What do a drive around the suburbs of Miami, a Spanish Department meeting at school and Central American migration to the United States have in common?
Answer: they all remind us of the evolution of Spanglish as a practical, working fusion of English and Spanish, and a cultural phenomenon of our times.
The process is centred on the United States, home to 60 million latinos for whom Spanish is their first language – a higher native-speaker population than any other country except Mexico. They have at their disposal not just an abundancia of Spanish-language television and radio stations, but also a number of specifically Spanglish broadcasters. Telemundo, one of the US’s fastest growing TV networks, now runs soap operas in Spanglish (eg Celia Cruz, about the Cuban-American salsa star). And it’s over 10 years since Toyota ran a TV advert whose alternation between English and Spanish reinforced the sales pitch about a hybrid car switching between petrol and electric power.
According to Professor Ilan Stavans of Amherst University (author of Spanglish – the making of a new American language) , Spanglish represents a ‘marriage of two languages brought about through necessity’. Variants of Spanglish involve:
– using Spanish words to fit English idioms, eg te llamo pa’ atrás.
– ‘code switching’: going back and forth between English and Spanish during a conversation.
– generating a new lexicon, eg el rufo está liqueando
The latter two formats are commonplace among Spanish teachers (¿has terminado tus reports?) and indeed examiners (hay que evitar lifting).
Just as there are different varieties of Spanish and English in different regions of the world, so Spanglish also varies by location. Nor is there a common standard for spelling or usage (should our example above be spelt el roofo está leekeando?).
Spanglish is controversial. According to Prof Stavans, in the USA it can be seen as a statement of arrival (or non-arrival), while in Spain the Real Academia was aghast at a rendering into Spanglish of Don Quijote. Ultimately, he says, Spanglish marks ‘the emergence of a new Hispanic civilisation from neither north nor south of the US/Mexico border that will redefine both the USA and Latin America’.
BAS editor Robin Wallis