What is the U.S. Spanish Variant?

There are over half a billion Spanish speakers across the globe according to a 2017 study from the Cervantes Institute. With population growth soaring in Spanish speaking countries as well as the U.S., this number is estimated to rise to 754 million people by 2050. Even within this single romance language, there are major differences in vocabulary and grammar dependent on region.

At 50 million Spanish speakers and growing, the U.S. now has the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world after Mexico. 70 percent of Latino families are speaking the language at home with the next generation and over time, the U.S. has developed a Spanish variant of its own.

The influence of Hispanics who have migrated to the U.S. from various Latin American countries has a tremendous impact on the U.S. variant. In addition to this, the English language shaped the way U.S Spanish is spoken and written in this country. When translating from English into Spanish, we must keep these considerations in mind. The differences can impact not only understanding, but credibility.

Extralinguistic Conventions
Conventional tones and stylistic principles of English have been adopted by the U.S. Spanish variant. For example, date format in the U.S. is month/day/year. In the rest of Spanish-speaking countries, it is formatted as day/month/year. Adhering to U.S. linguistic conventions, the U.S. Spanish variant utilizes the U.S. format. Other similar extralinguistic conventions include numerical notation, Anglo-Norman measures, and time. Aspects referred to as “country preference” determine how we use Spanish in reference to English. For example, we use PCP (Primary Care Provider). The functionality is determined by the acronym that appears on the card of the health plan member.

Linguistic Conventions
Occasionally the best communication solution for the U.S. variant is the one that most resembles the English language. For example, the designations of state agencies do not have the same equivalences in all countries. The Department of Education can be translated as Ministry of Education or Education secretary. In the U.S. it translates as the Departamento de Educación, which is the official denomination in Spanish of this entity. It’s a simplified approach that unequivocally denotes the real government entity. In U.S. Spanish, this corresponds to the national reference that has been given to the state entity regardless of the linguistic equivalence of the term in other countries. In some cases, we translate the names of government entities but put them in English in parentheses along with their English initials.

Diverse U.S. Hispanics
Just as the English language continues to evolve to create new words from city to city, so does U.S. Spanish. Even within the U.S., different regions have its own unique dialects. For example, the Spanish spoken in Texas is very different from the Spanish in New York. Hispanics in Texas have a heavy Mexican influencer while New York is rooted in Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic, and South American dialects. Translators must understand the diverse Hispanic population in the U.S. to effectively translate into a neutral Spanish intended for Hispanics across the states. Here it is necessary to know the different semantic or misleading connotations that some words have in different countries. For example, “coger” in Spain means “to grab” while in most Latin American countries “coger” means “to have sex”. It is also necessary to avoid localisms or “Americanisms,” such as remera for “t-shirt” said in Argentina, and lana for “money” said in Mexico. Other borrowed English words include: baby shower, blog, webinar, hardware, software, parking, and e-mail.

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