Today’s NY Times has an article by Janny Scott about the researches of Ricardo Otheguy and Ana Celia Zentella into the nature of Spanish in New York City; they are attempting to determine whether the various immigrant dialects are maintaining their identities or merging into a unified “New York Spanish.” One focus of research is the use or nonuse of subject pronouns:

The use of subject pronouns in Spanish has long been of interest to linguists. (There is an entire book on so-called subject expression among Spanish speakers in Madrid.) In English, the subject of a sentence is always expressed; in Spanish it can be, and often is, left out.
For example, where an English speaker would say “We sing,” a Spanish speaker could say either “Nosotros cantamos” or simply “Cantamos.” Linguists say Spanish speakers from the Caribbean tend to use a lot of pronouns; people from Central and South American countries use them less.
“What makes New York City interesting, and why we grabbed this issue, is that New York contains people from areas that differ with respect to this feature,” said Ricardo Otheguy, a professor of linguistics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a researcher on the project.
“It’s interesting to compare Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans with the Mexicans, who use few pronouns,” he said. “And communities are different in their exposure to English. The Mexican community in New York is new; the Puerto Rican community is well settled.”

Otheguy is also studying borrowings from English:

For example, he said, early Spanish-speaking settlers in New York were mostly from the Caribbean, so they took “the winter vocabulary of English,” creating words for things like steam, coat and boiler — words that are spoken rather than written but that resemble their English counterparts.
“Many times the loan takes place even though there is a word that’s usable and perfectly accessible to the people who borrow the English word,” he said. “So it isn’t simply a matter of filling a gap because the gap ain’t there. The person knows a Spanish word and uses both of them.”

The Times article will only be available for a week, but here is a good piece (in Spanish) on Otheguy’s research.

(Note: I learned my Spanish in Buenos Aires, where they call the language castellano, whence the heading of this entry.)


  1. They call it castellano in Spain too to distinguish it from catalán, vasco, gallego, etc. I remember being told in BA they called it castellano because they were proud of speaking “real” Castilian, but I think it was an outsider’s misperception that español is the “normal” word for Spanish. Of course español is also used to mean castellano, but Spanish people who speak other languages might take umbrage at the looser usage.

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