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, Ebonics…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.

In college I took “Proper Spanish” and I can tell you that there is also 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 “Proper Spanish” courses.

Now, why is it that some words are excepted into Spanish by the majority of speakers and others are not?  The simple 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 also featured on NewsTaco

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  • Anonymous
    March 24, 2011 at 10:13 am

    My grandparents did not like when I spoke Spanglish. My grandmother understood both languages, but she was raised to speak one or the other. Not both at the same time. My grandfather didn't like Spanglish because he didn't understand English. He preferred that I speak only Spanish.

    When I'm with people who speak both, I will speak Spanglish. But if there is just one person who doesn't speak English or Spanish, then I will only speak the language that person speaks. (I was also taught never to speak a different language in front of others who don't understand, because 9 times out of 10, the person will assume that you are talking about them.)

    In my home, I don't mind if my kiddies speak Spanglish. They speak Spanish fluently, and I feel that them throwing in a couple of English words can help build their vocabulary.

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      March 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm

      Leslie, you're are right on that each language or dialect has it own use and depends on the group that you're with. And YES 9 times out of 10 people do think you're talking about them! Lol. It's completely rude to leave people out of the conversation when you know that they can't participate in a certain language. SpanglishBaby has written a couple of really great posts about it…"code switching".

      In this post I'm mostly venting about people who've I've experienced that look down on Latinos who speak Spanglish, and it's very offensive since in border towns since it is a HUGE part of the culture. I don't think I'd be so offended if I hadn't seen how much it hurts my familia de Tejas.

      • Ezzy Guerrero-Languz
        March 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm

        I came close to posting a response to that article, yesterday. Although I'm sure it wasn't meant to offend, it's tone alienated me. A lot. You were right to be offended by it.

        Here's the thing. There are Latinos who speak properly and fluently, others who can make themselves understood, although not perfectly, and another segment of the population who doesn't speak any Spanish at all. Is any one group better than the other? Nope. Each group is the product of a different style of parenting, set of priorities and generation.

        Should Latinos speak Spanish? Absolutely. But please. Reading that article yesterday made me not want to utter or write a word of my imperfect Spanish for fear of having someone (a purist) look down their nose at me. Not cool. Teach. Don't criticize.

        By the way, I grew up with "lonche" and "troque" as part of my vocabulary. : )

        • Chantilly Pati&ntild
          March 25, 2011 at 6:21 pm

          Thanks so much for the comment Ezzy. I'm glad that there is an audience that can relate to what I'm saying here. I don't think she meant to offend either, but I couldn't help but issue my defense of a dialect that is under so much fire by the media and as you said, leaves many feeling alienated and unwelcome in Spanish conversations. It hurts to hear the way they criticize and I'm not sure that there is a good reason behind it, other than prejudice. I thought about posting a link to the article here, but I don't want to issue a challenge or be attacked by those who may disagree.

          I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment and can't help but feel warm and fuzzy at your mention of "lonche" and "troque"…so cool to have a Spanglish reader! =)

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      March 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      Also, I think using Spanglish in scholarly writing or large newspapers, etc. can be fairly risky because you are running the risk of isolating anyone in your audience who isn't privy to that dialect. It definitely has it's good and bad points for sure. Thanks so much for the comments Leslie. :)

  • LDNolasco
    June 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I once had a student from Madrid to whom I purposely said that I was going to "parequear mi carro" and "chequear mi e-mail" just to watch him burst into laughter. Because I have been schooled in "Proper English" and picked up "Castilian Spanish," I can have fun with Spanglish. I know there's no such word as "laquear" (lock) and that it should be "cerrar con llave." I learned the word "almuerzo" but my Dominican husband calls it "lonche" or even the diminutive "lonchecito."  With him I pay "los biles y la renta." With my Spanish students and anyone who uses castellano, I am careful and say, "las facturas y el alquiler" (I think it ends in -er; not sure because I'm so used to the Spanglish). I look up a word I am unsure of and maintain two different registers. It becomes a game.

  • LDNolasco
    June 1, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Was there an article before Chantilly's post that sounded as if a purist had written it? I didn't see it, but perhaps I didn't miss anything. I am not a native Spanish speaker, so I see Spanglish as amusement and even a way to facilitate communication. I have a low tolerance for English purists who "look down their noses." As a writing instructor, I do have to teach academic English for school papers, but I would never criticize the way someone speaks. Regional variations are what makes a language interesting. 

  • Chantilly Pati&ntild
    June 3, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Very true!  In a way it is a game and that's part of what happens when we live in a multicultural world.  Two languages in close quarters cannot operate entirely independent of each other.  It's just natural for things to mix.  Yes, it may cause some confusion in other places…but, at home, near the border, we all know what is meant.  Being both an English speaker and a Spanish speaker, I just have to say that Spanglish words feel like home.  The words are decidedly Spanish in sound, but still keep that English familiarity that leaves them close to my heart.  It's more than just a language to many, it is a big part of their identity.  And so, to have it criticized is like a personal attack.  Thanks for sharing some of your words!  I think we need to start a Spanglish chat or something…lol!  It's too fun! ;)

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  • Armand Rin Al
    May 7, 2016 at 2:09 am

    The RAE dictates what words are considered proper Spanish. What drives me crazy is how Americans with some hispanic heritage like to combine English phrases with Spanish words, and assume that everyone will understand. I am pretty sure most people in the USA do not speak Spanish, yet they insist on using Spanish words that are not understood by most people. It is disrespectful to others.