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Research of Code-switching in Spanglish

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Spanglish, for the Oxford English Dictionary (2017) is defined as “A hybrid language combining words from both Spanish and English”. This hybridization can follow two patterns: the first one is lexical borrowing, a word that because of different factors, such as social, historical, etc., has been transferred to one language into another; and code-switching, which will be the main point of this essay.

According to Logman (2010) the term code-switching refers to “a change by a speaker (or writer) from one language or language variety to another one. Code switching can take place in a conversation when one speaker uses one language and other speaker answers in a different language.” This term has been referred to, in the field of bilingualism, since in 1917 Espinosa mentioned a “speech mixture” in the New Mexican.

There are different types of code- switching, as ‘intra-sentential’, which is used for switches within the sentence, in contrast with ‘inter-sentential’ used for switches between sentences. Also ‘tag-switching’, ‘emblematic switching’, or ‘extra-sentential switching’ are used to refer to a switching between an utterance and the tag or interjection attached to it.

Taking into account this, the aim of this essay is to try to demonstrate if there is a pattern, in relation to code-switching, that Spanglish’s speakers follow in order to make it more standard, and in this way demonstrate that Spanglish should not be as discredited as it is by native speakers of English in North America, where this language is predominant between Latino population, as Puerto Ricans or Mexicans.


Spanglish is a hybrid language that can be found in bilingual communities of Spanish and English, as it could be the Latino community that live in United States. But not only this community is characterized of this language, but also residents of Gibraltar, where they are constantly in contact with Spanish culture, or Mexicans who have the same situation as in Gibraltar. In the situations mentioned before, the whole community is bilingual of English and Spanish, so the possibility to take place code-switching is more prominent.

Nevertheless, the fact that they are able to speak both languages doesn’t mean that the use of code-switching by them produced a mixed code, but a combining of them. As it can be seen before, they produce utterances in which they combine both codes, English and Spanish, but they are not producing a new code resulting from the mixing of these two languages.

For example, in a Spanglish sentence such as It is sunny today, let’s go the beach a pasar un buen rato. In this case the speaker is not using a new code, as the morphological structure which is used is the one of English, what differs from this language is just the insertion of the expression “a pasar un buen rato” because the speaker probably doesn’t know any expression similar in English to express this, so he/she turns to Spanish, in which there is an expression which fills what the speaker wanted to express.

Taking into account what it is mentioned before, according to Myers Cotton (1993) in code-switching the principal language used is called “matrix”, what means, that in the utterance produced by the speaker, a large amount of words would appear in this language rather than in the second one. This second language is called “embedded”.

To determine which of the two language is the based-language (or matrix language), there are different suggestions, depending on the field of study. According to psycholinguistics, the matrix language would be determined by the proficiency of the speaker, the language in which the speaker has more proficiency on will be the matrix language. Whereas from the point of view of a statistical answer, this would be resolute according to from which of the two languages does the speaker uses more words in the utterance. Nevertheless, those answers are not sufficiently solid.

In terms of grammatical analysis, scholars have also given two answers which are seen to be more accurate: the first word that appears on the utterance determine the matrix language, for example if the speaker starts the utterance in Spanish and later turn into English, according to this theory, the matrix language will be Spanish, although interjection or exclamatives, should not be taking into account if they are on the first position in the utterance. The other answer that can be given in this field is that, the language in which appears the main verb of the utterance correspond to the matrix language.

In spite of the amount of studies carried out nowadays related to code-switching, “historically, it was believed by many scholars to be used by those speakers who had a low level of proficiency in one of the two languages, normally the second one”. This idea of the use of code-switching in bilingual communities as for example, English- Spanish, has been proposed by other authors, as Toribio who claims that “the lack of attention to code switching, likely owed to the fact that many early scholars denounced this “speech mixture” as a random and therefore “deviant” language behaviour that was attributable to deficits in intelligence, manners, or linguistic mastery, and whose inexorable end was linguistic and societal”.

Other studies have been carried out in terms of the proficiency on the second language proficiency and how this affect the way the utterance is produced. Backer in 1997 made a study in which he aware about the fact that the proficiency of the second language could be seen through the way in which the speaker uses code-switching, and in this way demonstrate that those who had low-proficiency used intersentential switching, as a way of not violating the grammatical rules, whereas those who had more proficiency use intrasentential switching.

It is noticeable to highlight, in terms of the structure of the switching, the fact that it is more common, for bilingual speaker, to switch the noun instead of other element. As Lipski claims in 1982, taking into account a previous study carried out in 1981, switches of nouns give bilingual speakers “a ready word which may not be found in one language or which, for whatever reason, seems more appropriately expressed in one language than in another.

In this essay the subject matter is code-switching in Spanglish, nevertheless according to Finlayson, Calteaux and Myers-Scotton in 1998, the term code-switching and the term Spanglish appear to be different and could not be related one each other. Spanglish does not need to follow any rule, whereas in codeswitching the speaker has to follow certain grammatical rules, as it could be that the matrix language establishes the grammatical frame of the sentence produced. These two statements confirm that as code-switching and Spanglish seem to be completely different they cannot be used related, as one taking part of the other.

In contrast, for other authors, as Luna and Peracchio (2005), Spanglish and codeswitching can be equated in use. They state that “code-switching Spanish- English is part of the Spanglish”, which means that code switching Spanish- English is one of the parts that constitutes Spanglish, among others, and since that these two terms should not be referred to as different elements, but as part of the other.</p><p>Findings and discussion</p><p>

Taking into account all the literature that appear about this subject matter, it is important to highlight, firstly, that Spanglish is a hybrid language emerged from the combination of two languages, Spanish and English in this case. This fact is relevant in terms of, because of this hybridization, the language resulted of it, has patterns from both languages. To be this possible, both languages should have similar patterns in their structures.

Although Spanish and English can be seen as completely different, one is a Romance language, whereas the other is a Germanic language, there are certain patterns that can be replaced from one language into the other without have to change the structure of the utterance, as for example “Let’s go to the swimming pool because hace calor” in this case the speaker has just change the language of “hace calor” but the structure of the utterance is the same. The fact that, the speaker uses code-switching does not alter either the meaning or the pattern of the structure as both language follows similar grammatical rules.

Spanglish is a language which appears with more frequency in communities where the majority is bilingual, as for example Latino community in United States, or more specifically in Miami and surrounding cities. The usage of Spanglish when talking, and specifically code-switching in the utterances, can be also seen as a way to retain their origins and to create a signal of identity. The use of code switching, shows the speaker’s identity, as normally those who use more commonly Spanglish, are young people who had born in Miami, for example, and because of this, their proficiency of English is almost perfect, and as their family’s language is Spanish, they have many expressions or words that have their equivalent in English but as a way to maintain their other language they use them.

In the example exposed before, the speaker has a good proficiency level in both languages. Nevertheless, one of them should account as the matrix language, that is, the principal language in which the speaker can communicate. There are different readings of how should this language been noticed. One of them is the grammatical analysis proposed by Muysken.

On it, the language in which the first word appears in the utterance, delimit the matrix language. If this analysis is taken into account, if the speaker starts the utterance in one language, the usage of this language is unconscious, so the language more used to speak on and in which has more proficiency is the base of your speech; whereas on the other language, the proficiency should also be high, but the amount of usage and the contexts in which it will be used, makes it less important, and in this way occupy the role of embedded language.

Another important point is from which of the two languages, does the utterance follows the structure. According to what it has been mentioned before in relation to the “principal” language in the utterance and the less important one, the main language used in the utterance, also called matrix language, should be the one that brings the morphosyntactic pattern to the utterance, as Myers (1995) states. The fact that the main language used determines the pattern of the language is quiet logical, as the language in which the speaker produces the utterance in the Broca’s area is English, so the whole pattern of the utterance is in this language, whereas the second language, fulfill a space that is empty in the speaker’s knowledge.

However, to be this possible, both languages should have certain patterns in common, and these patterns would be the one that can be interchanged from one language into another. If English and Spanish do not have these similarities, Spanglish could not exist, as if you have two different languages which have nothing in common, the fusion of both into one would not be possible as the result of it would be utterances which make no sense. The speaker would find really difficulties trying to hybridize two languages which structures cannot be replaced by the other.

It is historically thought, as Benson in 2001 claims, that code-switching was used by those speakers who had low proficiency in the second language, so they could not produce complete utterance in the second one and had to change into the first language, in which the proficiency was higher. Nevertheless, if this were correct, if the bilingual had different proficiency level in each language they would not be able to fuse both languages in one, as they should know if the structures in both languages are suitable for the other language, that it is, if while making an utterance the speaker does not have almost similar proficiency level the combination of both languages into one would appear to be wrong as if they have not much knowledge of the language they can confuse some structures with others, which will lead the utterance into incorrect.

Bilingual speakers, normally have different proficiency in each of the languages that they speak, but the difference between them should not be opposite. Both language should complement the other, and in this way appears the hybridization. However, as I have mentioned before, historically, code-switching has been classified in terms of the proficiency of the speakers. Those speakers who had not so high proficiency do not use code-switching with internal elements of the sentence, they use code-switching just with peripheral elements so that if they are wrong, they do not affect the meaning of the sentence.

This is due to the incomplete knowledge of the language. Speakers, in order to not take a chance in the utterance, they make code-switching in the easiest and “safest” way possible. Whereas those speakers who had a high proficiency in both languages, use code-switching with elements inside the sentence, that could be with verbs for examples. As they had a good level in both languages, the hybridization of Spanish- English into one utterance would be not so risky, as they had control over the structures of each language and are able to use them in whatever context.

Nonetheless, although the proficiency of the speaker could affect the way in which they use one type of code-switching or another, there are certain patterns to follow in order to make a good code-switching. One of the most common is the switch of the noun. The noun is an element that can be easily changed from one language to another as the speaker only needs the equivalent term.

Because of that to switch nouns is more frequent than other terms, for example if the speaker wants to switch the verb, the speaker could find some difficulties in finding the correct verb that expresses exactly the same that the other language’s verb; this problem would be less frequent in relation to nouns, which even if they do not have an equivalent in other language, it is easily to show the meaning of them and in this way adapt them into one or another language.

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Research Of Code-Switching In Spanglish. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
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