Spanish, English languages merge to make Spanglish

Sept. 29, 2010 at 4:29 a.m.

Spanglish, a hybrid language has roots in Spanish and English.

Spanglish, a hybrid language has roots in Spanish and English.

During a Spanish vocabulary lesson with her students in 2008, Spanish instructor Maria Salomé Chavarría first heard the word "el sinke."

Chavarría, a native Spanish speaker from Cuernavaca, Mexico, was both taken aback and tickled at the non-traditional Spanish word for bathroom sink that bore a strikingly similar resemblance to its English translation.

"I understood what it meant, but it cracked me up," said Chavarría, who is a Spanish instructor at the University of Houston-Victoria. "The correct word is 'el lavabo'."

She continued, "I didn't know if a lot of people used it or if it was common."

This was one of Chavarría's first encounters with Spanglish.

Chavarría, like many other Texas residents, has had to adapt to the growing language phenomenon known as Spanglish.

Spanglish can be defined as the code switching or mixture of both English and Spanish in the same conversation among people who speak parts of both languages.

It also includes hybrid words that are a mixture of the two languages.

Examples of common hybrid words include "parquear," which means to park; "lonche" which means lunch; and "carro," which means car.

Although Spanglish is largely used in Texas, a number of other states also have a growing number of Spanglish speakers.

Those states include California, Arizona, Florida, Chicago, New México, Washington and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

"The browning of America is creating this need," said University of Houston-Victoria English instructor Christine Granados. "It's keeping up with population statistics."

Beginnings of Spanglish

Gina Ramirez-Meré, an assistant professor of Spanish at Victoria College, said early traces of Spanglish have been around since the beginning of immigration.

"Lots of words have transcended 200 years. They've been around since the creation of Texas and the Wild Wild West," said Ramirez. "As people migrate, they come to need certain words. That's why they create it in Spanish."

Ramirez also emphasized that Spanglish words are not static. They change based on geographic locations.

"It's almost a different language in Texas than it is in California," she said. "In Texas, there are so many people doing manual labor they see a need to use more verbs to communicate, whereas perhaps in California where the work is mainly agriculture-oriented, they have to create more words for things they use."

The introduction of new technologies has prompted the usage of Spanglish even in Mexico, said Chavarría, who gave the examples of CD or iPod.

"Language is a living thing. It changes and adapts. New words and verbs come into play all the time," said Ramirez. "Fifty years ago you would not have been able to find an entry for "to microwave" or "to text."

Upperclass attitudes

Granados said more English-only speakers are using Spanglish as a bridge to reconnect with their Spanish roots.

"In university settings, it seems Mexicans of upper middle class are trying to learn Spanish to get some of their culture back. Using Spanglish helps them to reconnect with Mexico," said Granados.

For many Spanish purists, the melding of Spanish and English is not looked upon favorably.

"It's a class thing. The socioeconomically advanced people tend to be purists, while the lower socioeconomic people don't care," said Granados. "People with money have more time to study the language, while more working class people have the mentality of just adapting and going with the flow."

She added, "Some people think it's a bad thing because it means they are losing their homeland. The only thing is for some of us, our homeland is the U.S.," said Granados.

Native Tex-Mexicans like Daniel Sanchez admit there is a language barrier between Spanglish speakers and traditional Spanish speakers, which can make communication difficult even among people in the same family.

"We just laugh at each other because even though we both come from Mexican heritage, our words are different," said 51-year-old Sanchez. "From the blink of any eye, I can go from Spanish to English That's how I grew up. If I went to Mexico, I would be a lost puppy."

As a native Spanish speaker, Chavarría also agreed the language barrier with Spanglish speakers can be difficult at times.

"I find it difficult to hold conversations with people who are code switching," said Chavarría. "I'm used to speaking all English or all Spanish. It is just very hard to see some people mix in one sentence Spanish and English and do it very fast."

At those moments, Chavarría said she decides whether to use all English or all Spanish when responding, in hopes the other person will follow suit, making the conversation easier to understand for Chavarría.

Spanglish in the classroom

Although the Spanglish language is growing, many Spanish teachers avoid teaching it to their students.

"As a Spanish professor, I always like to see people use correct Spanish, but I do understand in conversation to understand one another, people need shortcuts and slang," said Ramirez.

In Ramirez's classroom, using Spanglish will result in a bad grade.

"I always try to stress the correct form and pronunciation," said Ramirez. "It's just like in English. You wouldn't want students to use slang in papers."

Although she chooses not to teach Spanglish in her classes, Chavarría said for some beginner Spanish students, it could be a good start for learning the language.

"It's called inter-language," she said. "The problem comes when you stay in that stage and don't move on to the target language."

Overall, Chavarría remains a strong advocate of not using Spanglish in academic or professional settings.

"If you can find that word in Spanish, then use it in Spanish," she said.

Future of Spanglish

The U.S. Hispanic population is expected to triple by 2050, making Hispanics 29 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Hispanic Research Center.

In turn, both Spanish and Spanglish appear to be here to stay.

"The reality is we are a melting pot," said Granados. "We're going to be like Canada but instead of English and French, our two native languages will be English and Spanish."

She continued, "Texas is going to set the trend for the rest of the country."

Sanchez is making sure his granddaughter, Giselle, will be ready for when Spanish becomes a dominant language.

In doing so, however, he is sure she is learning some Spanglish as well.

"We're teaching her what we know," said Sanchez. "She's picking it up slowly, but she's learning."



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