The Spanish language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado

The Spanish language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A linguistic atlas. Ed. by Garland D. Bills and Neddy A. Vigil. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008. Pp. xiv, 383. ISBN 9780826345493. $80 (Hb).

Reviewed by Carolin Patzelt, University of Bochum

This volume is a fascinating survey—the first systematic, large-scale one—of New Mexican Spanish, its characteristics, diatopic variation, and historical emergence. The study is based on data from the New Mexico-Colorado Spanish Survey (NMCOSS), a project directed by the editors, Garland Bills and Neddy Vigil. This project has recorded and analyzed the interviews of 357 native-born Spanish speakers from different communities across New Mexico and sixteen counties of Southern Colorado.

This linguistic atlas analyzes the data collected in these interviews and provides highly interesting maps that describe the present linguistic and sociolinguistic situation of New Mexican Spanish. However, it is not the typical traditional linguistic atlas that makes material accessible only to specialists in the field. Instead, its concern is to document the range of Spanish varieties spoken in New Mexico and Southern Colorado at the end of the twentieth century and to make these data accessible to anyone interested in New Mexican Spanish. Given the clear, easy-to-understand explanations and numerous examples, the editors certainly succeed in reaching their aim.

The volume is divided into four main parts. Part 1, ‘The study of New Mexican Spanish’, begins by discussing some common prejudices concerning New Mexican Spanish and by presenting the NMCOSS. It concludes with an overview of the emergence of the Spanish language and culture in New Mexico.

Part 2, ‘The formation of traditional New Mexican Spanish’, is mainly concerned with the influences that shaped the character of early New Mexican Spanish, such as Maritime, Caribbean, or Mexican influences. Part 3, ‘The development of traditional New Mexican Spanish’, focuses on later influences, particularly anglicisms. Part 4, ‘The present and future of New Mexican Spanish’, discusses the impact of Standard Spanish and more recent immigration from Mexico on New Mexican Spanish and makes interesting predictions for its future.

All in all, this volume is an excellent source for anyone interested in sociolinguistics as well as the linguistic and cultural history of New Mexico. The book succeeds in destroying some widespread myths about New Mexican Spanish, such as the claim that it is an archaic variety of Spanish. The editors convincingly show that certain phonological, morphological, or syntactic features are indeed archaic, but that these are facts about individual forms, not about the language system in general. By including a detailed account of historical language contact in the New Mexico area, they can even provide valuable explanations for such individual developments in many cases.