For many people, Spanglish is inextricably tied to a 2004 Adam Sandler movie, which happens to be titled Spanglish. Unfortunately, the movie is mediocre at best, and it does little to inform anyone about what Spanglish actually is. Far from being a linguistic novelty, Spanglish is a complex hybrid language, and it can be very important to people who are stuck in the middle between Spanish and English.
What Is Spanglish?
As the name implies, Spanglish — or Espanglish in Spanish — is a hybrid between Spanish and English, but there is some disagreement as to exactly what that means. There is no “standard” Spanglish out there, and there aren’t official rules about how it’s spoken. It’s the catch-all term for whenever someone combines Spanish and English features in their speech. Depending on where it’s spoken, it can be more Spanish or more English. Here’s just one famous example of Spanglish in pop culture:
Some linguists argue that Spanglish is just a version of code-switching — when people switch between languages within a single sentence. For example, “No tengo money.” If this theory is correct, it means Spanglish is a very surface-level combination of two languages.
Others advocate for the idea that Spanglish refers only to a more complex combination of languages. They say that if someone just throws a few Spanish words into their English, it would more aptly be called a dialect, like Chicano English.
The linguists who think that Spanglish is more substantive than a dialect sometimes call it a pidgin. Pidgins generally form when two cultures meet without a common language, and so they invent a new language that combines their two native tongues in order to communicate. Spanglish does not exactly fit this description because it is not any less complex than any other language, though, and it is not used as a form of compromise between speakers of English and Spanish. Many Spanglish speakers are perfectly able to speak both English and Spanish fluently.
Another phenomenon in Spanglish is borrowing, which is when English words are taken and transformed into Hispanicized ones. Examples of this include jangear for “hang out” and rufo for “roof.” These are often used ironically by younger Latinos, but the important thing to note here is that Spanglish manifests in a variety of ways.
When Did People Start Speaking Spanglish?
Many articles about Spanglish tend to treat it as a recent phenomenon. This is far from true, though. Ilan Stavans, the author of Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language, says Spanglish has been around since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and a large part of Mexico became part of the United States, which was about 150 years ago. There are theories that the history of Spanglish may go back even further to when English tourists were visiting Spain, but the intense intermingling didn’t start until the two languages encountered each other in North America.
Who Speaks Spanglish?
In the United States, there are over 50 million people who speak Spanish. Among Hispanics who speak English, 59 percent are bilingual. The U.S. census doesn’t allow you to check “Spanglish” as the language you speak, but from these numbers, it’s pretty clear that there are lots of people who combine the languages. To use one estimate based on Facebook’s Spanglish page, there are 8 million people who at the very least claim to speak the language.
One major reason people speak Spanglish is because they were raised bilingually. Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, was once asked a question in Spanish and explained that he could only answer in English: “I learned Spanish the same time I learned English. I mean, when I was a little kid, mis abuelos, ellos no habla ingles. But to be honest, what I really spoke at home was Spanglish. And as you know in our community, that’s true with just about everyone, and certainly with their kids.”
The places where Spanglish is most spoken tend to be places that have large Latino populations. Southern California and Puerto Rico are often referred to as Spanglish hotbeds. The Spanglish spoken by geographically distant groups can vary widely, and some Cubans refer to their version of the language as Cubonics.
There is a reason why people continue to speak Spanglish even if they’re fluent in English, Spanish or both. For many who speak it, Spanglish is not just an effect of being raised bilingually: it’s a source of pride in their Latino identity. Speaking a certain way can signal to others that you’re part of their community. In his book Living in Spanglish, Ed Morales wrote, “Spanglish is what we speak, but it is also who we Latinos are, and how we act, and how we perceive the world.”
What Is The Future of Spanglish?
There are some who say that Spanglish — or just Spanish in general, really — will lead to the downfall of the United States. This is unlikely, however, because Spanish has been on this continent for longer than English has, and the sky hasn’t come crashing down yet. But people still want to insist that Spanglish is “lesser” just because it combines two languages.
Despite the naysayers, Spanglish is not going anywhere, and it’s popping up more and more in American culture. In 2016, The Little Prince was published in Spanglish as El Little Príncipe. The most popular song in the world, “Despacito,” incorporates some Spanglish, at least in the Justin Bieber version.
One possibility of the future of Spanglish is that it may follow the same path as Yiddish. The Yiddish language is a hybrid of Hebrew and German, and it began as a dialect that was spoken mostly by German Jews starting in the 13th century. At the time, it was seen as a degraded form of language, like Spanglish is sometimes seen today. Over the centuries, though, Yiddish has established itself as an important language, used by 3 million people today. The language remains an important part of Jewish heritage, causing many people to want to learn it, even if they don’t need to.
Even if Spanglish is never treated like an official language, it will likely still be around for some time. It’s probably useful for all of us to prepare por el futuro by studying la lengua de Spangles.