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How important is Spanglish? Jangueamos with a linguistics expert to find out

How important is Spanglish? Jangueamos with a linguistics expert to find out

A vibrant, expressive mix of two of the world's most spoken languages, Spanglish is firmly entrenched in our contemporary Latino culture.

Spanglish is hard to categorize.

It's not exactly a language in its own right – but many argue it is not a dialect either. That's because it isn't the result of a variation in a language due to a group of speakers being geographically separated from the rest.

On the contrary, Spanglish is more about coming together than it is about being apart.

The origins of Spanglish date back to the first encounters between Spanish and English speakers in the 16th century.

Later, when the Mexico-US border was established, Mexico gained independence but lost ground as a part of its territory was taken by the US, leaving many Spanish-speaking natives living in an English-speaking country.

From then on, those arriving in the US added to an already culturally and linguistically diverse population as Spanish and English continued to intermingle.

In this context words, such as "tomato", "nacho" and "taco" quickly became part of the US lexicon. Spanish speakers also acquired new words, generally money-related, such as "nicle" for "nickel" and "cuara" for "quarter".

But the US is not the only place where Spanglish is spoken. Ilona Gorelaya, a linguistics expert from MGIMO University, explains that this is a phenomenon in all Spanish-speaking regions, as well as in English-speaking countries with a significant Spanish-speaking population.

Many of us living in the US are proud Spanglish speakers.

It's about coming together

Many of us living in the US are proud Spanglish speakers and see it as a link between two cultures we identify with.

It brings English and Spanish together linguistically and, for many of us, this combination also represents the cultural reality of our households.

Puerto Ricans, for instance, are native Spanish speakers but part of an English-speaking country. As such, they resort to code-switching – or language alternation – as a strategy for maintaining contact and identity with two cultures, neither of which they should have to relinquish. This is also true for places like Miami and California where there are large Hispanic communities.

In her essay "Spanglish": The Language of Chicanos, Rosa María Jiménez notes the importance of code-switching for her community.

"For Chicanos, code-switching has developed into a cultural social and political tool," she writes. "Code-switching not only reflects our identity but also provides a means for us to strengthen each other. By speaking Spanglish, we restore pride in our language and ourselves."

Globalization and mass media have also contributed to the intermingling of languages. English is seen as an international language and means of communication.

As such, many English words have entered the lexicon of foreign languages and a common phenomenon is that of taking an English word but using it according to the grammatical rules of another language.

A perfect example of that is the word "janguear", which comes from "to hang out," but respects the conjugation of infinitive verbs in Spanish.

And it's not only Latinos who speak Spanglish, notes Ilona, who points out that both Spanish and English native musicians use Spanglish in their songs.

For instance, Latino artists such as Shakira and Enrique Iglesias use Spanglish in their songs but so too do native English speakers like Shawn Mendes and even British singer Geri Halliwell.

Is Spanglish the language of the future?

The language of the future?

While this may highlight the effectiveness of the language as a new means of global communication, Spanglish does have its detractors.

Yet, most Spanglish speakers do not think mixing languages is detrimental to either the English or Spanish languages. Rather, Spanglish enables us to express ourselves better, especially when a phrase is hard to translate or only exists in one of the two languages.

As our communities have grown over the years, Spanglish is increasingly perceived as a marker of identity, a language that brings together different cultures in our households. This has helped Spanglish gain acceptance and enabled us to linguistically show our diverse backgrounds.

Ilona believes this trend will continue for as long as communities keep on integrating and cultures continue to mix. Something that does not seem to slow down as more and more people become global citizens.

Rosa agrees:"It is an innovative language that defines, unites and empowers. ¡Qué viva the Spanglish language!"




Daniela Jerez

Daniela is a foodie, coffee, and culture writer based in Miami, Florida. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and has written for Orgullo Latino since 2022.

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