Spanglish: The Union of Two Languages and Cultures

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About this sample


Words: 1720 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020

Words: 1720|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020

The term Spanglish develops an intrinsic relationship with the presence of Spanish in the United States, principally due to the immigration of people coming from Latin America. According to a report published by the US Census Bureau in 2010, 50,5 million of Hispanics were living in the country by then (especially in states such as California, Arizona, Texas and Florida), so we could say that this number has probably increased in the latest years; moreover, the principal countries which form this extensive population are Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, among others. The direct consequence of the rising of the Hispanic population is the US becoming the second country with more Spanish-speakers, after Mexico. Therefore, Hispanics encounter a huge conflict regarding the language, which is known as a language shift, meaning to leave Spanish in favour of English, which will offer them more opportunities at an economic level.

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Spanglish is the concept that refers to the mixture of English and Spanish, defined as a characteristic phenomenon of Hispanics and the history of the Spanish language in the United States, consisting in code-switching and the use of words and phrases in both languages, as well as loan translations. Spanglish is used by Spanish native speakers and Spanish non-native speakers, that is the reason why it is important to remark that, through all these years of immigration, it is possible to identify different linguistic generations. The first people to come to the US were native speakers of Spanish; then, the sons of this generation were raised in a bilingual atmosphere, having a perfect level in both languages, meanwhile, the next generations have little knowledge of their mother tongue or cannot even speak it, changing to English, so as it happened with the first generation, they are only monolingual. In spite of the gradual separation between the generations according to their language, Spanglish appears as a Spanish dialect which is used in everyday communication and which maintains a bond between Hispanics, to help them keep that cultural heritage constituted by two worlds and cultures completely different. Therefore, Spanglish can be perceived as an intercultural language (which are produced in borders between countries, in this case, Mexico-USA), as a Creole language (as children from the second generation are educated in this modality and learn it as their native language) or as a Pidgin language, because it came from the need to communicate with other Hispanics in the cases where a lexical lacuna occurred and, in order to understand each other, they would change to English vocabulary, as it is the language which everyone, despite belonging to a different generation, knows. The principal reason for Spanglish to exist is daily communication, but its development and importance have not ended there, as we will explain later.

Nevertheless, Spanglish has been considered incorrect, viewed as a corruption and not as a legitimate consequence of the contact between two cultures, and it is still stigmatized not only by authors or by the Hispanic society itself, as we will show below, but also by institutions which guard for the development and growth of the Spanish language such as the Real Academia Española, whose definition of this concept introduced in the dictionary in 2012 was “Modalidad del habla de algunos grupos hispanos de los Estados Unidos, en la que se mezclan, deformándolos, elementos léxicos y gramaticales del español y del inglés.” The feature that makes this definition an offensive one is the decision of including the verb ‘deform’, which demonstrates the bad perception towards this linguistic phenomenon. Critics and protests against this explanation were immediately produced; however, the introduction of this concept was the first step for Spanglish to be known and accepted, and the RAE changed the previous definition in 2014 by just removing the verb ‘deformar’. Besides this controversial episode, Professor in Languages and former director of the Instituto Cervantes in New York, Antonio Garrido Moraga, claimed that the use of this hybrid language leads its speakers to the “ghetto”. Moreover, both monolingual English speakers and Spanish speakers, and even bilingual speakers, see this dialect as a mutation that only causes the deformation, as the RAE said, of these languages. This negative conception of Spanglish is summarized in the article written by Ricardo Otheguy and Nancy Stern in 2011, “On so-called Spanglish”, in which this term is believed to be “a misleading term that sows confusion about the Spanish language and its speakers”, arguing that Spanglish is only produced in an oral register and not in a written one. These opinions are based on a purist sense of the language, regardless of the social and cultural identity behind Spanglish. Spanglish speakers have to be bilingual and bicultural, in order to manage the “two worlds”, so the belief of its speakers being incapable of controlling just one of the languages is completely false, as we can see in the testimony of Selena Barrientos: “I understand Spanish fluently and speak it well. But when I struggle to vocalize a thought or idea, Spanglish is the best language to communicate it in, whether it’s with my family, friends, professors and even strangers”. Moreover, Celia Zentella, who studies Spanglish from an anthropolitical point of view, believes that the word “Spanglish” itself describes the oppression, but also the revolution of this phenomenon because its speakers have not given up in Spanish, although it does not have the same status as English in the country. Zentella claims that people cannot stop using this term, because “The words queer, black, newyorican have all been embraced by those that they describe and a type of semantic inversion has taken place. The term Spanglish also has the potential of undergoing the same shift”.

However, from a linguistic point of view, Spanglish has been barely recognized or studied by linguists, being perceived as a forgotten phenomenon. Despite the few researches, some relevant features about Spanglish have been described. First of all, code-switching, which consists in the change from one language to the other one and it is developed through two processes: intersentential code-switching, when the code is changed in separated phrases, and intrasentential code-switching, when it occurs inside the same sentence. For example:

  • Intersentential code-switching: Es amiga de mi hermano. I have forgotten her name.
  • Intrasentential code-switching: Yo no entiendo what the teacher explained yesterday in class.

Moreover, we can find the code-mixing, which is different from the switch mentioned above because it is the bend of the two languages just in one phrase.

Another of the important characteristics, and about which many authors believe that has cultivated the path to Spanglish, although the “invasion” of English in the Spanish spoken in other countries is usual, are the borrowings, words taken from English and adapted to the morphologic, phonetic and orthographic rules of the receiver language, whilst the nonce borrowings are unestablished, which means they are not adapted and only used in specific moments. A few examples of borrowings are: troca > truck, yarda > yard, > mopear > to mop, suiche > switch.

We can also find loan translations or calques, which are words or phrases translated literally word by word, such as llamar pa’trás (to call back), está p’arriba de ti (it’s up to you) or letra (letter > carta). It is also common the changes in gender and number (la data > the data), in prepositions (esperar por mi esposa > to wait for my wife), in the adjective order (dispersas lluvias > scattered showers) or misuses in verbs (ese avión está supuesto a llegar… > that plane is supposed to arrive…). Some linguistic habits typical of English have been introduced to Spanglish, too as Yo nací/fui nacida en 12/03/2000 by analogy with “I was born in…”.

Contrary to what Otheguy and Stern claimed, Spanglish is starting to have more written media, without being relegated just to an oral level. In this area, the contribution of Ilan Stavans, Professor in Latin America studies, has helped this hybrid language to spread and to be known thanks to his translations of literature classics, such as Don Quixote or The Little Princ. As an example, we can see here the piece of the beginning of Cervantes most famous work translated to Spanglish:

“In un placete de La Mancha of which nombre no quiero remembrearme, vivía, not so long ago, uno de esos gentlemen who always tienen una lanza in the rack, una buckler antigua, a skinny caballo y un gray hound para el chase.”

Besides the translations, books totally written in Spanglish can also be found, or at least containing some parts in it. In the next extract in the book Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñonez, the birth and relevance of Spanglish as a new language is exalted:

“Mira, Juanito, go buy un mapo, un contén de leche, and tell el bodeguero yo le pago next Friday. And I don’t want to see you in el rufo!”

“You know what is happening here, don’t you? Don’t you? What we just heard was a poem, Chino. It’s a beautiful new language. Don’t you see what’s happening? A new language means a new race. Spanglish is the future. It’s a new language being born out of the ashes of two cultures clashing with each other”.

The representation of Spanglish in mass media does not stay only in the literature field, but it also appears in press, of which we have to highlight the magazine Latina, created in 1996 and aimed at a young female Hispanic audience, with title pages such as “Glum up pronto” or “How to connect to your roots ahora mismo. This use of Spanglish in the media is perceived as challenge to what is considered standard. Another aspect which is gaining territory nowadays is the Spanglish in music, mainly in the Latin genre of reggaeton. As an example, it is the song Bailando by Enrique Iglesias:

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  • I wanna be contigo
  • And live contigo, and dance contigo
  • Para have contigo una noche loca

In conclusion, although Spanglish is not considered a language yet, principally because it has not a standardized grammar and the code-switching takes place in a spontaneous way, it constitutes the cultural background and knowledge of Hispanic people living in the United States, their identity divided in two languages and cultures that must be recognized, not disregarded.

Works Cited

  1. Lipski, J. M. (2008). Varieties of Spanglish. In J. Holm & J. de Léon (Eds.), Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of Vernaculars (pp. 50-67). Cambridge University Press.
  2. Mendoza-Denton, N. (2008). Homegirls: Language and cultural practice among Latina youth gangs. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Moraga, A. G. (2003). El ghetto interior. Debate.
  4. Otheguy, R., & Stern, N. (2011). On so-called Spanglish. Spanish in Context, 8(1), 9-27.
  5. Poplack, S., & Sankoff, D. (1984). Bilingual acquisition of vernacular speech: The development of Puerto Rican Spanish. Journal of Child Language, 11(3), 485-506.
  6. Reyes, A. M. (2009). En otro lugar: Identity and transformation in Spanish language cinema. Duke University Press.
  7. Shorris, E. (1992). Latinos: A biography of the people. WW Norton & Company.
  8. Valdés, G. (2000). Spanish as a heritage language in the United States: The state of the field. Georgetown University Press.
  9. Zentella, A. C. (1997). Growing up bilingual: Puerto Rican children in New York. Blackwell.
  10. Zentella, A. C. (2003). Toward a theory of Spanglish. In R. M. Bayley & C. L. Lucas (Eds.), Sociolinguistic variation: Theory, methods, and applications (pp. 259-285). Cambridge University Press.
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Spanglish: The Union Of Two Languages And Cultures. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Spanglish: The Union Of Two Languages And Cultures.” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
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