Friday, June 10, 2011

The Spanish Language In Alabama from the Colonial Period (1780-1813) to 1861.

The Spanish language has existed in Alabama, since the colonial period as individuals have immigrated and settled here, but the little Spanish community was never numerous nor concentrated. Once these individuals married an American, the language usually became extinct within the first generation. If it was indeed passed down, it became a “dead” language as only passive bilinguals had limited knowledge of it. I have also searched for any survivals of Basque, Galician and specifically Catalan, in the local area, with no success.
The Spanish language in Alabama from the Spanish Colonial Period (1780-1813) and the pre-1861 period, died out in the late 1940’s. This language was still spoken by grandchildren of the Spanish colonists as late as the Second World War. My research into “Alabama Spanish” shows that  the last fluent pre-1861 Spanish speaker died during this period.
I found and interviewed two grandchildren
of Colonial Spanish speakers. Both are in their
mid-eighties who are vestigial “rememberers” who, although they themselves cannot speak Spanish, they were able to follow a simple conversation in Spanish and answer questions posed to them. Both of them remembered parts of a popular children’s song which was sung to them by their grandfathers and one was able to remember parts of a popular “Decima” song he heard growing up. They pronounced the little Spanish words they put together in what can best be described as the atypical Caribbean Spanish whose beginnings were in the Canary Islands and southern Spain with a admixture of the northern Spanish dialects. There are about ten or so “rememberers” whose Spanish ancestors arrived between 1860 and 1900. I have been unable to find any other “Alabama Spanish” survivals. There has never been a study of this vestigial “Alabama Spanish,” and I fear that the last living memories of the men and women who left Spain and her colonies for a new life in Alabama will die with them.
The Spanish Ladino dialect still exists among
Sephardic Jews, who live and worship in Alabama, but I have been able to identify only one individual in Mobile who speaks it fluently. There is a small Sephardic community, in Montgomery, but they arrived after 1910. The Ladino dialect spoken by the original immigrants which is based on the dialect of the Island of Rhodes exists, but is presently in irreversible language death.

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