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Spanglish, The Muy Popular U.S. Street Lingo

Latino neighborhood in Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC
Latino neighborhood in Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC
Eduardo Márceles

BOGOTA — Spanglish: Is it a dialect? Ghetto talk? Whatever else it may be, Spanglish is now the brazen, no-nonsense fruit of two languages and cultures coexisting in the United States.

It may sound a little crazy at times. For example, walking in a Latino area of New York one day, I saw a notice that read, "Se vacunan carpetas." Someone "vaccinates carpets" here, I thought? No, a friend told me. It was Spanglish for "We vacuum carpets."

Spanglish emerged from Hispanics' need to communicate with the Anglo-Saxon culture around them before they had fully learned English. They began a mix-and-match approach to get their meaning across. Some knowledge of both languages is needed, of course.

In this idiom, English words are borrowed and Hispanicized to aid the flow of conversation. That has effectively meant additions — some of them charming — to the Spanish language. Among them: ruf (roof, or techo in standard Spanish), boso (boss, or jefe in standard form), troca (truck, or camión), furnitura (furniture, or muebles), chopin (shopping, not the composer), boila (boiler, caldera de vapor!), estín (steam, vapor), frisar (freeze, congelar), marqueta (market, mercado), lonchar (eat lunch), jolope (holdup), or janguear (hang out).

A visitor from Spain or elsewhere in the Hispanic world might thus be surprised to hear "hay un liqueo en la boila que está dañando la furnitura," (a leak from the boiler is ruining the furniture).

Spanglish should not be confused with certain Anglicisms Spanish has absorbed over time, such as disquet, veredicto, bistec, bebé or drenaje (drainage). These are now considered standard Spanish.

Then there are English words mixed into Spanish, to create effectively bilingual sentences. An example: "Voy al college every day para tomar sociology classes en la mañana," (I go to college every day to have sociology classes in the morning), or "Oye, watch out en la esquina con tu boyfriend, que te está esperando," (Hey, watch out at the corner, your boyfriend's waiting for you).

But in many cases, what started out being considered flat wrong is now regarded as somewhat standard. You could be misunderstood in New York if you said billete, boleto or metro, rather than "token" or "subway," when asking a Latino friend to lend you a subway ticket. Why make your life difficult for the sake of purism, Spanglish enthusiasts would ask, when English is concise and efficient?

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Source: Mike Licht

Language of the have-nots

But critics warn of its degenerative effect on linguistic authenticity. It has become a raging debate. Yale University Professor Roberto González Echevarría says ruefully that Spanglish has become the Spanish of the poor and badly educated in both languages. "They incorporate words and adapt syntax from English into their daily language because they do not know the vocabulary required by the cosmopolitan culture around them," he says.

"Educated Hispanics are motivated in a different way. Some are ashamed of their background and think they acquire power of sorts by using English words. They want to be members of the social majority. Still, politically, Spanglish is capitulation and marginalization through abandonment, not ethnic emancipation."

Amply used in daily speech, Spanglish has also earned legitimacy through inclusion in literature written by Chicano and Puerto Rican authors. Chicano poetry, for example, commonly uses alternate English and Spanish words, as in the poem "Where you from?" by Gina Valdés: "Soy de aquí/y soy de allá/from here and from there/born in Los Angeles/del otro lado/y de éste/crecí en L.A./y en Ensenada/my mouth still/tastes of naranjas/con chile."

The writings of a significant group of Puerto Ricans who qualified themselves in the 1970s as "Nuyorican" also appear in both English or Spanglish, and are characterized by the fierce, combative spirit of their time. They don't eschew obcenities or words offensive to conventional morality to denounce racism or exploitation. Among the group's most prominent members were Pedro expand=1] Pietri, a priest and author of the poem "Puerto Rican Obituary," and Sandra María Esteves Algarín. In her poem "A Mongo Affair," Algarín writes, "I am the minority everywhere, I am among the few in all societies/I belong to a tribe of nomads/that roam the world without/a place to call a home.../call mi casa/I, yo, Miguel, ¡Me oyes viejo!/ el hijo de María Socorro y Miguel/is homeless, has been homeless ..."

Cuban-American playwright Dolores Prida alternates between English and Spanish in her play, Coser y cantar. She and her character Ella are one and the same in the verbal ping pong played by her schizophrenic protagonist. Ella speaks in Spanish about Caribbean music and isn't keen on dieting, while "she" speaks English, takes exercise and watches her figure.

There is no consensus on how widely Spanglish is used, or even its definition, yet people agree it reflects the way millions of Hispanics speak in the United States. We'll conclude with the observation Spanish novelist Camilo José Cela once made when visiting a city near the Mexican border. He met a 12-year-old boy selling sweets at the airport and asked him how he was getting on in the United States. The boy answered that he was doing really well because he was working "deliberando groserías." Delivering groceries, he meant, not "analyzing rude words," which is the actual translation. In any case, the writer thought it was "a marvelous expression."

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