Edu-Wednesday: Spanglish: Identity Preservation or Language Destruction?

Guest Post by Silvina Jover-Cirillo (@atgtranslations)

A couple of weeks ago all us Latinos and Hispanos in the U.S. were reminded, once again, the destruction, deformation and negative evolution that one of the most beautiful languages in the world is being faced with: Our own. The Miami Herald’s article Scholars fighting to squelch Spanglish brought the conversation to the social media environment, and now continues through this article.

In order to understand and acknowledge that, in fact, there is a problem, we should get to the root of the matter. According to the American Community Survey performed by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2009, more than 40% of Hispanics in the U.S. speak English less than well at home. If we take this number into account, as well as the fact that the U.S. is an immigrant melting pot in general, and a conglomeration of Spanish dialects in particular, we will undoubtedly face an interesting social situation in which a cultural identity factor might come into play.

In light of these facts, we should ask ourselves the following questions to fully understand what Spanglish is and what is not, and whether it is good or bad (if any): When are we just being bilingual and using our English and Spanish language skills interchangeably? When are we simply speaking or talking in an incorrect way? And, finally, when are we using Spanglish as a mean of communication?

The first question refers to the “ability on the part of bilinguals to alternate effortlessly between their two languages,” which is called code-switching, as defined by Bullock & Toribio. For example, this is what we do when we start a sentence in English and finish it in Spanish; and each independent language expression might not necessarily be grammatically incorrect. Other cases refer to the linguistic accuracy of written or spoken English and Spanish, which can be illustrated through sentences such as the one introduced by the Herald’s article: “Aquí se venden muebles para niños de madera.” This is just plain wrong; there is nothing “Spanglish” about it but it simply reflects the speaker’s poor knowledge of the Spanish language. Finally, once again using the Herald’s example, the sentence “Quiero introducir [introduce] a Enrique Iglesias!” shows that the use of the Spanish language can go very wrong.

This particular case, besides its incorrect Spanish punctuation, shows a linguistic situation commonly observed among bilingual speakers, which uses what is known as a false cognate or false friend, usually defined as “words that share form, but not meaning.” What I like to call hard-core Spanglish entails taking the code-switching situation to a level that some may affirm that creates a new constructed auxiliary language, comparable to the case of Esperanto (a story better left for some other time). Just for fun, you can find a mini-glossary of some Spanglish words here.

So, how can we differentiate between Spanglish and the incorrect use of either the English or Spanish language? Although in practice, all the elements described fall under the Spanglish umbrella, if we could train ourselves to remember these subtle idiosyncrasies every time we speak, we will be contributing our two cents to stop the deterioration of both our languages. Once you have read that mini-glossary and smile about those words (because you know you are guilty of using them), don’t forget to eradicate them from your mind!

In either case, we must remember that language is not only a method of communication, but also an element that represents our cultural identity. If it is precisely our cultural inheritance the component that we intend to protect by teaching our language to our children, why [intentionally] destroy the shared core of our cultures?


Silvina is the founder and owner of Around The Globe Translations. She has a B.A. in Political Science and International Relations studies, and an M.A. in Global Affairs with concentration in Global Studies. Professional background: working with international companies focused in export and import matters. Currently, she offers her expertise on interpretation and translation via her company.

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