Is Spanglish A Real Language?

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What is Spanglish? Is it its own language, or rather something of a bridge between English and Spanish, constantly in flux? Spanglish is often considered a pidgin, a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages. But, there is no one definite version of Spanglish. It is not so much a language with its own set of rules. The best way to define Spanglish is that it’s a process of Spanish language culture merging into their American counterparts.

Some versions of Spanglish are simply Spanish using Americanized words. Others are simply a mix of English and Spanish. This happens as Spanish speakers learn more English and substitute Spanish phrases for those they don’t know as well how to say in English. It’s a fascinating lingual phenomenon. Spanglish has drawn much study by many linguists in both the Spanish and English-speaking worlds.

Joaquin Garrido of Instituto Cervantes says that Spanglish is not the formation of a new language. Rather, it is a sort of “adaptive bilingualism.” “It is not” Garrido says, “a simplification bilingualism but an adaptive bilingualism. Speakers are adapting to the fact that they live in an English speaking culture…” Garrido says it is not as much a choice of the speaker, as it is a natural adaptation to the culture surrounding the speaker. Garrido then does not agree with Ilan Stavans, the writer of the book, “Spanglish, a New American Language.”

Stavans finds the constantly changing phenomenon of Spanglish inspiring. He feels it is quite a cultural artifact that will not in any way corrupt the English language. A professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, Stavans wrote this book to say that its use should be taken as a good thing. He said the following in a 2003 National Public Radio interview:

“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, [but] that doesn’t mean that they should sacrifice their original language or that they should give up this in-betweenness 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.'”

Stavans has a very positive view of Spanglish. It’s a sign that Latino culture in America is growing faster than ever all over the country. But, he romanticizes it, as well. It is interesting to wonder how the Spanglish phenomenon will continue. As Stavans said in the same interview, there’s not a standard vocabulary for Spanglish. He does include a dictionary of common Spanglish words in his book. It’s fascinating to see how cultural blending is occurring. But, will Spanglish ultimately, for lack of a better word, contaminate the English language? Or, will it evolve into a brand new language?

Any language, of course, evolves over time. Languages always tend to borrow words and phrases from other cultures. The amazing thing about Spanglish is that it is curiously but an invention of adaptation. But it’s not really a Creole, either. Will it develop into such, as it no longer seems a merely regional phenomenon, but a national one?

In his article “That Curious Mixture of English and Spanish is Here to Stay,” Alex Johnson believes that Spanish in Spain will be more affected by the growing Spanglish trend than anything else. He quotes Ilan Stevens who compares the growth of Spanglish to Yiddish. Perhaps, as the trend of globalization continues, it will be very easy for this lingual phenomenon to continue to grow and spread. Writing from Spain himself, Johnson writes in his article that he too uses Spanglish very often in his emails. One thing Johnson is sure about is that the Real Academia Española will have an incredibly difficult time stopping Spanglish from mucking up so-called “proper” Español.

Are we truly witnessing the birth of a brand new language? It’s interesting to speculate how it will evolve. Language is always evolving in strange and unpredictable ways. Maybe someday we English-speakers will find ourselves using many words borrowed from Spanish. Or, who knows, perhaps even Chinese!

Spanglish is definitely a lot of fun to follow, and maybe Stavans is right. One day we could have literary masterpieces written in Spanglish. More likely, one day you will be able to attend a graduate level college course entitled, “Spanglish, Perhaps the Most Fun Language That Wasn’t Really a Language, But Somehow Became One Anyway.”

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