Is U.S. Spanish real?

You may have heard that “a language is a dialect with an army and navy,” a quip attributed to Max Weinreich. U.S. Spanish – the specific variety of Spanish spoken in the United States – may not lay claim to its own military. But it has the support of the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (ANLE), the North American Academy of the Spanish Language.

The ANLE is a U.S.-based organization of professors and journalists. It aims to describe Spanish as it is spoken in the United States. The ANLE has identified a number of words with unique characteristics. Many of these have been included in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE), the defining standard of the Spanish language.


Most notably, the word “estadounidismo” was accepted into the DRAE in 2012. This is taken as official acknowledgment that the United States hosts a distinct variety of Spanish. “Estadounidismos” (“United-States-isms”) are Spanish words that have either originated or gained a specific meaning in the U.S. These may be words that mirror similar-sounding English words, such as rentar (“to rent”) or agencia (“agency”). But these words are not used like this in any other Spanish-speaking region.

Estadounidismos are not Spanglish

People who are bilingual in English and Spanish sometimes mix these languages. They might switch from one language to another in mid-sentence. Or they might speak Spanish peppered with many English words or vice versa. “Spanglish” is a somewhat derogatory label for this language mixture. “U.S. Spanish”, however, is not a linguistic mess. Instead, it truly is a form of Spanish. But is has specific characteristics of pronunciation and lexicon that make it decidedly American.

Estadounidismos are not Americanismos

Well, here we have a bit of an unclean overlap between two languages. “Estadonunidismos” are certainly “Americanisms”, but they are not “americanismos”. “Americanism” in English refers to words used in or originating from the United States. “Americanismos” in Spanish refers to words used in or originating from Latin and South America. This includes words borrowed from indigenous languages, such as cigarro (from Mayan) or tomate (from Náhuatl). Then there are words originating from American Spanish, such as taco (Mexico) or tango (Argentina). This is why Spanish needed the new word “estadounidismo” to capture the phenomenon of Spanish words originating from the United States.

U.S. Spanish in translation

At The Geo Group, we have seen a marked shift in the requests from our clients over the last 15 years. In 2002, our clients mainly asked for “Spanish”. They left it up to us to determine which variety would be most appropriate. In 2017, clients came to us knowing that different varieties of Spanish exist. They have also realized that the United States is a linguistic region in its own right for Spanish.

Spanish dialects requested by clients

Spanish dialects requested by clients of The Geo Group

Written by Philipp Strazny of The Geo Group Corporation

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