Spanglish: Popular myths and linguistic reality


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Spanglish: Popular myths and linguistic reality

  • Gerald F. Murray

  • Dept. of Anthropology

  • University of Florida


Definition of the term Spanglish

  • It is a popular term, not a scientific term.

  • Refers generically to linguistic behaviors on the part of Spanish speakers whose Spanish demonstrates different forms of influence from English.



Three separate phenomena that are often called “Spanglish”

  • Code switching between Spanish and English in the same sentence or conversation.

  • Importation (and adaptation) of English vocabulary items into Spanish.

  • Calques: literal translation of English terms using existing Spanish terms but giving them a meaning they do not have in Spanish



Code-switching example

  • Leaving a recorded message.

  • “Hi, Marta. This is Pablo. ¿Cómo va todo? Oye, te quería preguntar, are you free this evening a eso de las ocho? There’s a movie on campus que me parece que va a ser muy interesante. If you can join me, me das una llamadita. Call me mejor on my cell phone, que voy a estar afuera. Hope to hear from you. No me dejes de llamar.”



Code switching observations

  • In principle, each segment can be “pure English” or “pure Spanish”.

  • Usually done by fully bilingual people when talking to other bilinguals.

  • What is the purpose or function? Why don’t people simply talk in one of the languages?

  • Many possible reasons:

    • An appreciation of bilingualism.
    • A desire to demonstrate one’s bilingualism.
    • A desire to compliment the other person as a bilingual as well.
    • A desire to establish solidarity as two bilinguals


Vocabulary importation and adaptation

  • Heard from a beggar in San Juan: “Amigo, regálame una cuara que quiero comprarme una dona.”

  • Heard from a child in Spanish Harlem: “Un nene se cayó del rufo.”

  • Heard from another child in Spanish Harlem. “Mi mamá me regaló un co braun para Crijma.” (“Dímelo en español.” “Pero eso es español.”)



Analysis of vocabulary importation

  • Often there is a common word in Spanish (e.g. Donut). But it may be simpler to use the English word.

    • Cuara rather than peseta.
  • Often there is no word in Spanish. E.g. “email”. You can create a phrase “mandar por correo electrónico”. But it may be simpler to say imelear.



Analysis of vocabulary adaptation

  • The word is adapted phonologically. “Coat” becomes co. Rufo w. trilled r.

  • The word is adapted morphologically. A gender ending is placed on it, particularly with shorter words.

  • The word is adapted syntactically. The adjective braun follows co, as in Spanish.



Adaptation of nouns

  • A gender marking vowel is added when the English word

    • (a) is short, and
    • (b) ends in a consonant or cluster that cannot end a word in Spanish
    • Rufo, marqueta, furnitura, yarda, troca.
  • If the word is long or ends in a way permitted in Spanish, no ending may be added

    • pari, imel, internet, swing, mánayer, yins (jeans), fríser
  • These appear to be guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

    • Tique, not tiqueta (ticket), ganga.


English verbs made Spanish by “-ear”

  • Most common adaptation is to append “-ear” to the root, on the model of “pelear” or “rodear”, “trapear”.

    • Chequear, cliquear, parquear, liquear (leak), melear, imelear, mopear, pompear, cuitear (quit a job), taypear (type), molear (shop in the mall), esquipear, estartear.
  • Sometimes a simple “ar” is appended.

    • Rentar, puchar (push)


Calques: Retranslated English – Spanish cognates

  • A calque is a word that exists in Spanish but is used in a sense that is not usual in Spanish

    • Aplicación, grosería, marqueta, carpeta, ponchar, rentar, luz (semáforo), llamar para atrás.


Translating into standard Spanish

  • I was doing my income taxes on my day off when the faucet started to leak. I had to mop up the water from the carpet and dry the furniture. I called the manager of the building, but he still has not called me back.

  • Estaba preparando mi formulario de rentas internas en mi día libre cuando la pluma del fregadero empezó a gotear. Tuve que recoger el agua de la alfrombra y secar los muebles. Llamé al gerente del edificio pero todavía no me ha devuelto la llamada.



Translating into Spanglish

  • I was doing my income taxes on my day off

  • Taba haciendo mi income-tax en mi deof

  • when the faucet of the sink started to leak.

  • cuando la foseta del sink empezó a liquear.

  • I had to mop up the water from the carpet

  • Tuve que mapear el agua de la carpeta

  • and dry all the furniture.

  • y secar toa la furnitura.

  • I called the manager of the building

  • Llamé al mánayer del bildin

  • but he still has not called me back.

  • pero toavía no me ha llamao p’atrá.



Myth of the mish-mash

  • Myth 1: Spanglish is a mish-mash of English and Spanish. It is neither English nor Spanish

  • Fact 1: Spanglish is a dialect of Spanish.

    • It is fully Spanish in terms of the basic phonology, morphology, and syntax
    • The influence from English is in terms of vocabulary borrowing.
    • The items borrowed, however, are fit into the above-mentioned Spanish structures


Myth of linguistic contamination

  • Do borrowed vocabulary items “enrich” or “contaminate” a language?

  • Has English been “contaminated” or “enriched” by French and other foreign loanwords.



English examples

  • The “burritos” of Taco Bell.

  • Peace Corps Volunteers in the Dominican Republic: The people in my campo plant platanos and yuca on their parcelas.



Example of English

  • My uncle, aunt, and cousins are really my favorite relatives. They constantly invite me to elegant and expensive restaurants. They encourage me to inspect the entire menu before deciding on a selection. I generally order beef or poultry but occasionally I prefer a vegetarian plate.



The English passage retranslated

  • My father’s brother, his wife, and their children are great folks. I love the places where they always take me to eat. They tell me to take my time, find out from the waiter being cooked, and ask for whatever I want. I almost always ask for a hamburger or fried chicken but sometimes I ask for a meal that doesn’t have any meat in it.



Analysis of the two passages

  • In the first passage every single noun and verb has been imported into English from French.

  • In the second passage every word is of Germanic origin, with no borrowings.




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