The population of Spanish speakers in America is growing, increasingly interacting with English-speaking populations to contribute to the expanding cultural melting pot of this country. Hybrid languages often result from this clash of cultures, and one that is rising in prominence and usage is ‘Spanglish’, a combination of Spanish and English that is being found increasingly in different Hispanic American communities (Alvarez 483). Because of the greater exposure Latin-American writers and people are receiving through popular culture and media, Spanglish is becoming more well known all throughout America (Morales 2002). As this hybrid language grows in usage, people wonder if it is a ‘real’ language; however, it is becoming more and more clear that Spanglish itself is merely becoming a symptom of the cultural and lingual blend that America is becoming.
Spanglish came about first through the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; when it was annexed as a territory by the United States in the early 1900s, the government meant to impose English on the residents of the island through courses and school instruction (Ardila 61). Despite this initial instance of growth, Spanglish seems to grow independently in major metropolitan areas where large groups of English and Spanish speakers work and live together; the Spanglish spoken in New York can be widely different than the Spanglish of California, with different types of words substituted and unique sentence structures. Despite its lack of uniformity, Spanglish has a tremendous amount of popularity in the United States, particularly in Latino communities in major areas like Miami (Ardila 61).
It is perhaps the informality of Spanglish that leads to its appeal; linguistically, many different things can be labeled Spanglish. While it is not strictly a pidgin language, it could be considered that because of the borrowing of English words that have no specific counterpart in Spanish (Ardila 66). One may also call it a dialect of Spanish, since many second-generation Latinos have adopted it as their native language when talking to Spanish speakers (Ardila 66). The ubiquity and flexibility of Spanglish is probably its greatest appeal: “Spanglish has few rules and many variations, but at its most vivid and exuberant, it is an effortless dance between English and Spanish, with the two language clutched so closely together that at times they actually converge” (Alvarez 484). This convergence comes in many different forms, all of which are different depending on environment, community, and the whims of the speaker, but result in a fully realized and completely understandable language by those who speak i.
Two primary kinds of Spanglish patterns are found in all the varying communities who speak the language – code switching and borrowing. In ‘borrowing,’ English words are spliced into Spanish sentences, accented appropriately in Spanish, in order to convey the more appropriate meaning of what someone is trying to say. Sometimes, ‘calques’ are used, which are literalized translations of phrases which don’t really make sense in the translated language, but still get the point across. For example, a vacuum cleaner can be referred to by a Spanglish speaker as a bacuncliner, which is merely an English word given the traditional Spanish inflection (Stavans, 2000).
However, with code-switching, sentences fluidly switch between Spanish and English. This is a phenomenon usually found in bilinguals, which many Spanish speakers must become when living in America (Ardila 70). Often, it can be expected that code-switching occurs more when people are speaking to Spanish speakers rather than English, since it is expected that Spanish speakers know more English than English speakers know of the Spanish language. This makes code-switching more workable when dealing with native speakers of Spanish (Ardila 71). Often Spanglish will bring about new verbs, where English verbs are given Spanish suffixes to make them more Spanish, such as ‘telefonear’ (telephone + ar) instead of the Spanish verb to call, llamar (Rothman and Rell 520).
Spanglish is considered by some to be the future of both English and Spanish languages, the latter more than the former. According to Alvarez, Spanglish is “the language of choice for a growing number of Hispanic-Americans who view the hyphen in their heritage as a metaphor for two coexisting worlds” (483). Essentially, Spanglish comes about from being at the perfect intersection of Spanish and English cultures, feeling that they live and breathe in both cultures simultaneously, and not feeling that they have to give either one up. As Spanglish becomes more prominent and secured as a language (as opposed to an awkward way to try to get by in an English-speaking country), culture is starting to shift to accept it as a valid way of speaking. This is especially evident among the young, as youth-oriented magazines and rap music use Spanglish in increasing frequency. As this trend continues, it becomes clear that Spanglish is here to stay, and Latin Americans are starting to use it to define themselves and their experience.
With all of these inroads being made into popular culture, and the usage of Spanglish increasing, what does that mean for the future of the Spanish language? As young people begin to use more and more of the hybrid language to communicate ideas to each other, having learned both English and Spanish, it is possible that future generations will see less and less of strict Spanish being spoken. However, it is clear that this is the future of the Spanish language, or at least a successful offshoot of it – the consequence of living in a multilingual country in which a large population of bilinguals can easily understand both languages at once. This affords them the luxury of picking and choosing what Spanish and English phrases to pick up and drop at any given moment, without the fear that their point will be lost.
Finally, Spanglish seems to be a strangely prideful phenomenon for those who use it – they feel connected to two cultures equally, and wish to express it through language. While others believe that code-switching is “a product of laziness and ignorance,” using English words to fill in gaps in understanding or comprehension in the Spanish language, others simply use it as evidence that Spanish speakers are fluent in both languages at once (Alvarez 486). By using Spanglish, people assert their identity as both Spanish and English-speaking, American and Latino, acculturating themselves based on the environment they actually live in. Spanglish speakers seem to hold that ability close to their sense of identity; they see themselves as both Spanish and English, with the capacity to effortlessly choose whichever language they believe will get their point across better in any given word or phrase (Rothman and Rell 530).
In conclusion, Spanglish is an increasingly popular, ever changing and difficult to define linguistic shift that showcases the intersection between Spanish and English speaking cultures in America. People use this as a dramatic and strong indicator of their identity and their pride in said identity; by using both languages with equal skill, rather than picking one, they establish themselves as acknowledging their joint American and Spanish heritage, and integrate themselves fully into this melting pot called America. As it continues to evolve and increase in popularity, it is entirely possible that we may see a greater presence of Spanglish in American popular culture, as the two cultures blend even further. Meanwhile, those who do speak this hybrid language continue to treat it as a source of pride, an indicator that they can speak two languages and use them both effectively.
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