-Olivares et al. 1985, Bergen 1990, Klee and Ramos-García 1991, Roca and Lipski 1993). Continued instability in Latin America will undoubtedly increase the flow of Spanish speakers to the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.[2]

This volume is about contact between Spanish and some of these other language varieties with which it interacts in communities around the world.


During the 1940s and early 1950s, Leo Pap (1949) and Einar Haugen (1953) conducted their pioneering work on immigrant languages in the United States, studying Portuguese and Norwegian, respectively. Their work initiated the serious linguistic investigation of bilingualism in this country, and was accompanied by the seminal work of Uriel Weinreich, Languages in Contact (1953), presenting primarily data from Europe. Weinreich, perhaps more than any other, proposed theoretical frameworks based on numerous contact situations which helped to define the field. It is in this latter classic that the present volume finds inspiration for its title.

Since that early period, the formal study of bilingualism has been expanding in many places and disciplines. In the area of linguistics proper, studies in bilingualism have taken their place at the side of other closely related subfields, especially sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics.

Because language in society is inherently multifaceted and multidisciplinary, the study of such a complex phenomenon as bilingualism (or multilingualism) cannot be justly limited to traditional or purely linguistic approaches: the domains of syntax, morphology, phonology, and semantics. Thus, the study of bilingualism includes not only languages in contact, in the most traditional sense, but also entails serious explorations into newer subfields like geolinguistics and language planning, as well as other academic fields such as education, psychology, anthropology, sociology, political science, and law.

This diversity of approaches and perspectives is hardly new, however, for early on, Weinreich was writing of the need to bring together purely linguistic studies of language contact with research on bilingualism from various points of view. René Appel and Pieter Muysken at the University of Amsterdam agree on this point: "Bilingualism or language contact in itself is not a scientific discipline. It is an issue, a subject or a field to which various disciplines can contribute. The disciplines can interact or, on the other hand, function independently, because of differing viewpoints, methodologies or terminologies." (Appel and Muysken 1987: 7-8)

Nevertheless, in spite of all this multidisciplinarianism, it is linguistics proper that has the most to teach about what happens when two languages come together. In linguistics, as in other fields such as chemistry and astronomy, contact between unlike entities can often shed new light on the nature of the entities themselves. There are things that we can learn about language best when we see the distortions that occur as systems come together, interact, converge, enter into code-switching and borrowing relationships, and ultimately, affect each other in a permanent way. In essence, we must ask ourselves over and over again: What happens when two or more languages come into contact?

Subsidiary to this basic question are others, such as: Which languages are used and under what circumstances? What happens to languages that are used simultaneously in bilingual communities? How do languages borrow words or structures from each other? How is it that languages change substantially and how is it that a new language may develop, in time, from the contact situation? How do societal pressures, cultural stereotypes, and individual attitudes toward a language or its users affect language use and development, or even result in language death?

As one learns about the nature of language through bilingual studies, one must also deal with the nature of chance. As Ronald Breton points out: "As one eventually must in the biological sciences, one comes to realize how much the element of chance contributes to the life and death of languages--a lost battle, a new religious idea, a natural catastrophe. That is one reason why we are no more likely to tell the future of a language than we can predict the history of those who speak it." (Breton 1991: xi)


Much of the existing literature on bilingualism concerns English as one member of the dyad, usually the dominant or majority language with which a minority comes in contact. Often, for studies done in the United States, that minority language is Spanish. But what about Spanish as the majority language, interacting with minority languages? Much less has been said about that not-so-rare bilingual situation, especially by linguists from the United States.

The papers in this collection, prepared for the most part by scholars based in the United States, reflect selected current research interests in bilingualism within Spanish sociolinguistics. Most of the works were originally presented, in abbreviated oral form, at the XII Symposium on Spanish and Portuguese Bilingualism, held in Miami in 1991 and co-sponsored by Florida International University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The authors have updated and expanded their essays. Their articles cover a wide range of topics and approaches, but all have in common a contact situation involving Spanish.

Studies in bilingualism have produced a significant and ever-increasing bibliography. We should like to call the reader's attention to a few recent volumes that also present papers on Spanish bilingualism: Silva-Corvalán 1995, Ashby, Mithun, Perissinotto and Raposo 1993, Posner and Green 1993, Smith and Zephir 1993, Holtus, Metzeltin and Schmitt 1992, Klee and Ramos-García 1991, Garza Cuarón and Levy 1990, Coulmas 1990 and Lope-Blanch 1990. Some excellent works include: Siguan 1993, Paulston 1988, 1992, Fishman 1991, Carlos Solé 1990 and Tollefson 1990. John Lipski's text offers a useful, readable overview of Latin American Spanish today (1994). Other useful resources can be found in the rich bibliographies provided in their papers by the contributors to this volume.

Organizing a collection of papers such as these, which have not been commissioned according to some preconceived structure, presents some interesting challenges. Our solution has been to follow an overall geographical orientation. However, in the largest section, Part III: The United States, some linguistically reasonable ordering criteria have also been applied. The earlier papers, dealing with lexicon and phonology, are likely to be immediately accessible to all readers. The syntax papers are the most theoretical contributions, presupposing perhaps a greater degree of familiarity with current linguistic theory; they are found last.

To help navigate through the volume, we offer the following brief discussion of the papers included:

Part I: Spain.

Two contributions dealing with Spanish-Basque contact begin the section. Robert Hammond's paper addresses the actual structure of Basque, a non-Indo-European language, and how it relates to Spanish structure in contact situations. This paper is useful for those interested in the history of Spanish and its supposed Basque influence, as well as for those looking at purely synchronic issues. Hammond examines details on mutual influences that Spanish and Basque have had on each other's lexical systems. He also presents examples of major differences and similarities in the phonological systems of both languages and discusses examples of possible mutual syntactic influence.

Jasone Cenoz's paper takes a very different approach and expands into the emerging area of research dealing with third-language acquisition. Her paper looks at the relative success of learners of English in Spain as a function of the monolingualism or (Basque) bilingualism of the students. The author takes a rigorous methodological approach, using carefully matched groups and statistical analysis.

Hope Doyle's essay examines the use of Catalan and Spanish in the case of bilingual youth in Barcelona. By means of a questionnaire administered to students in the public school system in Barcelona, the author gathers information on language behaviors and attitudes, and acquires a better sense of the effects of the 1983 Law of Linguistic Normalization in Catalonia.

Part II: Latin America.

The first three papers involve Spanish-indigenous language contact. Margarita Hidalgo examines the sociolinguistic situation of minority languages in Mexico since independence, with emphasis on current circumstances. Her findings, especially regarding language planning and government policy toward linguistic minorities, are especially timely.

Carol Klee studies the sociolects of a bilingual town in the Peruvian Andes. She examines the Spanish spoken by partially-assimilated Quechua Indians, focusing on the adaptations made to standard Spanish structure. She documents morphological variability in their interlanguage and compares it with the standard Spanish of Lima, attempting to show to what extent Spanish may have been structurally modified by Quechua contact.

Yolanda Solé studies Guaraní-Spanish diglossia in Paraguay. She questions the prevailing wisdom that Paraguay enjoys stable bilingualism, and finds rather "a three-dimensional language process, a constellation of divergent language attitudes..." Using a thorough sociolinguistic technique and statistical analysis, she has captured a linguistic change in process.

In the last paper in Part II, Florencia Cortés-Conde addresses English-Spanish bilingualism, but with English as the minority language, as used among British descendants in Buenos Aires. It is interesting to see the roles reversed from that most familiar of bilingual settings. As is frequently the case of immigrant languages in the U.S., English in Argentina is shunned by young bilinguals, who find its usage outside the English-only Anglo school classroom inappropriate. The author shows how attitudes are changing radically from a past in which the English proudly held on to their language and culture against the encroachment of Spanish.

Part III: The United States.

Here are more theoretical papers, many of which discuss matters that might apply to bilingualism almost anywhere. In the first essay, Robert Smead and Helvor Clegg look at English lexical influence, specifically calques, in Chicano Spanish. Using a computer analysis of terms from a Chicano dictionary, they apply a revised typology to the classification of English calques and a three-dimensional analysis.

The next three papers are concerned with phonology. Mehmet Yavas examines the Critical Age Hypothesis to see how age affects the accuracy of phonetic mastery of L2 acquisition. He uses an instrumental analysis of Voice Onset Time after voiceless stops of bilingual children who began acquisition of English at six and at ten years of age, to compare their performance with that of native speakers.

Marguerite MacDonald replicates an earlier project carried out in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, investigating the nature of the English heard among Hispanic high school seniors whose parents had come to the U.S. prior to 1980. In her new study, she focuses on another set of high school seniors, a newer group of refugees who were ten years old or younger when their families settled in Little Havana after the Mariel boatlift, which brought 126,000 Cubans to Miami in 1980. Because of profound social and demographic changes in the Miami area in the 1980s, she hypothesizes that sociolinguistic factors will bring about a change in her results. MacDonald finds that social variables do influence the nature and the extent of the linguistic variation found in the English of her subjects.

Jorge Guitart's essay takes the point of view that Spanish-speaking communities in the United States are diglossic, having a "High" and a "Low" lect of Spanish. He considers the case of contact between these two lects in the speech of Hispanics and the degree of control that speakers may have over their styles, as well as influence existing between the two.

The last three papers deal with syntax, and are framed in current syntactic theory. In a theoretical paper on English-Spanish bilingualism, John M. Lipski looks at Spanish as a null-subject language, which under influence from English, a non-null-subject language, may exhibit changes in the use of subject pronouns according to English norms.

Francesco D'Introno looks at code-switching in the speech of balanced bilinguals and attempts to explain within current Government and Binding theory why some switches are impossible. He finds that the GB model is superior to other explanatory mechanisms in accounting for many cases of impossible switches, including some previously unnoticed in the literature.

This collection ends with a paper by Almeida Jacqueline Toribio and Edward Rubin that also treats code-switching. They look at previously proposed constraints on switching formulated by Di Sciullo, Poplack, Joshi, and Belazi, and then consider Universal Grammar as a means of resolving some of the inconsistencies among other constraints. They conclude that code-switching is constrained by a general principle that is part of every language, and they discuss implications for second-language acquisition.

We hope that these articles serve as a springboard for discussion and an inspiration for further study both by seasoned researchers and younger scholars. We also hope that the interdisciplinary trends of the 1980s and the 1990s develop further, with a view to better integrating knowledge and understanding of bilingual individuals in society. We wish to give our deepest thanks to the contributors to the volume for their excellent work and dedication to the field, their cooperation, and their patience. It has indeed been a pleasure to have worked with these scholars of Spanish in contact with other languages.

Last but not least, we express sincere appreciation to Juan Zamora of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and to Mark B. Rosenberg of Florida International University, for their help and support in organizing the Symposium that inspired many of these papers, and to Michael Bernstein of Cascadilla Press, for his considerable time, expertise, and courtesy.

Ana Roca and John B. Jensen
Florida International University
Miami, Florida 1996


1. For further reading on the topic of indigenous languages in Latin America, especially from the perspective of the oppressed, we recommend a short article, "El futuro de los idiomas oprimidos," by Xavier Albó, in Política lingüística na América Latina, edited by Eni Pulcinelli Orlandi and published in 1988 (Campinas, SP, Brasil: Pontes Editores). Albó looks at historical circumstances and examines the concept of oppressed languages, the borrowing of terminology and concepts from sociology and other disciplines (like Paolo Freire's concept of "pedagogy of the oppressed"). For an excellent volume on the same topic dealing with education and language planning issues, see Nancy Hornberger's 1989 volume: Bilingual Education and Language Planning in Indigenous Latin America. [back to text]

2. Los Angeles, for example, after Mexico City, has the largest Spanish-speaking population in the Spanish-speaking world. This kind of unprecedented growth of the Hispanic population has stimulated more sociolinguistic research, as can be seen by the growing number of articles and books being published on the subject of Spanish in the United States. (See the references section for selected works consulted or cited dealing with U.S. Spanish.) [back to text]


Appel, René and Pieter Muysken. 1987. Language Contact and Bilingualism. London: Edward Arnold.

Ashby, William J., Marianne Mithun, Giorgio Perissinotto and Eduardo Raposo, eds. 1993. Linguistic Perspectives on the Romance Languages. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Bergen, John J., ed. 1990. Spanish in the United States: Sociolinguistic Aspects. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Breton, Ronald J.L. 1991. Geolinguistics: Language Dynamics and Ethnolinguictic Geography. Translated and expanded by Harold F. Schiffman. Canada: University of Ottawa.

Coulmas, Florian, ed. 1990. Spanish in the United States: New Quandries and Prospects. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Elías-Olivares, Lucía, Elizabeth A. Leone, René Cisneros and John Gutiérrez, eds. 1985. Spanish and Public Life in the United States. Contributions to the Sociology of Language 35. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Fishman, Joshua A. 1991. Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Garza Cuarón, Beatriz and Paulette Levy, eds. 1990. Homenaje a Jorge A. Suárez: Lingüística indoamericana e hispánica. Mexico City: Centro de Estudios de Lingüística y Literatura, Colegio de Mexico.

Haugen, Einar. 1953. The Norwegian Language in America: A Study in Bilingual Behavior. 2 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Republished in one volume: Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1969.

Holtus, Gunter, Michael Metzeltin and Christian Schmitt, eds. 1992. Lexikon der Romanikstischen Linguistik (LRL) VI,1: Aragonesisch/Navarresisch, Spanisch, Asturianisch/Leonesisch - Aragonés/navarro, español, asturiano/leonés. Tubingen: Niemeyer.

Hornberger, Nancy H., ed. 1989. Bilingual Education and Language Planning in Indigenous Latin America. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Klee, Carol A. and Luis A. Ramos-García, eds. 1991. Sociolinguistics of the Spanish-Speaking World: Iberia, Latin America, United States. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Review Press.

Lipski, John M. 1994. Latin American Spanish.New York: Longman Publishing.

Lope Blanch, Juan. 1989. Estudios de lingüística hispanoamericana. Publicaciones del Centro de Lingüística Hispánica 28. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Lope Blanch, Juan, ed. 1990. El español hablado en el suroeste de los Estados Unidos. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Paulston, Christina Bratt, ed. 1988. International Handbook of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. New York: Greenwood.

Paulston, Christina Bratt. 1992. Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Bilingual Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Posner, Rebecca and John N. Green, eds. 1993. Bilingualism and Linguistic Conflict in Romance. Berlin: Mouton.

Roca, Ana and John M. Lipski, eds. 1993. Spanish in the United States: Linguistic Contact and Diversity. Studies in Anthropological Linguistics 6, series editors: Florian Coulmas amd Jacob Mey. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Russinovich Solé, Yolanda. 1990. Bilingualism: Stable or Transitional? The Case of Spanish in the United States. Spanish in the United States: New Quandries and Prospects. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 84. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Siguan, Miguel. 1993. Multilingual Spain. Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Silva-Corvalán, Carmen, ed. 1995. Spanish in Four Continents: Studies in Language Contact and Bilingualism. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Solé, Carlos A. 1990. Bibliografía sobre el español de América: 1920-1986. Bogota: Biblioteca del Instituto Caro y Cuervo.

Tollefson, James W. 1990. Planning Language, Planning Inequality: Language Policy in the Community. London and New York: Longman.

Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact. New York: Linguistic Circle of New York.

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