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New Mexican Spanish, a dialect unique to America, survives primarily in prayer

On a Saturday afternoon in spring, two “Hermanos” knelt in prayer in the Chapel of the Catholic Brotherhood of Saint Isidore the Peasant, surrounded by pine forests outside this village in an alpine valley.

The words of Fidel Trujillo and Leo Paul Pacheco echoed in Neo-Mexican, a unique dialect that evolved from a mixture of medieval Spanish and indigenous forms. This historic and endangered dialect is as central to these communities as the iconic adobe churches, and its greatest chance of survival may also be through faith.

Fidel Trujillo (left) and Leo Paul Pacheco of Hermanos look at a recently built adobe kitchen next to the 1860s Morada de San Isidro outside Holman, New Mexico. Mr. Miss. It is also the main chapel and meeting place of the Catholic Brotherhood. , April 15, 2023.

“The prayers that are sung and recited are our sacred heritage,” says Gabriel Melendez, professor emeritus of American studies at the University of New Mexico and Hermano. “Prayer is stronger when we pray in Spanish. Prayer connects us directly with our ancestors.”

The New Mexican Spanish language is preserved primarily in places of worship, particularly the mud-and-straw chapels of the Brotherhood in the northernmost rural areas of the state, which are called moradas. but preserved in this sober “morada”, unlike all other languages.

“Unlike most other Spanish languages ​​in use today in the United States, its origins date back to the 1500s, not through immigration in the last 100 years,” says Israel Sanz Sanchez, professor of languages ​​at Westchester University in Pennsylvania. says Mr. I looked up dialects.

Spanish explorers and missionaries first reached these valleys between mountains, deserts and plains at the end of the 16th century. Pushed back south by the Pueblo Natives and settled a century later. And their language evolved to incorporate not only words brought over from Spain in the Middle Ages, but also a mixture of Mexican Spanish, indigenous forms, and expressions that originated after they eventually became part of the territory. bottom. American.

For centuries, verbal dialects have been preserved in these villages, remote from centers of political and economic power.

“I never heard English here,” said Felix López, who grew up in the 1950s in Torchas, a village on the ridge between Santa Fe and Taos. There, the master “Santello”, an artist specializing in religious art, has contributed to the preservation of the sacred site in the 1760s. mission church.

By the mid-twentieth century, however, the push to increase schooling in English led many educators to correct students for using a unique combination of New Mexican Spanish grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. said Damien Vergara Wilson, professor of Spanish at the University of New Mexico. .

He has been committed to teaching Spanish not as a foreign language, but as a traditional language that has evolved into something unique to New Mexico.

It includes some words from Medieval Spanish, but also pronunciations that developed in villages in New Mexico, as well as words specific to the geographical and historical sites that were the crossroads of American civilization. For example, there are several words for turkey, including anglicized versions used in the context of Thanksgiving.

Such code-switching is often overlooked in education and the general public, with younger generations often sticking to English or learning modern Spanish, especially spoken in bordering Mexico. As a result, many villagers are concerned about the preservation of Neo-Mexican Spanish.

“The dialects we speak are disappearing. We are the last generation to learn it as our mother tongue,” says Angelo Sando, “mayor” or caretaker of the 1830s San Antonio church in the village of Córdoba. Mr. Val (45) says. It is located just down the valley from Torchas.

Angelo Sandoval, caretaker of the

Angelo Sandoval, caretaker of the “Majordolmo” or 1830s San Antonio Church, stands on a dirt road in Cordova, New Mexico, April 14, 2023.

Your best chance of survival is prayer. Traditional devotions have been passed down by Hermanus from generation to generation and are easy to remember due to their balladic rhymes. Sometimes it is transcribed in a notebook called “Quadernos”. A 120-year-old handwritten notebook can also be found in the adobe crevices of Holman’s chapel.

A handbook of prayers and hymns, known as

A handbook of prayers and hymns, known as “Quadernos,” rests in a crevice in an adobe wall in Morada de San Isidro, outside Holman, New Mexico, April 15, 2023.

Even in big cities, people often ask for prayers in New Mexican Spanish for special occasions, such as rosaries for the deceased or holiday novenas.

In Santa Fe, a prayer to the widely venerated Our Lady of Peace contains some original Spanish terms, such as “Sacratissimo Gijo,” which means “Most Holy Son,” said the archdiocese’s director. said curator and archivist Bernadette Lucero. of Santa Fe.

The nearly 100-year-old Women’s Folklore Association (Sociedad Folklorica de Nuevo Mexico) also regularly practices the dialect in hymns and nine-day “novena” prayers to the baby Jesus. Lucero added.

Even in the small town of Bernalillo, where the Albuquerque suburb blends into the sprawling mesa, the mayors of San Lorenzo keep the dialect alive in their prayers and annual celebrations.

Santiago Montoya, the

Santiago Montoya, the “mayor” or custodian of the San Lorenzo or St. Lawrence Historic Reserve, during an interview on April 17, 2023 in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

“When you sing the old ‘Aravado’ you can trace who wrote it,” Santiago Montoya said of the New Mexico Brotherhood Catholic hymn (Spanish for “araval”).

For 23 years, Montoya and his sister have served as mayor of San Lorenzo Church, built in the mid-19th century with four-foot-wide adobe walls. The community fought to save it when a larger modern church was built next door.

Exterior of El Santuario de San Lorenzo in Bernalillo, New Mexico, April 17, 2023.

Exterior of El Santuario de San Lorenzo in Bernalillo, New Mexico, April 17, 2023.

But he is also a “Leather Doll” who recites and sings the Rosary (a series of prayers of Hail Mary called “Decades”), which he does on behalf of the community, especially the deceased. He sticks to using New Mexico Spanish, even though his family speaks only English.

“I said to them, ‘I’m going to do it in English for 30 years, but I’m going to teach the kids,'” Montoya said.

https://www.voanews.com/a/new-mexican-spanish-a-unique-american-dialect-survives-mostly-in-prayers/7104946.html New Mexican Spanish, a dialect unique to America, survives primarily in prayer

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