What language is spoken in Mexico?

What language is spoken in Mexico?

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It’s well known that Mexican people speak Spanish. But why Spanish? Is it the official language? It’s not! Moreover, Mexico doesn’t even have an official language! But indeed, one of the most spoken languages in Mexico is the Spanish one, followed by Náhuatl. And what is the Náhuatl language? It’s the most spoken Indigenous language being in front of more than 60 other Indigenous languages spoken today in this country.

You’re already lost? Okay, let’s make a review of Mexican history, you’ll understand better what languages are spoken in Mexico today and why.

Once upon a time in Mexico…

Let’s go through Mexican history from the Maya period to the 21st century.

Maya, Toltec, Aztec

The Maya were people who lived in actual Mexico and Central America between 1200 BC and 400 AC. They reached the peak of their civilization between 600 and 800 AC when they were living in Palenque, Mexico.

Toltec people, another Indigenous civilisation, decided to become sedentary and to live near Tuta, the Mexican capital in 900 AC. In 980, both civilizations were unified in Yucatan and changed the capital of Mexico, in 1200, for Mayapan, located in the same area.

Aztec people set up in the Texcoco lake, this place became their capital: Tenochtitlan (the actual Mexico city) in 1325. Those three civilizations formed the triple alliance in 1428 when the Aztec empire reign began. In fact, in 1441 the old capital Mapayan collapsed.

The first contact between Maya’s people and Christopher Columbus in Honduras was in 1502. The Spanish colonisation started. Between 1517 and 1541, Spanish peninsula conquered the actual Guatemala and Yucatan.

In 1519, Hernan Cortés arrived at San Juan de Ulua in Mexico. Two years later was the decline of Mexico and the Aztec Empire. This period between 1519-1521 is known as the conquest of Mexico.

For more details, you can read: The True History of the Conquest of Mexico written by Bernal Diaz del Castillo; Cartas de relación or Letters and dispatches of Cortés translated by George Folsom and written by Hernan Cortés; General history of the Indies, written by Francisco López de Gomora.

What happened next?

Spanish peninsula took control of actual Mexico from 1535 to 1810 and called it the Viceroyalty of New Spain. It was in this last year (1810) that an armed movement based on the cry of Dolores heard by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla began. The Natives mobilized and this rebellion took advantage of the Spanish situation. Napoleon’s troops were invading the kingdom, it was the Peninsular War. The empire couldn’t be on all fronts. The Natives gained independence the same year and the first federal republic emerged in 1824 was Mexico with a Constitution.

Since 1876, during the Porfiriato, Mexico experienced unprecedented economic prosperity. The country, led by Porfirio Díaz, made a lot of foreign investments: French investments in the bank, and also French, British, North American, German and Spanish investments in business and mining industry. But the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910. Emiliano Zapata and Indigenous troops responded to the uprising movement and asked for field restitution. Díaz resigned in 1911 but the revolution continued.

The current Constitution of the United States of Mexico was promulgated in 1917. Venustiano Carranza proclaimed himself Head of State in 1916 but after the promulgation of the constitution, he officially became the new president. The period between 1928 and 1934 was called the Maximato post-revolutionary period. It was followed in 1934, by the election of Lazaro Cardenas: he was the first president to serve a six-year term presidency after the Mexican Revolution. Finally, in the 21st century, the Institutional Revolutionary Party lost the election after a long-time “reign”. The president since 2018 is Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Back to Mexican languages

Thanks to this brief review of Mexican history, you understand better why Mexican people speak Spanish and Indigenous languages: they have Maya, Toltec, and Aztec ancestors who were colonised by Spanish people. Nevertheless, the Spanish language they speak is actually not the same as the Spanish language spoken in Spain, the Castilian. In fact, the Mexican language is influenced by English, Indigenous, Spanish and French as well! Let’s see some differences!

English influence

The English influence can come from the Porfiriato period when a lot of English and North American investments were done in the Mexican territory. But why the Mexican language is really influenced by the English today is because of the actual position and relation with the USA. In fact, a lot of Mexican cross the border every day to work in this border country. That is the reason why some Spanish words from the Mexican language are different. Here you can find some examples:

 

English

Mexican

Castilian

Speech

Espiche

Discurso

Sandwich

Sándwich

Bocadillo

Ice cream

Nieve

Helado

Basketball

Basquetbol

Baloncesto

Ticket

Tiquete

Billete

Indigenous influence

What about Indigenous languages? In the United States of Mexico, more than 60 Indigenous languages are still spoken! Here is the list of top 10:
  • Náhuatl
  • Yucatec Maya
  • Zapotec
  • Mixtec
  • Mayo
  • Yaqui
  • Tzeltal
  • Tzotzil
  • Chol
  • Totonac
Thanks to all these Indigenous languages, Mexico is the country with the biggest diversity of languages in the world. The Indigenous language which influences the Mexican language the most is the Náhuatl language. It’s spoken since the 7th century in Central Mexico. Today, more than 1,7 million of Nahua people are still speaking this language. Let’s see some words from the Mexican language influenced by the Nahuatl language:

 

English

Náhuatl

Mexican

Castilian

Friend

Coatl (twin)

Cuate

Amigo

Owl

Tecolotl (curve)

Tecolote

Lechuza

Cornfield

Milpa (place of seeding)

Milpa

Maizal

Food to take away

Itacatl (provision ; bag)

Itacate

Comida para llevar

Breast

Chichi (to nurse)

Chichi

Teta

French influence

It’s quite surprising that the Mexican language could be influenced by the French language especially because of the distance between both countries. We can think that this influence comes from the Porfiriato period when some French investments were made in the territory. We can also suppose that the influence comes more from Canada than from France because of the “proximity”. Let’s see the few words of the Mexican language influenced by French and which are different in Castilian:

What impressive is the Mexican language!

It’s amazing how much influence this Mexican language gets from other languages! We can indeed find an infinity of words from the Nahuatl language and others from the Indigenous languages in the Mexican language, Spanish being the base of this language. The influence of French is less in the Mexican language and this is not likely to change. On the other hand, we can think that gradually North American English words will be more and more integrated into this language.

As a consequence, we can think that the Mexican culture is as influenced as the Mexican language. The Mexican culture is, without any doubt, an explosion of different cultures from the traditional indigenous people, through old Spanish traditions to the actual Mexican traditions…

Let’s go to Mexico!

If you want to travel to Mexico because this article has made you want to discover the incredible Mexican culture, you will have to learn a Mexican language. You can find on our VocApp website and in our application a lot of language courses such as Spanish for travelling that will help you learn the basics of Spanish language for your trip! And then, you can learn the vocabulary from the Diferencias entre el español de España y de México course to understand which words, expressions and grammar elements are specific to the Mexican language!
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