International Journal of the Linguistic Association of the Southwest


The rapid growth of Hispanic communities in the western United States has prompted multiple recent studies on states whose Hispanic history is relatively recent when compared with the states that border Mexico. One state that has received relatively little attention in this area is Utah, whose Hispanic population has more than quintupled in the past three decades. One in seven Utahns identified as Hispanic or Latino in the 2020 Census, as compared to fewer than one in 20 in 1990. This growth is consistent with that of the Hispanic population in other non-border states in the West. Utah differs from its neighboring states in the make-up of the Hispanic population, as it counts the lowest percentage of Mexicans (other than New Mexico, where many identify as “Spanish”, “Spaniard”, or “other Hispanic or Latino”) of any state in the region. Conversely, the percentage of Hispanics who claim South American origin is triple that of any other state, and its Central American percentage is also well above the regional average. Utah’s history as a church destination may account for some of this disparity, as it attracts adherent immigrants from all over the world.

Spanish language maintenance figures for the state are relatively low, and we find a moderate-to-strong correlation between language maintenance and recent immigration. Language maintenance figures are strongest in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, which accounts for most of the state’s general population and Hispanic population.

An attitudinal survey taken among Spanish speakers in the metropolitan area found strong language attitudes toward Spanish language maintenance among first-generation speakers, with mixed results among subsequent generations. Attitudinal questions about Spanish speakers in the area also yielded positive descriptive assessments, with no clear preference for a prestige variety in the area.

Utah’s bilingual education system is explored, with a recognition that the number of dual immersion programs in the state is noteworthy across multiple languages.