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Mexican Language And Customs: Are They Spanish Or Something Else… ?

When the Spanish conquistadors entered Mexico, they changed Mexican customs and culture forever. Mexican language also changed. The Spanish brought their language to Mexico, where it’s predominant today.

The Mexican language version of Spanish is not the same as standard European Spanish. Most of the conquistadors were from the region of Extremadura, an impoverished area that young men left to seek their fortunes in the New World. Extremadura had several dialects of Spanish, but standard Spanish wasn’t spoken there.

mexican language extremadura, spain

Then, when the conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they had to communicate with the indigenous people somehow. They depended on native-born slaves who could quickly learn Spanish, or the clergy, who learned the indigenous languages so they could get converts. As more and more Spanish settled in Mexico, the dominant language became Spanish. But because the Spanish speakers adopted so many native words, and they were isolated from European Spanish, Mexican Spanish developed many differences.

The Mexican language has undergone various changes in the previous century or two. Today, Mexican Spanish has a lilting intonation that European Spanish doesn’t. This comes from the Nahuatl language, which also has this intonation. Mexican Spanish has also kept many indigenous words from the days of the conquistadors, such as aguacate, or avocado, and patata, or potato. Mexican Spanish still shows marks of its origins with the conquistadors. It uses many archaic expressions, and it also shows traces of the accent of Extremadura.

Mexican American culture influences Mexican language styles here in the United States. Many Mexicans who have settled in south Texas speak a blend of Spanish and English called Tex Mex. Linguists believe Tex Mex may be evolving into a separate language, because people have been using it for 4 or 5 generations instead of adopting English. As a result, Mexican Spanish is influenced much more by English than European Spanish is.

mexican language cuisine

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Mexican American culture has also influenced Mexican customs such as cuisine. Tex Mex cooking uses Mexican basics such as tortillas, but adds more beef, pork and cheese than is traditional. This is thought to be because of the ranching lifestyle in south Texas. This blending of cultures also influences Mexican Spanish, bringing in new words. Mixed in with Mexican American culture is bits and pieces of South American culture making for an interesting mix in some localized areas.

But although Spanish is the primary language, there are 68 indigenous languages in Mexico, and about 6% of Mexicans speak one. About 1,300,000 people speak Nahuatl, 759,000 speak Yucatec Maya, and 400,000 speak Mixtec. The Mexican government guarantees indigenous people the right to use their language.

This wasn’t always the case. In 1696 the King of Spain ordered that the indigenous people be educated in Spanish ways, and that policy continued even after Mexico gained its independence. In 1820, 60% of Mexicans spoke an indigenous language, and that number has gone down steadily since. But today, Mexico defines itself as a multicultural state, and in 2002 it amended the constitution, requiring the government to protect languages and promote diversity.

So, the “Mexican language” is not only Spanish, it’s a uniquely Mexican Spanish and a rich heritage of indigenous languages that are part of Mexico’s culture.

Mexican Language: Is It Spanish Or… ? featured photo by: Ms. Phoenix

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About Jeffrey Nelson

Jeffrey Nelson is a husband, father, author and bilingual living and working in the Midwestern United States. He lives with his Mexican wife and their son, Liam, who is currently being raised bilingual in English and Spanish.

28 comments… add one

  1. Eliana Tardio

    thanks for this great info. I love the richness of Mexican culture and after reading this I feel I know something else about them. it has been here in United States that I’ve met Mexican people and I truly respect them, hard workers and great friends.

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Yes, yes they are! I love the Mexicans too… well, most of them. I’m glad you feel like you learned something! I actually did as well… it’s interesting what you encounter when you research things. Thanks for commenting!

      Jeff

  2. Reina

    Gracias por la revisión histórica, mucha de la información que nos compartes no la sabía, me pareció muy interesante, saludos
    Reina recently posted…Rico Almuerzo Estilo Bento BoxMy Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Gracias! Me da mucho gusto que te haya gustado :) Y si… la historia es mas interesante que pensaba.

      Saludos,
      Jeff

  3. Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly

    It blew me away on my very first visit to find out that there were so many indigenous languages spoken in Mexico! One of my favorite first things to do anywhere I visit is to sit outside or in a small cafe to hear people speak, even when I don’t always understand what they are saying. I find people watching fascinating anyway, but hearing various languages and dialects just opens your mind in so many ways!
    Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly recently posted…Motivation Monday: The put some new #tech in your step Edition, coverage from the Global Launch of the @LGUSAMobile #LGG2My Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      I agree – people watching is the way to go. It’s super fun! I also like to hear dialects that sound almost-like-the-language-but-not-quite. It’s almost like Portuguese/Spanish. It teases you with being able to understand but at the end of the day you still can’t quite get it all. Haha.

      Jeff

  4. Bohemian Babushka (@BBabushka)

    Your blog should be mandatory reading for all middle and high school students, and in these parts some of the teachers too!! Keep up the good work. BB2U
    Bohemian Babushka (@BBabushka) recently posted…Neri Torres and the IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Troupe- A BAILAR!!My Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Thanks! I’m not sure I should be leading any children’s education efforts but it wouldn’t hurt kids nowadays to get a little more interested in the world outside of the great US of A.

      Jeff

  5. Natalia

    Muy buen artículo. Me parece muy interesante como aún conservamos muchas palabras indígenas en nuestro vocabulario.

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Si claro! Esta padre. Debo de buscar unos ejemplos a ver si hay algunas palabras comunes que ocupamos diario y nada mas no me doy cuenta :)

      Jeff

  6. Cristina

    Wow!! 68 dialectos indígenas, no tenía ni idea.
    Definitivamente, la cultura mexicana es muy rica!
    Cristina recently posted…En California se disfruta del sol (Sorteo)My Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Si Cristina que increible no? Que variedad de lenguajes y dialectos. Si es muy rica la cultura :)

      Jeff

  7. Diana Rodriguez

    Gracias por compartir, es muy interesante! No conocía mucho sobre el tema
    Diana Rodriguez recently posted…Walgreens Ofrece Examen Físico de Regreso a la Escuela |#HealthcareClinic | #ad | #cbias | #shopMy Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      De nada! La verdad es que yo tampoco sabia todo lo de los dialectos y toda la cosa. Me gusta aprender cosas asi que me sorprenden cuando estoy haciendo mis investigaciones! :)

      Jeff

  8. Paula -Growing Up Bilingual

    Love Mexico. I had no idea that the intonation of the Mexican Spanish came from the Nahuatl and from the Extremadura intonation, lots of interesting info. I have a special request, can you do one about Guatemala? ;) And yes, yes I signed up for the newsletter!
    Paula -Growing Up Bilingual recently posted…Walmart $200 GC Blogger EventMy Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Sure! I can try to fit one about Guatamala in. That should be interesting as well.

      Jeff

  9. Veronica Cervera

    Wow, que interesante. No sabía que la mayor parte de los que fueron allá eran de Extremadura.
    Adoro México y la riqueza de su cultura.
    Saludos.
    Veronica Cervera recently posted…Bento de de arroz, huevos revueltos y picadilloMy Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Yo también ;)

      Jeff

  10. Adriana Martin (@AsBestRecipes)

    I loved your article and pictures I’m Mexican and very proud of my culture so of course anything from Mexico and the richness of my country is something that hits home. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Awesome! You should be proud. I love Mexican culture and people. It is, definitely, a very rich country.

      Jeff

  11. Maybelline @ Naturalmente Mamá

    Wow! I had no idea there were so many indigenous languages spoken in Mexico. I knew there were a few but not that many…
    Maybelline @ Naturalmente Mamá recently posted…El Hada de los Sorteos Nro. 94 – Martes 13 de Agosto de 2013My Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      I’m sure that a lot of them aren’t very widely spoken, however yes it is a bit surprising!

      Jeff

  12. Romina Mamá XXI

    Es super interesante la riqueza cultural de los pueblos latinoamericanos ¡mil gracias por tu contribución!! también me quedé sorprendida con la cantidad de dialectos!
    Romina Mamá XXI recently posted…7 alimentos para aliviar el estrésMy Profile

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Estoy al 100% de acuerdo. De nada, con gusto aprendo y comparto mas sobre mi mexico lindo y querido! :)

      Jeff

  13. Alejandra Ramirez

    Thanks for the info! It is always to learn about other cultures.

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Yes, it is. I also enjoy learning about other culures – therefore I like to write about them :P I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Jeff

  14. Elise

    I wonder if the Europeans, in general, who colonized/invaded the New World came largely from poorer out-of-the-way places? Quebecois is also supposed to be full of archaisms.

    1. Jeffrey Nelson

      Good observation… I would say most likely. Strictly logically speaking, it makes sense. If you are happy and doing well where you are, you are probably not quite as motivated to go looking for a new place. Especially ‘back in the day’ when just the ocean voyage was incredibly risky! :) Great observation.

      Jeff

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