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Spanglish Slang

Spanglish Slang

Spanglish can also exist in areas far from borders, where English phrases caught in movies, television or music become mingled in regular speech. Ilán Stavans argues in Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language that it is rapidly becoming a language in several U.S. regions. One misconception about Spanglish is that it only refers to the typical errors made by native speakers of one language learning the other. However, although many people use the term in that sense, the meaning of Spanglish is much broader, and vaguer, than that.

The term Spanglish was reportedly coined by Puerto Rican linguist Salvador Tió in the late 1940's. Tió also coined the term inglañol, a converse phenomenon in which English is affected by Spanish; the latter term did not become as popular as the former.

Linguistic critique of the term "Spanglish"

The word Spanglish is a popular name for these phenomena, but not a technical one. Linguists refer to the various phenomena involved in Spanglish by a variety of terms: code mixing, code switching, loanwords, language contact, and more generally, bilingualism. Linguists don't find the term Spanglish to be useful in discussing these phenomena, because it groups together things that don't necessarily belong together. Linguistically speaking, many things that get commonly labeled as "Spanglish" are very different from each other.

For example, the speech of a fully bilingual Spanish/English speaker in the USA, who switches between Spanish and English phrases spontaneously in the middle of a sentence, is linguistically something very different from the speech of a Spanish monolingual in Puerto Rico whose native vocabulary has many words and expressions that come from English. Despite this, both are commonly labeled as "Spanglish."

Other common misconceptions about "Spanglish" are:

  » That "Spanglish" is a "language," or even a dialect. It is rather a popular label for a collection of disparate language contact situations, where Spanish-speaking communities are influenced by English.

  » That Spanglish is uniform; that is, that it is the same for all speakers in all places. In fact, Spanglish varies in many important ways:
  • Some people who are said to speak "Spanglish" live in a Spanish-speaking country (like Puerto Rico or Panama), and others live in the USA. Code mixing and code switching are far more common in the USA.

  • Those who live in the USA trace their ancestry to different countries, where different variants of Spanish are spoken. The "Spanglish" spoken by them reflects these differences; the "Spanglish" of a bilingual Mexican-American is not the same thing as that of a bilingual Puerto Rican.

  • The region of the United States. This in fact correlates with ancestry; Dominicans and Puerto Ricans are concentrated in the Northeast, Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, Cubans in the Southeast.

  • More importantly, the many varieties of "Spanglish" developed largely independently. In the case of a language like Spanish or English, there was a time and place where it originated, spread out to many countries and regions, and then diverged from the original form. In the case of "Spanglish," there isn't any such "original" version of it, from which its "dialects" sprang; each form represents a unique instance of English influencing the speech of Spanish speakers.

Examples of Spanglish

Spanish and English have interpenetrated in any number of ways. For example, a bilingual fluent speaker speaking to another bilingual speaker may indulge in code switching and utter a sentence such as: "I'm sorry I cannot attend next week's meeting porque tengo una obligación de negocios en Boston, pero espero que (because I have a business obligation in Boston, but I hope that) I'll be back for the meeting the week after." Often, Spanglish phrases will use shorter words from both languages as in, "ya me voy a get up" (as opposed to "ya me voy a levantar" or "I'm just about to get up."). A rather common code switch in Puerto Rican Spanglish is the use of the English word "so" (as in "therefore"): "Tengo clase, so me voy" ("I have (a) class, therefore, I'm leaving").

More common than that are word borrowings from English into Spanish, using false cognates with their English sense, or calquing idiomatic English expressions. Some examples:
  1. The word carpeta exists in the Spanish language, meaning "folder." In some Spanglish it has changed its original meaning from "folder" to carpet (which was replaced by by a heavily Hispanicized pronunciation of "folder').

  2. Another example of word borrowing is chequear that indeed comes from the English verb "to check", and replaces the Spanish verbs "verificar" or "comprobar". Chequear is now an accepted Spanish word. It should be mentioned that this word, while retaining its meaning, has been reworked, in some areas, as checar.

  3. In Spanish aplicación means "use of" or "appliance" (as in "apply to", not as in hardware); the word has been now used for a job or a school application, where instead the word solicitud should be used. The Spanish word aplicación and English "application" are false friends. Using false friends in their English sense, like using Spanish aplicación in the sense of English "application", is another form of Spanglish.

  4. The expression llamar para atrás is calqued literally from English "call back"; compare standard Spanish devolver la llamada ("return the call"). This is an example of calquing an idiomatic English phrase into Spanish and somewhat common in people from Puerto Rico.
Calques from Spanish to English also occur. The following examples are from northern New Mexico:
  • Many verbs are given indirect objects that don't have them in standard English. A notable example is "put": "She puts him breakfast on the couch!" or "Put it the juice" (turn on the power). This corresponds to the use of Spanish poner and meter with the pronoun le(s).

  • One can "get down" from a car instead of "getting out" of it. This translates in Spanish to bajarse, to descend, to dismount, to get out of a vehicle.

  • In Mexico and the southwestern U.S., people who speak Spanglish are called pochos (rotten). "Broken" Spanish, heavily influenced by English, is called mocho, which literally means "mutilated" or "amputated". It is to note that many people in America and Spanish speaking countries say the verb fiestar, meaning to party, which corresponds with fiesta, which is a party.