Spanglish II

Essay add: 6-10-2015, 12:42   /   Views: 63
This paper discusses whether or not there are efforts underway to preserve Spanish in the United States, as opposed to Spanglish. (11 pages; 5 sources; MLA citation style)

I Introduction

“Spanglish” is the name given to a language that is currently developing: a blend of Spanish and English that is not truly one or the other, but consists of using English words and phrases in conversation that is otherwise conducted in Spanish.
This paper asks “is there any effort underway to preserve Spanish against Spanglish in USA?” I’m quoting directly because the phrasing of the question is pejorative: it implies that preserving “pure” Spanish is preferable to using Spanglish; this means that part of our investigation should focus on whether the pure language is preferable to the hybrid. We’ll also consider efforts (if such exist) to “preserve” Spanish; and what the effect of the development of Spanglish is having on Latino culture in the United States.

II Spanglish

Oddly enough, just yesterday I ran across an advertisement in my neighborhood paper that appears to be printed in Spanglish. It’s for a room for rent, and says: “Cuarto extra largo. Incluye utilidades, area tranquila. $440/mes. +100 deposito.” The translation is obvious: “Extra large room. Utilities included, quiet area. $440/month plus $100 deposit.” I’m not a Spanish speaker, but a quick check with an on-line Spanish-English dictionary reveals that the word for “large” is not “largo” but “grande”; and the word for “include” is not “incluye” but “contener.” The other words (“cuarto”, “extra”, and “tranquila”) are all correct Spanish, but “largo” and “incluye” are Spanglish.
Spanglish speakers, according to most sources, are usually people who know some Spanish but are not fluent speakers of the language. They may be second-generation immigrants, whose parents speak pure Spanish but who are themselves not experts. Such people are often found in homes where the older generation wanted to “assimilate” into American culture quickly and didn’t speak Spanish to the children. The result is that the younger people use Spanish vocabulary until they cannot think of the word they need, then they use an English word. The result: Spanglish.
My research reveals that there is no general consensus yet as to whether or not Spanglish is good or bad, in the sense that speaking it somehow “degrades” or “harms” Spanish itself; but battle lines have formed. Linguists and language purists, not surprisingly, tend to find Spanglish worthless; a bastardization of a beautiful language. They argue that rather than using Spanglish, speakers should learn either proper English or Spanish, or both. Spanglish speakers, however, have no such reservations. They believe that clear communication is more important than the form it takes. Younger people also tend to find Spanglish “cool”, no matter whether they’re Latino or Anglo. In the words of one observer of the Spanglish phenomenon:
“Gomez-Peña writes of “low-riding through the interneta” ... The “interneta” is Spanglish, that proud, edgy, postmodern, transnational language invented by Spanish-speakers in the U.S., especially youth, that irritates parents, teachers, English-only policymakers, and all humorless defenders of pure languages and identities alike.” (McBride, PG).

Here at least Spanglish is seen as a positive thing.

III “Preservation” of Spanish

In order to proceed in our discussion of the topic and how to “preserve” Spanish, we need to decide what the term means in this context, and why it’s important to preserve “pure” Spanish.
Spanish is the language of 21 countries, most of them in Central and South America; Spain is the only European country in which Spanish is the native language. The others include such diverse nations as Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela. (Hintz, PG). A moment’s reflection about the very different histories of these countries will serve to underscore the importance of keeping the language alive. All have gone through turbulent periods, but all are recognizable Hispanic nations—because they share the Spanish language.
Preserving any language is vital, because preserving language is the biggest step to preserving heritage and culture. Once a language is lost, particularly if it is an oral language only, it is gone for good:
“To lose a language is to lose a unique insight into the human condition. Each language presents a view of the world that is shared by no other. Each has its own figures of speech, its own narrative style, its own proverbs, its own oral or written literature. … At least when a dying language has been written down, as in the case of Latin or Classical Greek, we can usually still read its messages. But when a language without a writing system disappears, its speakers experience its loss forever. … Language loss is knowledge loss, and it is irretrievable.” (Crystal, PG).
Efforts to keep Spanish pure, then, can be seen as an academic effort to preserve history by preserving language. This is probably the single most important point that people who want to preserve Spanish try to make: that losing the pure form of the language means losing the meanings of the words, and that in turn means there will be a gradual loss of accurate accounts of historical events; and finally, a distortion of the culture itself.
Perhaps the single best source I’ve found is a paper by Maria Carreira dealing with the various aspects of the Spanish/ Spanglish debate. Carreira begins by discussing some of the same concerns articulated by Crystal, stating “It is widely accepted that U.S. Hispanics constitute a culturally, economically, racially, and even politically diverse group. In the midst of this diversity, the Spanish language represents a key identity factor to members of this community, as well as to outsiders.” (Carreira, PG). Traditional Spanish, then, is the “glue” that holds together a group that is wildly diverse in all other aspects. If that cohesion is lost, the group will lose much of its power, for as Carreira observes, Hispanics as a clearly identifiable group have tremendous buying power and political power, as well as a vibrant social structure. As she says:
“The balkanization of U.S. Hispanics that would result from the loss of Spanish in this country would undoubtedly bring about a concomitant loss in the collective power exerted by the various subgroups that currently fall under the umbrella of Hispanic, leaving only the largest (i.e., the Mexicans), or the most affluent (i.e., the Cubans), any influence to speak of. Beyond the United States, the loss of Spanish would render Latinos unable to enjoy, support, and contribute to the music, literature, entertainment, and political activities of the Spanish-speaking world. In light of this, the preservation of Spanish in the United States is more than just a linguistic issue. It is in fact a topic that strikes at the heart of all discussions pertaining to the future of U.S. Hispanics.” (PG)

She also points out that there is a fundamental problem associated with preserving and using traditional Spanish. The challenge she describes is the fact that there are wide-spread negative attitudes about U.S. Spanish “in the general media, in educational settings, and even in the home”, and that these negative attitudes make it very difficult to promote the idea that young Hispanics should learn Spanish. “For this population, standard Spanish represents an unattainable goal, while U.S. Spanish remains an undesirable reality.” (Carreira, PG).
One of the problems Carreira mentions is that people who are fluent in Spanish often tease or denigrate those people who don’t enjoy a similar mastery. When a young Hispanic makes an error in speaking Spanish, and is then corrected, teased, or ridiculed by a fluent Spanish speaker, the result can be a devastating blow to the person’s self-esteem. It seems particularly unfortunate that such criticism stems mainly from other Hispanics. (I don’t mean to imply that it would be better coming from an Anglo, simply that one would expect the fluent speaker to want to help those that have less facility. That doesn’t appear to be the case.)
In the classroom setting, this is particularly difficult, as the student’s grades, class standing, and relationships with others in the class will all be affected by his or her inability to speak Spanish.
Additionally, Carreira cites the fact that derisive opinions about Spanglish have appeared “in some of the most prestigious periodicals in the United States.” Roberto González-Echeverria, literature professor at Yale, wrote in ‘El Clarin’, “Literature in Spanglish can only aspire to a sort of wit based on a rebellious gesture that wears itself out quickly”; while Roger Hernández, a syndicated columnist, said that Spanglish is “an inside joke.” (Carreira, PG). The comments of these scholars and writers are bad enough, but it’s the fact that they have appeared in respected magazines with large numbers of readers that raises the debate to a new level. It has given the anti-Spanglish forces a platform that Spanglish speakers have yet to approach. “Without a doubt, these opinions serve to systematically undermine the self-esteem of Hispanic bilinguals and to invalidate instructional messages about the linguistic credentials of U.S. Spanish.” (Carreira, PG).
Carreira does in fact suggest a means to encourage the preservation and teaching of traditional Spanish. But that means first clearing away the obstacles that impede learning, such as lack of self-esteem. “If there’s an axiom of language instruction, it is that learning cannot flourish in an educational environment that undermines the linguistic self-esteem of students.” (Carreira, PG). She adds that in society in general, a language cannot be preserved if it is perceived to be in a “state of erosion.” (PG).
Carreira is involved in an effort to teach Spanish to people who should, be rights, already speak the language, but don’t. The program is called SNS, and stands for “Spanish for native speakers.” She describes several techniques designed to “validate the vernacular and raise the linguistic self-esteem of students.” (Carreira, PG). She is saying that it’s first necessary to let the students know that it’s okay for them to speak Spanglish; once a certain level of self-esteem and respect has been established, it is possible to begin teaching traditional Spanish with a much greater degree of success.
One technique is “la encuesta sociolinguistica” in which students create a lexical atlas that encompasses all the dialects found in class. One way of doing this is to have the students give all the names they can find for a given object (the example used was “turkey” which is known variously as “pavo”, “guajalote” and “guanajo” in various regions). The object of the exercise is to illustrate the richness of the language, and point out that all the many variations are correct. This by extension means that Spanglish terms are also correct; again, a boost to students’ self-esteem.
Another activity is called the “autobiografia linguistica”, which “engages students in a guided analysis of their attitudes and experiences with English, as well as Spanish.” (Carreira, PG). The “autobiography” allows the student to increase his or her knowledge of their linguistic heritage, as well as prompting discussions about the use of Spanish in the United States. (Carreira, PG).
The goals of the SNS program are designed to stimulate students both intellectually and emotionally. Intellectually, the student will understand that Spanish is a “social construction and a system of communication”; emotionally, the SNS classroom is designed to help increase the students’ linguistic self-esteem. (Carreira, PG).
It’s obvious, then, that linguists, teachers, and others are concerned about the loss of cultural richness that occurs when a language is degraded, and they see such a degradation occurring when young people prefer using Spanglish to studying Spanish. Academically at least, it appears that traditional Spanish is favored.
Are there organizations or people that are dedicated to “saving Spanish” (or championing Spanglish, for that matter)? Despite the fact that there is a lot of material available about the Spanglish phenomenon itself, I have been unable to find a single organization that is “spearheading” some sort of organized drive to stamp out Spanglish and preserve Spanish. Carreira says bluntly, “Spanish language specialists in this country have yet to formulate a plan by which to enhance the status of Spanish in the United States…” (PG). But I have found numerous references to the on-going debate about the tug-of-war between Spanish and Spanglish; the paper cited above is typical of the literature. Because language is a living, evolving entity, it would seem the most logical conclusion is that the situation will continue. The actual formation of a “Society to Preserve Traditional Spanish” is still in the future.

IV Effect of Spanglish on Culture

As I said above, Spanglish speakers tend to be younger Hispanics who have an imperfect knowledge of Spanish. While “many Spanish-language speakers still consider Spanglish an insult,” (Aguilar, p. A.01), others embrace it.
“Leticia Villarreal can remember being called lots of bad names for speaking Spanglish. Like many U.S.-born Latinos, she sometimes struggles for the right Spanish word. Instead of using ‘estacionar’ – to park – she will instead turn the English verb into ‘parquer.’

“’Mexicans would just laugh at you and call you pocho right to your face,’ [she said] …

“It’s intended as a slam to U.S.-born people of Mexican descent who can’t speak proper Spanish and are generally considered too American.” (Aguilar, p. A.01).

The idea that someone is “too American” reflects back on the comments in the Carreira paper: that losing the language is tantamount to losing the culture.

VI Conclusion

It does not appear that there has been any systematic, organized effort to preserve the traditional Spanish language in the United States. However, there is a great deal of concern, particularly in the academic community, that the loss of Spanish, and the substitution of Spanglish for the traditional language, will finally result in the degradation and loss of the entire culture.
This appears to be an issue that will be of importance for many years to come.

VII References

Aguilar, Louis. “Words Tap Corazn of Hybrid Culture Hispanics Deride, Embrace Spanglish.” Denver Post, Final Ed., 5 May 2003: A01. Retrieved 30 July 2003 from ProQuest, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, CA:

Carreira, Maria. “Validating and Promoting Spanish in the United States: Lessons from Linguistic Science.” Bilingual Research Journal [on-line]. Fall 2000. Accessed: 30 July 2003.

Crystal, David. “Vanishing Languages.” Society Farsarotul [Web site]. Undated. (Article originally published in Civilization Magazine, Feb/March 1997.) Accessed: 30 July 2003.

Hintz, Shawn D. “Spanish Speaking Countries Web Quest.” [Web page]. 10 Aug 1999. Accessed: 30 July 2003.

McBride, Kari Boyd and Laura Briggs. “Distance Education at the Margins: Redrawing the Map of Cyberspace.”
[Web page]. 2002. Accessed: 30 July 2003.

Article name: Spanglish II essay, research paper, dissertation