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Spanglish: “Right” or “Wrong”?

Spanglish: “Right” or “Wrong”?

The fact that we even ask this question shows our prejudice. Language, like all things, is continually growing and changing. “Proper” Spanish and English neither came about in a single night or from a single creator and they both had mothers from which they evolved to become what they are today…so called “Castilian Spanish” or “Proper English.”

Spanglish may not be accepted in scholarly writing, but it does have a place in American culture and obviously has been useful to many individuals, or it wouldn’t have evolved as it has.  Language grows in response to our need for more words to express ourselves.  Near our borders, where cultures and languages mingle, what’s wrong with each one bending a little to allow the other?  In border regions in foreign countries it’s common to find “mixed” words and we’re open to regional dialects in bilingual Latin America, so why not here on our own borders?

It saddens me that we often fail to accept things in the beginnings of their evolution. It seems that no matter the topic, we seem to struggle with change. We are compelled to sweep everything into neat little categories and language is no exception.  Spanglish, Creole, Black vernacular…whether we see fit to accept them or not, are all valid dialects in their own right.  They serve their communities through the creation of words that address the linguistic needs of the people.

Now some are probably looking at these three examples and thinking, “These are made up dialects from people who lack understanding of their own language“.  But remember that Spanish is derived from Latin and English found it’s roots in Germanic language.   Both evolved out of necessity and continue to thrive today simply because they were the ones that won the colonization game. There is no one language that is better than another and dialects will thrive as long as they remain useful.

In Laredo, where my husband grew up, Spanglish is a dialect that has done just that…created words in order to become more useful for it’s community. Words like “troque” (truck) and “lonche” (lunch) can be found on professional ads for local businesses, in newspapers and magazines. They are a distinct part of the culture in Laredo and demonstrate the seamless mixing of both languages into one, more useful and complete, dialect. One that is represented in border towns across the country.

Assuming that locals simply don’t know the Spanish or English word equivilent for these words would be a gross misunderstanding.  Because blended or Spanglish words aren’t word substitutes…they’re bridges.  Using them shows consideration for both cultures and languages…and the people who use them congruently.

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In college I took “Proper Spanish” and I’ve seen firsthand the stereotyping from both Spaniards and Latinos about what constitutes an “authentic” word. Castellanos will likely assure you that there is no such word as “bistek” or “champu” and yet, here we are, learning them in Spanish courses.  Whether you agree or not, they have become a part of the language.

Now, why is it that some words are accepted into Spanish by the majority of speakers and others are not?  Part of the answer is time and distance.  We need time to become accepting and distance to demonstrate the number of people who find such words useful. We will continue to speak Spanglish until it is no longer useful, and if it becomes more useful, we may ALL be speaking it!

This post was previously published in March 2011 and also featured on NewsTaco.

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South Texas Foodie, Traveler, Photographer, and Designer.