Dictionary Of Glishes: Spanglish, Japanglish, Denglish And More

The impact of the English language extends far and wide.
September 2, 2020
Dictionary Of Glishes: Spanglish, Japanglish, Denglish And More

Languages don’t live in separate boxes. While we might treat English and Arabic and German as entirely different, they’re constantly interacting with and changing each other. This used to be much more common — that’s why English has so many words that come from Latin and French — but the process changed slightly once languages were standardized. When languages intermingle today, they can combine to form a whole new kind of language. English in particular has mashed up with a number of other languages and created a whole slew of different varieties of English: “glishes.”

What’s A Glish?

In all honesty, “glish” is a word we just made up. But it’s a useful concept. 

English has become a global language, largely because of England’s colonialist past and the United States’ grip on cultures the world over. Often that means it’s the go-to second language for people to learn in order to connect with the global marketplace. English is practically an international auxiliary language. It’s not most people’s first language, but it’s a way that native German, French, Japanese and Arabic speakers can learn to communicate more easily with each other. Logistically, it’s much easier for everyone to learn the same second-language rather than have to learn everyone else’s first language. This isn’t to say that English being the go-to language for communication is a purely good thing, but it’s undeniably a useful tool.

English being widely used around the world means that it is constantly brushing up against other languages, which gives birth to new varieties of English. It’s not simply a matter of going from your native tongue to English and then back; they tend to mix together and create something new. That’s what we’re calling a “glish.” One of the most famous is Spanglish, which is the mixture of Spanish and English. These two languages generally mix when people code-switch from one to the other, which is exemplified in phrases such as “pero like.” But not every language pairing is the same. Depending on the local culture, the use of English may be celebrated, reviled or ambivalently tolerated. This has led to a proliferation of glishes, all of which act differently.

Varieties Of English From Around The World

Each glish is its own complicated thing, and they are constantly shifting and moving. Here’s an overview of some of the most popular around the world.

Spanish + English = Spanglish

If you know one glish, it’s probably Spanglish, as it’s widely spoken in Latinx communities across the United States. While Spanglish is not easy to define because it lives between two languages, the word generally refers to any mixture of Spanish and English within a single conversation.

Linguists are somewhat split on what exactly Spanglish is. Some say it’s a form of code-switching, which is when people mix together two languages. Others say it could be a pidgin, which is a language that forms when two groups of people who don’t speak the same language try to meet in the middle. No matter what its linguistic designation, Spanglish is important in many places, and some people see it as a way to subvert the role of English.

Bengali + English = Banglish

The only official language of Bangladesh is Bengali, but English has played a major role in the country for centuries. English was brought to Bangladesh forcefully when the East India Company adopted the language as its official way of doing business in 1835. While English was mostly used for governmental and  administrative purposes at first, it became more widely used over the course of the 122 years when it was an official language of the region. Even after it stopped being used “officially,” it was promoted as an important language to learn for Bangladeshi people to connect with the rest of the world. As Bengali and English pushed up against each other, Banglish was born.

Because of this extended period of contact, Banglish can be one of the more complex varieties of English. The Bengali language has absorbed a number of English words, but the main driver behind Banglish is the many people who code-switch because of their bilingualism. Banglish is essentially a dialect (or more aptly a sociolect) of its own, primarily used in the cities of Bangladesh.

French + English = Franglais 

Franglais usually doesn’t refer to a code-switching, but instead to the English words that have been adopted by French speakers. Franglais often faces pushback because the French government is famous for its distaste toward loanwords. The French language even has an academy — L’Académie Française — which defines what counts as “official” words in the French dictionary. But it’s impossible to stop people from speaking how they want to, so English-looking words like le week-end (“the weekend”) and bruncher (“to brunch”) are common to hear. Franglais can also refer to French words that are used in English, often for the purpose of sounding fancy, like when people throw in mon petit cheri.

In Quebec, Canada, where French and English are both commonly spoken, the two languages tend to commingle. In this province, Franglais is a bit more like Spanglish, in that code-switching is pretty common. That doesn’t mean everyone likes it, however; the Quebec legislature has repeatedly tried to ban the use of the phrase bonjour-hi among sales clerks. Some people really don’t like language-mixing.

German + English = Denglish

German and English go way back — they’re both Germanic languages — but they’re pretty different today. That’s why they’re able to reform into Denglish, a combination of Deutsch (“German”) and English. The relationship between the two languages has been rocky, particularly during the World Wars of the early 20th century, but since the 1960s, the two have coexisted more frequently. English has a fair number of German words (blitz, schadenfreude, uber), and vice versa. Often, though, the English words in German will change slightly. The German word for “tuxedo” is der Smoking, referring to the old smoking jackets men used to wear, and the word for “cellphone” is das Handy, which is a shortening of “handheld phone” that English certainly never uses.

The word “Denglish” itself though tends to be used a bit derogatorily. If you’re a German using too many English words, you’ll be accused of speaking Denglish. Germans especially look down on Scheinanglizismen, or “pseudo-anglicisms,” which are those words like der Smoking and das Handy that are English words but not actually used in English.

Dutch + English = Dunglish

With perhaps the most unfortunate-sounding name, Dunglish is the term for the mixture of English and Dutch. If you don’t like that word, though, people have also called it Dinglish, Denglish (not to be confused with the German Denglish), Dutchlish and steenkolenengels (“coal-English”). That last one came about in reference to the English spoken by Dutch workers who helped the British in the coal trade.

Unlike most of the varieties of English here, calling something Dunglish means that it’s wrong, and many Dutch people consider it to be an incorrect form of English. It might be an incorrect translation or pronunciation, or it may be that someone tried to translate Dutch word-for-word into English, which would lead to some big grammatical errors. One example would be a sentence like “Need your baby some rest?” All of the words are in English, but the grammar is consistent with Dutch, making it sound a little off. The stigma around Dunglish has kept it from becoming anything more than a punchline, thus far.

Japanese + English = Japanglish

Japanglish generally refers to English terms that have been modified to become more Japanese. Examples of this include turning “french fries” into furaidopateto (like “fried potato”), “physical contact” into sukinshippu (like “skinship”) and “working” into sarariman (like “salaryman”). As these examples show, they usually are a little distorted from their original English terms, but are often close enough that you could figure them out with some thought. Some Japanese speakers might not even know that these words have any connection to English, because they’re fully integrated into Japanese.

Japanglish also has more derogatory uses, though, particularly in regard to pronunciation. Japanese has a very different set of sounds than English, which means going from one to the other can be difficult. Notably, Japanese doesn’t have the “L” sound, and will make an “R” sound instead. This is because of how the human brain works: people who aren’t exposed to an “L” as babies literally can’t hear the distinction between “L” and “R.” Because of this, saying someone speaks Japanglish might come across as an insult. 

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Author Headshot
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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