Mexican Spanish

Mexican Spanish

Mexican Spanish (translated literally "español mexicano" in Spanish) is a version of the Spanish language, as spoken in Mexico and in various places of Canada and the United States of America, where there are communities of Mexican origin.

Spanish was brought to Mexico beginning in the 16th century CE. As a result of Mexico City's central role in the colonial administration of New Spain, the population of the city included relatively large numbers of speakers from Spain. Mexico City (Tenochtitlán) had also been the capital of the Aztec Empire, and many speakers of the Aztec language Nahuatl continued to live there and in the surrounding region, outnumbering the Spanish-speakers for several generations. Consequently, Mexico City tended historically to exercise a standardizing effect over the entire country, more or less, evolving into a distinctive dialect of Spanish which incorporated a significant number of hispanicized Nahuatl words.



The territory of contemporary Mexico is not coextensive with what might be termed Mexican Spanish. First, the Spanish of the Yucatán Peninsula is distinct from all other forms, both in intonation and in the incorporation of Mayan words. The Spanish spoken in the areas that border Guatemala resembles the variation of Central American Spanish spoken in that country, where the voseo is used. Secondly, Spanish remained a language widely used in Texas after its independence from Mexico, where it is identified as Tex-Mex. Thirdly, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo many Mexicans remained in the territory taken by the U.S. and continued to speak Spanish within their communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. A Spanish linguistic variety known as Ladino (one of several uses of the term Ladino) is still spoken in parts of New Mexico (for example, in the town of La Mesilla in the south, as well as in northern areas of the state). And also, the waves of 19th and 20th century migration from Mexico to the United States have very much contributed to making Mexican Spanish the most widely spoken variety of Spanish in the United States, except on the East Coast, where Caribbean Spanish is most common (e.g. Miami, where there is an important Cuban community, and the Northeastern U.S., where there are many significant Puerto Rican communities). The Spanish spoken in the Gulf coastal areas of Veracruz and Tabasco and in the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, is also distinctive—at least at the level of vernacular speech—as the Spanish spoken there exhibits more Caribbean phonetic traits than that spoken in the rest of Mexico.

Regarding the evolution of the Spanish spoken in Mexico, the Swedish linguist Bertil Malmberg points out that in Mexican Spanish, unlike most variations of the other Spanish-speaking countries, the vowels lose strength, while consonants are fully pronounced. Malmberg explains this by the influence of the consonant-complex Nahuatl language through bilingual speakers and place names. However, there are currently more than 50 native Mexican languages spoken throughout the country and they all contribute to the diversity of accents found all over Mexico.[1] For instance, the tonal or "sing song" quality of some forms of Mexican Spanish derives from some of the indigenous languages such as Zapotec which, like Chinese, include tonality in their standard form. The strength of the consonants in Mexican Spanish is thus not necessarily from native Mexican influence, especially since other Romance languages, most notably Italian (which is replete with double consonants), also have strengthened consonants, and Mexican Spanish dates from the 17th century.


10 varieties of Mexican Spanish.
  Norteño regiomontano (northern variant)
  Norteño (western northern variant)
  Bajacaliforniense (peninsular northern variant)
  Tapatío or Jalicense (western variant)
  Bajío (lowlands variant)
  Chilango/Defeño or Altiplano (central variant, also termed neutral, akin to BBC English)
  Oaxaqueño (central southern variant)
  Costeño or Veracruzano/Acapulqueño (coastal variant)
  Chiapaneco (south-eastern variant, similar to Central American Spanish)
  Yucateco (eastern variant)

A striking feature of Mexican Spanish, particularly in that of central Mexico, is the high rate of unstressed vowel reduction and elision, as in /ˈtɾasts/ (trastos, 'cooking utensils'). This process is most frequent when a vowel is in contact with the sound /s/, so that /s/+vowel+/s/ is the construction when the vowel is most frequently affected.[2][3][4] It can be the case that the words pesos, pesas, and peces are pronounced the same /ˈpesᵊs/. The vowels are slightly less frequently reduced or eliminated in the constructions /t, p, k, d/+vowel+/s/, so that the words pastas, pastes, and pastos may also be pronounced the same /ˈpasts/.

Also present in most of the interior of Mexico is the preservation (absence of debuccalization) of syllable-final /s/; this, combined with frequent unstressed vowel reduction, gives the sibilant /s/ a special prominence. This situation contrasts with that in the coastal areas, on both the Pacific and the Gulf Coastal sides, where the weakening of syllable-final /s/ is a sociolinguistic marker, reflecting the tension between the Mexico City norm and the historical tendency towards consonantal weakening characteristic of coastal areas in Spanish America.


Due to influence from local languages like Nahuatl, Mexican Spanish also has a voiceless alveolar affricate [t͡s] and a lateral alveolar affricate [t͡ɬ] represented by the respective digraphs ‹tz› and ‹tl›,[5] like in the word tlapalería [t͡ɬapaleˈɾia].


In addition to the usual fricatives of other American Spanish dialects ([f], [s], [x]), Mexican Spanish also has [ʃ], [ʒ], [z], [v] and [χ][5] mostly in words from indigenous languages. The [ʃ], represented orthographically as ‹x›, is commonly found in words of Nahuatl or Mayan languages such as Xola, [ˈʃola]). (The spelling ‹x› also represents two other pronunciations: [x] (also mostly in place names) as in México ([ˈmexiko]), and (in words of Latin origin) [ks] as in anexar ([anekˈsar]).) In many Nahuatl words in which ‹x› originally represented [ʃ], the pronunciation has changed to [x] (e.g., Jalapa/Xalapa).

In Northern Western Mexican Spanish, Yucateco, Oaxaqueño and in variants influenced by Mayan languages [tʃ] represented by ‹ch› tends to be deaffricated to [ʃ].

In most variants of Mexican Spanish the letter ‹y› is pronounced as the palatalized voiced post alveolar fricative [ʒʲ] before ‹a›, ‹o›, ‹u›, and is pronounced as [dʒ] before ‹e› and ‹i›. The letters ‹ll› follow the same pronunciation as ‹y› in certain dialects. In words of Zapotec origin ‹x› is pronounced as [ʒ].

In the Jalicense, Bajío, Oaxaqueño and Yucateco variants of Mexican Spanish ‹z› is pronounced as [z] rather than the standard Spanish pronunciation where the the letters ‹s› and ‹z› are both pronounced as [s]. In the Defeño variant ‹z› can be pronounced interchangeably between [z] and [s].

Regarding the pronunciation of the phoneme /x/, the articulation in most of Mexico is velar [x], as in caja [kaxa] ('box'). On the southern coasts, the normal articulation is glottal [h], as in most Caribbean and Pacific coast dialects of Spanish. In dialects of Oaxaca the pronunciation of /x/ is uvular [χ], identical to a Mayan pronunciation. In Spanish spelling before the conquest of Mexico, the letter ‹x› represented /ʃ/. Historical shifts have moved this articulation to the back of the mouth.

Due to the influence of Indigenous languages and to a lesser extent, American English, Mexican Spanish has a larger inventory of consonants then European Spanish and the pronunciation of

The consonants of Mexican Spanish
  Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Labio-
Plosive p /p/
b /b/
t /t/
d /d/
  d /ð/ c~qu /k/
g /g/
cu /kʷ/
Affricate b~v /β/ tl /t͡ɬ/
tz /t͡s/
ch /t͡ʃ/
y /dʒ/
Fricative f /f/
z /z/
x~ch /ʃ/
  j~x /x/
g /ɣ/
ju /xʷ/
gu /ɣʷ/
x~j~g /χ/
Nasal m /m/ n /n/   ñ /ɲ/ n /ŋ/    
Approximant   l /l/   i /j/
ll /ʎ/
  hu /w/  
Trill   rr /r/
r /ɾ/


Mexican Spanish is a tuteante form of the language (i.e. using and its traditional verb forms for the second person familiar), voseo being confined to some parts of the state of Chiapas, where the local Spanish rather belongs to the Central American region. In Chiapas, the verb forms corresponding to vos are the same as in Guatemala—in other words, the present indicative and subjunctive have oxytone forms with monophthongal endings (cantás/-és, comés/-ás, subís/-ás); the imperative has no final /d/; there is sociolinguistic variation in the future between forms in -ás and forms in -és/-ís (the latter being the less prestigious of the alternants); and the remaining vos forms are identical to those that go with in standard Spanish.

Vosotros (Second Person Plural, in English "you all"). Vosotros is only in current usage in Spain and can also be found in certain archaic texts in Mexico. It sounds odd to Mexican ears. However, since it is used in many Spanish-language bibles throughout the country, most Mexicans are familiar with the form and understand it. Nevertheless, like in the rest of Spanish America, it has fallen out of everyday use.

An interesting feature of Mexican Spanish, found throughout the country, is the frequent use of diminutive suffixes with many nouns, adverbs and adjectives, even where no semantic diminution of size or intensity is implied. Most frequent is the -ito/ita suffix, which replaces the final vowel on words that have one. Words ending with -n use the suffix -cito/cita. Use of the diminutive does not necessarily denote small size, but rather often implies an affectionate attitude; thus one may speak of "una casita grande" ('a nice, big house').

When the diminutive suffix is applied to an adjective, often a near-equivalent idea can be expressed in English by "nice and [adjective]". So, for example, a matress (un colchón) described as "blandito" might be "nice and soft", while calling it "blando" might be heard to mean "too soft".

Frequent use of the diminutive is found across all socioeconomic classes, but its "excessive" use is commonly associated with lower-class speech.

Some prefixes and suffixes

In Mexico, the diminutive suffix -ito is also used to form affectives to express politeness or submission (cafecito, meaning little coffee; cabecita, meaning little head; chavito, meaning little young boy), and is attached to names (Marquitos, meaning little Marcos; Juanito, meaning little Juan) denoting affection. In the northern parts of the country, the suffix -ito is often replaced on informal situations by '-illo" (cafecillo, cabecilla, morrillo, Juanillo).

In Spanish, the "-ísimo" is used as a suffix to emphasize the original meaning of adjectives; it is equivalent to the Italian/Latin/Portuguese "issimo/íssimo". For instance, the word "grande", which means literally big, can be emphasized (grandísimo) therefore meaning "very big". Unlike many Spanish-speaking countries, it is common in Mexico to emphasize the adjective twice or three times: grandísimo, meaning "very big", can be emphasized again (grandisísimo), thus meaning "very very big"; and even again (grandisisísimo), meaning "very very very big".

The suffix "-ote" is typically used in Mexico as the augmentative ending; thus making nouns bigger, larger, more powerful, etc. For example, the word "camión" by itself literally means "bus"; adding the suffix, camionzote means "big or long bus". It can be repeated just as in the case of the suffix "-ito" and "-ísimo", therefore camionzotototote means "very very very big bus".

The suffix "-uco" or "-ucho" and its feminine counterparts "-uca" and "-ucha" respectively, are used as a disparaging form of a noun; for example, the word casa, meaning "house", can be modified with that suffix (casucha) to change the word's meaning to make it more disparaging, and sometimes offensive; so the word "casucha" is often a shanty, hut or hovel. With the word madera (wood), for example, it is often used with the other suffix (-uca: maderuca) and it means rotten, ugly wood.

Other suffixes include, but are not limited to: "-azo" as in "carrazo", which refers to a very impressive car (carro) such as a Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz; "-ón", for example "narizón", meaning "big-nosed" (nariz = "nose"), or "patona", a female with large legs (patas). Some others include "-udo", as in "narizudo", also meaning "big-nosed"; the prefix "a-" or "en-" used with the suffix "-ado", as in "acamado" or "engentado", meaning, respectively, someone who is tired of being in bed, and someone who is tired of being in crowds and with many people.

It is also common to add a ch- to form diminutives, e.g. Isabel => Chabela, José María => Chema, Cerveza (beer) => Chela, Concepción => Conchita, Sin Dientes (without teeth) => Chimuela. This is common in, but not exclusive to, Mexican Spanish.


Several syntactic patterns that sound very "non-standard" to the Peninsular ear are routine in Mexican Spanish. First and foremost is the more or less conventionalized ellipsis of the negative particle "no" in clauses containing the preposition "hasta" (until):

  • Será publicado hasta fines de año. ('It will not be published until the end of the year.')
  • Cierran hasta las nueve. ('They don't close until 9 o'clock.')
  • Hasta que tomé la píldora se me quitó el dolor. ('Until I took the pill, the pain did not go away.')

In each case, the sentence has the sense indicated by the English translation only if the main verb is implicitly understood as being negated.

A departure from Peninsular usage (which Mexico shares with many other areas of Spanish America) involves using interrogative "qué" in conjunction with the quantifier "tan(to)"[6] ("Qué tan" "Qué tanto" = How):

  • ¿Qué tan graves son los daños? (How serious are the damages?) (Whereas in Spain the question would be posed as "¿Hay muchos daños?") (Is there a lot of damage?)
  • ¿Qué tan buen cocinero eres? (How good a cook are you?)

Note that phenomena relating to bilingualism are likely to be encountered among bilinguals whose primary language is not Spanish or in isolated rural regions where the syntactic influence of indigenous languages has been important historically. One of the most discussed of these phenomena is the redundant use of verbal clitics, particularly "lo", a tendency that is encountered in language contact areas throughout Latin America.

Another departure from Peninsular Spanish is that of the preference for the use of the preposition "por" instead of "durante", that in Mexico, as well as in some other regions of the Spanish Americas, is commonly used to convey a time duration or span. For example, whereas in Peninsular Spanish using "por" in a sentence such as Fue el presidente de la compañía por veinte años (He was the president of the company for twenty years) would sound odd and even incorrect—the preferred sentence being in that case Fue el presidente de la compañía durante veinte años—that use of "por" is widespread in Mexican Spanish, to the point that "durante" is quite uncommonly used.


Mexican Spanish retains a number of words that are considered archaic in Spain.

Also, there are a number of words widely used in Mexico which have Nahuatl, Mayan or other native origins, in particular names for flora, fauna and toponyms. Some of these words are used in most, or all, Spanish-speaking countries, like chocolate and aguacate (avocado), and some are only used in Mexico. An example of the latter would be guajolote, for "turkey" (although pavo is also used, as in other Spanish-speaking countries) which comes from the Nahuatl huaxōlōtl. Other examples would be papalote for "kite", from the Nahuatl pāpālōtl for "butterfly"; and jitomate for "tomato" from the Nahuatl xītomatl (see List of Spanish words of Nahuatl origin for a more complete list). Other usages that are unique to Mexican Spanish include:

  • Pelo chino means curly hair, although literally it means "Chinese hair".
  • Chichis means teats.
  • "¿Mande?" (Roughly translated, a formal "(you) order?"; from mandar, 'to order'). Also used as an equivalent to "(beg your) pardon?"
  • The use of "¿Qué?" ("What?") on its own is sometimes considered impolite, unless it is accompanied by a verb: "¿Qué dijiste?" ("What did you say?") or "¿Qué pasó?" ("What happened?"). Otherwise "¿Cómo?" ("How?") is preferred.
  • Ahorita: Literally "right now", used to say something should happen within an indeterminate, largely context-dependent period of time.
  • Chingadera [or chingado (-a) followed by what is being referred to]: any unspecified object (considered vulgar), damned as in damned thing.
  • Chingar: to screw/ruin/rob/steal/fuck/work/eat (vulgar), replaces the versatility of the English term "fuck" in Spanish. Considered vulgar.
  • "¿Cómo (la) ves?": Literally "How do you see (it)?", means "What do you think (about something)?"
  • "Escuincle" Literally household dog in Nahuatl, used to refer to a bratty child. Can be used in plural "escuincles"
  • Bronca: Literally "aggressive woman or girl or wild female animal", commonly used amongst young people; means "fight" or "problem". Also can mean just "wild, untame", as for example unpasteurised milk is referred to "leche bronca", i.e. wild milk.
  • Güey' "Wey" or "Buey"':(Literally, "ox") Dude, guy, but also used as "dumb", "asinine", "moron", etc. NOT to be confused with "Huey" from the Aztec title "Huey Tlatoani", in which "Huey" is a term of reverence.
  • Güero: someone with light hair (blond). Not considered offensive.
  • Naco from Nahuatl naca, meaning flesh or people; it may also come from "Nacayote" or "Nejayote", corn-processing wastewater, which also means "drooling" (as in "stupid") A boorish and/or uneducated person (pejorative).
  • Orale: similar to the English expression "Wow".
  • "¿Qué onda?" (literally, "What's the vibe"?) is commonly used as a "What's up?"
  • Padre: Literally "father," used as an adjective to denote something being "cool", attractive, good, fun, etc.: "Esta música está muy padre." ("This music is really cool."). Chido is also used for the same intention.
  • Pinche: Literally means "kitchen assistant". Used as "fucking", "bloody" (vulgar): "Quita tu pinche cara de aquí." ("Take your bloody face away from here.")
  • Pedo: Literally "fart", used for the same or when there is a problem as in "Hay un pedo, or it can mean "situation" as in the greeting "¿Qué pedo güey?" ("What's the situation dude?".". It can also mean "drunk", and "estar pedo" means "to be drunk". A "peda" is a party or reunion with significant amounts of alcohol and also refers to the state of drunkenness.
  • Popote: (drinking) straw.
  • En un momento.Literally means "in a moment". Usually used as "hold on a second" or "one moment".
  • Hablar: Used instead of llamar in the sense of "call" (on the telephone).
  • Macho: A Nahuatl word whose translation in Spanish is "Ejemplar", meaning "someone to be imitated" in English.
  • Chavo(a)/Chamaco(a)/Chilpayate all refer to a kid, teen, or youngster. Huerco(a), Morro(a)" are used in the northern parts of the country. All these terms but Chilpayate are usually found in their diminutives: Chavito(a), Chamaquito(a), Huerquito(a), Morrito(a).

Similar dialects

The small amount of Spanish spoken in the Philippines has traditionally been influenced by Mexican Spanish (as Mexico City administered the territory for the Spanish crown).

See also

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External links

  • Jergas de habla hispana—A Spanish dictionary specializing in dialectal and colloquial variants of Spanish, featuring all Spanish-language countries including Mexico.
  • Latin American Spanish—This is the universal and somewhat arbitrary name that is given to idiomatic and native expressions and to the specific vocabulary of the Spanish language in Latin America.
  • Mexican Spanish slang—Several hundred words of Mexican slang and English meanings.

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