Mexico – Spanish Language and Culture
Population: 109.6 million (2009)
Capital: Cuidad de México (Mexico City)
Area: 1.96 million km² (758,449 sq miles)
National Holiday: 16th of September
Calling Code: + 52
Time Zone: GMT -6 , – 8
GDP: Total – US$ 995.918 billion
Per Capita – US$ 9,168
The Spanish Language in Mexico
Mexico is the largest Spanish speaking country in the world. It is not surprising then to find that there are a variety of different Spanish dialects spoken throughout the territory. The Aztec language Nahuatl has lent many words to Spanish in Mexico and may have influenced the Mexican Spanish trait of pronouncing all consonants (as opposed to many Central American accents). In certain areas other indigenous languages or the origin of the Spanish settlers has affected the dialect in very specific ways.
Special words and expressions
- ¿qué onda? – what’s up, how are you?
- güero/a – blond, refers to anyone who doesn’t have dark hair.
- me vale – I don’t care (or “me vale madre” a more vulgar equivalent like “I don’t give a damn”)
- no mames – no shit
- ¿me puedes hacer una Valona? – can you do me a favor?
- ¡fuchi! – gross!
- órale – an expression used as an affirmation: yeah, great! An equivalent expression is “!andale!”
- ¡a la chingada! – wow, damn! Vulgarity, can be used as an insult as well; !vete a la chingada! – go to hell!
- güey – used to refer to a person (“ese güey”), a friend (“Que hay güey” – what’s up dude?), or as an insult, (que güey que eres – you’re such an idiot)
- ¿a poco? – really? also an exclamation of surprise / incredulity
- pedo – drunk
- la peda – the hangover (another word would be “cruda” “Traigo una cruda terrible” – I have a terrible hangover)
- ¡que chido! – How cool, great!
- ¿mande? – (literally means “command”) a polite way of saying ‘what?’ or ‘pardon?’ It is also used to answer the phone.
- una cheve, una chela – a beer
- la chamba – work
- la alberca – the swimming pool
- gringos – term originally used in Mexico to refer to Americans. However, it is now commonly used in all Spanish-speaking countries (although mostly in Latin America) to refer to all non-Spanish speakers. It is generally more applied to English-speakers or Northern Europeans.
- la piñata: a brightly decorated figure made of cardboard and paper-maché and stuffed with candies and small toys. It is traditional at birthday parties and festivities.
Other languages spoken
- Nahuatl – the most important Amerindian language, spoken by 1.5 million people. Mayan languages such as Tzotzil, Tzetzal and Chol follow, and they are spoken by close to 800,000 people in total. Other indigenous languages include Mixtec, Zapothec, Otomi, Mazatec. However in total, there are close to 300 different languages listed for Mexico.
- Mexican law grants all native languages, regardless of the number of speakers or their origin, the same status as Spanish as a “National Language”. For example, Kickapoo, a language spoken by Native Americans who emigrated to Mexico, is considered a national language.
- English – there are over 1,000,000 U.S. citizens that live in Mexico. This presence of this group, combined with the fact that Mexico shares a border with the U.S., make English the second most common language spoken (especially in areas close to the border).
- Arabic – spoken by 400,000 people in Mexico
- German – close to 80,000 German-speaking Mennonites currently reside in Mexico.
Spanish dialects and variations
- Around 10 different linguistic varieties of Spanish exist in Mexico. Although the greatest variations of dialects exist from North to South, there are also differences between the coast and inland and even from town to town.
- Due to Mexico City’s importance as an administrative center of Colonial Spain, the Spanish that developed there retained many characteristics of Castilian Spanish.
- Southern Spanish in Mexico is perhaps the most extreme, as northern dialects have clear pronunciation and are considered more ‘correct’. Dialects vary more in the South, although on the coast, the language is uniform regardless of the dialects spoken inland. In some regions close to Guatemala, ‘voseo’ co-exists with ‘tuteo’.
- Spanish spoken on the Yucatan Peninsula in the southeast of Mexico is unique in every linguistic aspect. Close to 40% of the population in this region still speak Mayan languages and these have greatly affected the Spanish. Consonants are pronounced differently and many Mayan words are incorporated into everyday language.
Geography and Climate
Mexico is the 14th largest country in the world and its terrain is varied with mountains, deserts, lush tropical forests, and many islands in the Pacific (Gulf of California) and the Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean). It is crossed from north to south by the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, while the coastal areas are flatter. Southern Mexico has a tropical climate (except in higher altitudes) whereas the north experiences some seasonal change, with cooler temperatures in the winter. The north, and especially the northwest, is much drier than the south, which has significant rainfall during the wet season.
History & Politics
Mexico was home to the advanced ancient civilization of the Aztecs. It was conquered in the early 1500’s and became a Spanish colony for over three centuries before gaining independence in 1821. In the beginning of the 20th century, social unrest led to revolutionary movements amongst peasants ending with land reform and nationalization of industries. In 1993 Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with the US and Canada, opening its trade borders with these countries in an effort to grow the economy. In 2000, Vicente Fox became the first President outside of the dominant “Institutional Revolutionary Party” (PRI) to be elected in 71 years.
¿Sabías qué….? When Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519,
the Aztecs believed he was their returning god, Quetzalcoatl, and offered him
the drink of the Gods – hot chocolate!
After having been subject to violence and harassment from criminal groups and corrupt politicians for many years (in the past 30 years dozens of journalists have been killed), the press in Mexico finally obtained legal protection and a freedom of information liberty act was passed. Since then, corruption and censorship have diminished and the Mexican press has been growing and attracting many new young talents and presenting a wide range of opinions.