Spanglish - A "New" American Language

Jonrón   Wednesday, March 02, 2005, 03:53 GMT
What are your thoughts on this:

Spanglish, A New American Language

A car ad on a Spanish-language radio station in New York mixes directions in Spanish with the phrase "quality-checked certified pre-owned vehicles." A sign in Springfield, Mass. warns young Latinos: "No Hangear" – don't hang out on this corner. Spanglish – a cross between Spanish and English -- it seems, is everywhere. NPR's Bob Edwards talks about the language mix with Ilan Stavans, author of a new book, Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language.

Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, says Spanglish changes so fast it's hard to pin down. His book includes a Spanglish dictionary. Some examples: "Backupear" is to back up a car, "yarda" is yard, "pregneada" is pregnant.

Though Spanglish has been around for some time, some people worry that it will corrupt the English language. But Stavans says its use can be inspiring.

"There are many people out there that speak English, Spanish and Spanglish. It is a language that, to this day, academics [distrust], that politicians only recently have begun to take it more into consideration. But poets, novelists and essayists have realized that it is the key to the soul of a large portion of the population."

"Latinos are learning English," he says. "That doesn't mean that they should sacrifice their original language or that they should give up this in-betweeness that is Spanglish. Spanglish is a creative way also of saying, 'I am an American and I have my own style, my own taste, my own tongue.'"

Generally, there are two basic approaches to Spanglish, with countless variations: code-switching (mixing) and borrowing. But, Alex Johnson in his magazine article "That curious mixture of English and Spanish is here to stay" (Broadsheet, 1999) points out four different types of Spanglish:

Code-switching - moving from one language to another in normal conversation (“it is very important to honor your abuelitas"). Code-switching (mixing) occurs commonly among bilinguals and when it does, it is often with a sense of humor. But sometimes a speaker may not be able to express himself in one language so he switches to the other to compensate for the deficiency. This code-switching may take a number of different forms, including alteration of sentences, phrases from both languages succeeding each other and switching in a long narrative ("You’ve got a nasty mancha on your camiseta"). Some Spanglish words even have a completely separate meaning in Spanish ("Voy a vacumear la carpeta").

According to Marika Koivisto in her paper "Spanglish: The History and Language of Spanish-Speaking People in the USA.", in normal conversation between two bilinguals, code-switching consists of 84% single word switches, 10% phrase switches and 6% clause switches". (Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere, 1998)

Young bilingual children are adept at switching from one language to another as the conversational situation demands. In one study of bilingual Hispanic children in Miami, Florida, the children had access to a non-overlapping vocabulary in Spanish and English. In this instance, knowing the two languages actually expanded their access to concepts in comparison to children who spoke English or Spanish only.

Bilingual parents can also switch codes in order to provide language that is the best match with the child's level of understanding. Thus bilingual families can use theit language environment to the child's advantage, providing alternative communication strategies to improve communication and understanding.

Borrowing - the adaptation of an English word into a Spanish form ("Quiero parquear el coche"). Borrowing words from English and spanishizing them has typically been the creation of those who contort English words for everyday survival. This method makes new words by pronouncing an English word in a Spanish style, which means dropping final consonants, softening others, and replacing M's with N's and V's with B's, with the resulting word(s) transliterated using Spanish spelling conventions. For example, a housekeeper will plug in the “bacuncliner” to vacuum the rug.

Sometimes an English word is borrowed for reasons of efficiency, since Spanish is famously multisyllabic. Instead of saying, estacionamiento for “parking”, Spanglish speakers opt for “parquin”. And instead of escribir a maquína (to type) they say “taipear”. Another such word is “los winshi-waiper” for “windshield wipers” (in Spanish “las limpiaparabrisas”). Swiftly advancing technology has also added the verbs “bipiar” (from the noun 'beeper') and “i-meiliar” (to e-mail) to the Spanglish vocabulary.

Direct translation - translation of an expression directly into Spanish using English syntax ("Te llamo para atrás" for "I’ll call you back"). Direct translation is really a form of transliteration. Transliteration is a word by word translation of a phrase or sentence. It is not the same thing as translation. Translation completely converts from your native syntax to the target syntax. Many languages vary in their syntax. For example, in English the adjective comes before the noun while in Spanish it comes after the noun. So, translating a string of words one at a time in sequence results in a string of words that have been translated one at a time but not translated as a whole.

Direct translation of sentences would require people to speak and write in ways they are not used to, which is one of the reasons most Americans have rejected Standard Written English (SWE) in favor of a less structured way of using words. With the exception of pre-programmed common phrases known as phrasebooks, transliteration is the method used by today's electronic translators.

Phonetic translation - the children’s cold remedy Vick’s VaporRub, for example, becomes "bibaporú"). Unlike lexical or semantic methods of transliteration, which convey the actual 'meaning' of a word, phonetic translation occurs when people prefer a Spanish word 'sounding like' or 'matching with' the English word (best approximated by a phonetic translation). This commonly occurs with commercial branding and advertising because manufacturers tend to highlight or emphasize phonological English brand names of products to such an extent that consumers eventually identify with them, no matter what language they speak.

A Selection of Spanglish:
aeróbica - dynamic female
averaje - average
boila - heating appliance, boiler
carpeta -- carpet
chopin - 1. shopping center mall; 2. going shopping
deiof - day off
frizer - refrigerator
grocear - to acquire groceries
jonrón - home run
lonche - 1. midday meal. 2. food served to guests at an event
marqueta - supermarket.
pari - a party.
ruki – novice

Computer terms:
chatear – to chat
cliquiar – to click
deletear – to delete
dragear – to drag the mouse
el maus – the mouse
forwardear – to forward
linquiar – to link
printear – to print
Knobjon   Wednesday, March 02, 2005, 05:28 GMT
THis is just stupid.
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, March 02, 2005, 05:53 GMT
I agree. The mixing of Spanish and English by a few populations who master neither language in a few urban centers isn't going to permanently change English (or Spanish). The vast majority of Hispanophones in the world will continue to speak standard Spanish, and the vast majority of Anglophones will continue to speak standard English.

It's interesting how people tend to assume that phenomena that affect their own little corner of the world must necessarily affect the entire planet as well.
Brennus   Wednesday, March 02, 2005, 06:00 GMT
I think that "Spanglish" needs someone to be its specialist and it's nice that you have an interest in it. I can't envision it enduring more than a few generations, however. Some experts on Spanish linguistics claim that New World Spanish is presently splinting into two varieties. One on an axis from Mexico to Chicago and the other on an axis from Puerto Rico to new York. I haven't heard where South American Spanish fits into this picture. Perhaps half of it is going with Mexico and the other half with the Carribean. In the end, both varieties will have their English borrowings but both will still be essential Spanish. One example you mentioned, jonrón - home run, has been a regular part of Puerto Rican and New York Spanish for a long time. Lonche is used a lot by Chicanos for "lunch" instead of almuerzo, but since most Mexicans still use almuerzo it will probably prevail in the end.
Brennus   Wednesday, March 02, 2005, 06:02 GMT
Carribean should be Caribbean.
Brennus   Wednesday, March 02, 2005, 06:05 GMT
essential Spanish should be essentially Spanish (this is not my night!)
Kirk   Wednesday, March 02, 2005, 10:22 GMT
Spanglish is a pretty fascinating phenomenon, but linguistic evidence shows that the dominant language (so, the language most prevalent in the country overall in this case) tends to end up dominating, altho it may experience some noticeable changes as a result of contact with another language. My experience growing up in California in a town where over 1/3 of the population was of Hispanic (not just Mexican, but mostly Mexican) descent was that even by the first generation of native-born Americans, English was becoming dominant. In high school I took an AP Spanish Lit class, and I was the only non-Hispanic (and one of only 2 nonnative Spanish speakers) person in the class. Most of the other students, however, had either been born in the U.S. (but whose parents had immigrated) or had moved there as little kids and were clearly English dominant, even tho most of their friends spoke Spanish too, and were part of a group that identified heavily with Mexican culture (some would say "non-assimilated" or only partially so, altho those are loaded terms).

In class we were of course supposed to speak Spanish, which happened only during official reading times or discussion...during "downtime" I was surprised they almost immediately switched to English in talking amongst themselves, even tho they had just been discussing the intricacies of Borges in Spanish, and didn't need to speak English because everyone in the class spoke and understood fluent Spanish. When I saw them outside of class, English was clearly their dominant and chosen language and the one they spoke most often, albeit peppered with some Spanish words here and there and could switch into rapid-fire Spanish if necessary. Even tho these kids had grown up speaking fluent Spanish, were surrounded by a sizable Spanish-speaking populace in the community and many kept strong ties with Mexico (many went to visit relatives in Mexico several times a year for extended periods of time, especially around Christmas and Summer), English had become their dominant language--it is reasonable to conclude their children will be less and less likely to be fluent Spanish speakers. I'm not arguing that's good or bad, it's just what happens. So, when I see articles like this, I always take them with a grain of salt because they seem to exaggerate current trends and ignore linguistic studies that show that no matter the circumstances, usually by the 2nd and 3rd generations in America, English has become absolutely dominant with the "old country" language less and less used.

This also goes for a lot of my Asian-American university (UC San Diego) is 41% Asian-American, 36% European-American, with a lot of the Asians having been born in America to immigrant parents. Most of my Asian friends even of the first generation born in America can really only speak their parent's language at a child's level, and many can only understand it. Those whose parents speak English well anyway are often least likely to speak their parent's native language--I have several first-generation Asian-American friends who can barely (or, sadly, not at all) communicate with their grandparents (who presumably moved over with their parents) because they really only speak English, and struggle with their monolingual non-English-speaking grandparents. The range can be interesting in different speakers, however...of my three apartment-mates last year, all three were first-generation Asian-Americans whose parents had been born in another country. Two understood Cantonese while speaking with their parents, altho only one could speak it back, the other struggled speaking back in Cantonese even tho he understood it and so almost always spoke English with his parents. The other guy spoke Vietnamese with his mom, and was the most proficient in the "old language" of the three, but even his conversations were necessarily full of English words he didn't know in Vietnamese (or couldn't think of at the moment) "bank statement", "doctor", etc...(I could often get the gist of his phone conversations just by the sheer number of English words...hehe). It goes without saying that their kids will be unquestionably English dominant and will most likely know very little Cantonese and Vietnamese.

I had the chance this past year to experience the draw of being surrounded by a dominant language not native to me (Spanish) while living and studying in Buenos Aires for a semester. Even tho I'm way past the point of acquiring Spanish at a native level and I was only there relatively short-term, I noticed the interesting effects of dominant Spanish on my English when speaking with other Americans there. We Americans living there would pepper our English with Spanish words that for some reason or another just popped to our minds faster, and I even caught myself saying things in English like "oh yeah, I need to grab that CD" , meaning I need to "burn" the CD, but in analogy with Spanish "grabar", somehow English "grab" came out. This is reverse of the "carpeta" effect on Spanish in America; using a similar-sounding word for a new meaning closer to the other language. Needless to say, we Americans were pretty surprised at how modified our English conversations became after a few months in Argentina, having been surrounded by Spanish 24 hours a day. Mind you, it wasn't hard at all switching back to "regular" American English upon getting back to the US, but I was surprised just how powerful a dominant language can be.
greg   Friday, March 04, 2005, 09:09 GMT
Kirk : your analysis about Californian Anglo-Spanish is captivating. I agree that once people are immersed in a new civilisation they tend to adopt most of linguistic standards having currency there – and the ability, propensity and resolution to speak English (conjointly or alternatively or rather than Spanish) in the USA is indeed a crucial standard. But what if the Hispanophone immigration to the USA soars 300 % in the next 50 years ? What would happen if California were to be slowly, peacefully eaten up by Hispanophony through decades of small – yet unstoppably recurring and cumulative – waves of motivated non-gringo people moving north ? Do you think that could lead to a critical-mass phenomenon ?

Since North America is what we’re looking at here, I’m thinking about Québec which, unlike Spanish-speaking California, is deprived of anything close to French-speaking Mexico or Francophone South America. On top of that, there is nothing like a massive French-speaking immigration from France, Belgium, Switzerland or even Africa to Québec (or Ontario). Still, far from disappearing or being diluted, French is thriving in Québec.

It’s hard for me to figure out that the Spanish giant could ever be outsmarted by the French dwarf. Especially in California, the historical, genuine Hispanity of which is difficult to impugn.
Mxsmanic   Friday, March 04, 2005, 13:48 GMT
Currently I see no indication that linguistic dominance will shift from English to Spanish in the U.S. The language of the mainstream and of material wealth and success is English. There may be lots of Spanish-speaking people in California, but they are not the movers and shakers, they are the toilet cleaners and car washers (except for a few demagogues who attempt to dominate them). The State with the highest number of millionaires is Idaho, and that's hardly a Hispanic State. The center of government is Washington, and the center of business is New York, and neither city is Spanish-speaking by any stretch of the imagination.

The smart Hispanophones in the U.S. will switch to English in time. The stupid ones will not. This is also true for immigrants from other cultures. It has been true for even very large waves of immigrants in the past (Irish, Italian, Polish, German … how many descendants of these immigrants speak anything other than English today?).

Similarly, despite the tremendous influence of the United States to the north, I don't expect any Hispanophone countries to switch to English any time soon. The language with the greatest number of speakers in South America is Portuguese, and yet you don't see countries neighboring Brazil rushing to adopt the language in place of Spanish.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.
rich7   Saturday, March 05, 2005, 05:54 GMT
"they are the toilet cleaners and car washers (except for a few demagogues who attempt to dominate them)."

I beg to differ in this regard. Here's why: I'm a venezuelan born (I guess you don't have any idea where it is, never mind) I had the chance to be in Lincoln Nebraska 4 years ago, once there, I realized that every American there who happened to meet me thought I was a mexican wetback destined to clean toilets which I proved them wrong, since I managed to learn the basic English in just the three first months of my stay in the USA , had more culture than most averarge American, even had the oportunity to get into college.
Then when I came back home I realized that everyday more and more well- read spanish speaking youngsters were emigrating to new horizons.
Tiffany   Saturday, March 05, 2005, 06:58 GMT
I also beg to differ with Mxsmanic's view of hispanics in low places. Though I cannot talk for all California (since I just moved here), but there were many Hispanics in my workplace that were not menial workers. Four in particular I remember. One was a technician. Another was in the Finance department. Yet another was a lead in Research and Development. And the last was my BOSS (Creative Director).

I come from Miami, a city were Cubans thrive. In fact, they are the governemnt in Miami. Most officials, police officers, lawyers, real estate agents, etc. have hispanic descent if they are not outright Cuban or some other type of hispanic. Sure, there are hispanic janitors, window washers and bus drivers... but there are white and black ones too.
Cro Magnon   Saturday, March 05, 2005, 07:28 GMT
One of my co-workers is a Puerto Rican computer programmer. Also, many of the Hispanics in my neighborhood are buying and running small businesses. And they're buying enough houses that about every real estate sign now says "Hablomos Espanol".
rich7   Saturday, March 05, 2005, 07:29 GMT
I take it you are in the advertising world.
Cro Magnon   Saturday, March 05, 2005, 07:30 GMT
I meant "Hablamos Espanol"!
Julian   Saturday, March 05, 2005, 07:55 GMT
<<There may be lots of Spanish-speaking people in California, but they are not the movers and shakers, they are the toilet cleaners and car washers (except for a few demagogues who attempt to dominate them).>>

Do you mean strictly Spanish-speaking people? On the surface, they might not seem like the movers and shakers of our society, BUT taken as a whole, they are a huge and ever-increasing force that has greatly influenced the actual movers and shakers to move in their direction.

If you take a look at the local governments in heavily hispanized areas, you'll see a huge number of bilingual English-Spanish speaking officials and Latino-friendly officials running the show. In the City of Los Angeles, 5 of the 15 councilmembers are of Latino descent, plus the City Attorney who wields a significant amount of influence; all are fluent in Spanish and all are very supportive of Latino-American causes. Even the Anglo mayor Jim Hahn, addresses the huge Latino contingent in their native Spanish. Not to mention all the doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen, the media, etc. who are increasing employing Spanish in their trade to increase their customer/client base. So who are the movers and shakers now?

Perhaps in our lifetime we won't be seeing a shift in linguistic dominance from English to Spanish, but we are witnessing a shift from monolingualism to bilingualism.