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Spanglish is a hybrid, a hodgepodge of English and Spanish words and phrases leaping between languages. Sometimes entirely new words are created. Which words or phrases get absorbed into Spanglish may seem arbitrary but is often decided by efficiency, or the lack of an adequate equivalent expression in the other language. For example, in Mexican Spanish the word for parking is estacionamiento, a slightly more complicated word than the English word, so in Spanglish, it changes to parquir.

The origins of Spanglish can be traced back to 1848, when the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and over half of Mexico became part of the US. Suddenly, 80,000 Mexicans found themselves living north of the border. These new Mexican-Americans used Spanish at home, but needed to speak English for business or other public errands. This struggle between English and Spanish eventually led to the birth of the melting pot we call Spanglish.

Spanglish has always been heavily criticized by intellectuals on both sides of the border, such as Mexican writer Octavio Paz, who once famously said it was ”neither good, nor bad, but abominable.” Today, the hybrid language is gaining legitimacy, as a growing number of companies, politicians, writers, and musicians are using it. Hallmark, for instance, has started selling Spanglish greeting cards, and Toyota recently came out with a Spanglish TV commercial for a new model.

For a closer examination of the phenomenon, we talked to Ilan Stavans, Professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College and author of the linguistic study and dictionary Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language.

INSIDE MÉXICO : Ilan, how would you define Spanglish?

ILAN STAVANS: I believe Spanglish is the marriage and divorce of two languages that have been at each other for 150 years, but also the encounter of two civilizations. It’s not purely a linguistic phenomenon, but a form of mestizaje, both cultural and linguistic, that shows that Latinos in the United States are part Latin American, part North American, but neither one or the other. A Spanglish speaker not only speaks Spanglish, but thinks, dreams, and acts in Spanglish. It’s very much a statement of being, in an existential way.

IM: So where is Spanglish today?

IS: Today Spanglish is very cool, very attractive, and very hot. It used to be a form of alienation and marginalization, but today it’s being embraced by companies and corporations, by major sponsors and by television. Now there are textbooks for Spanglish courses, there are entire radio stations that use Spanglish and no other language. A lot of rap, hip-hop, and salsa music is only in Spanglish, and some of the groups and musicians are not even Latinos. They use Spanglish to reach a wider market. And politicians are also using Spanglish.

IM: What about the future of Spanglish?

IS: When compared to other transitional immigrant mixed languages, like the mix of German and English by German immigrants to the US, or Yiddish and English by Jewish immigrants, or Italian and English by Italian immigrants, all of which existed for about twenty to thirty years and then disappeared when English became the dominant language within that immigrant community, Spanglish seems not to be disappearing. Younger people use it, older people use it, and the middle aged are using it in a way that they have never used mixed languages in the past.

IM: What separates Spanglish from other mixed languages that have disappeared?

IS: Spanglish has gone beyond that border, and is a portable, mobile language. You might still be thinking in border terms, but you are living in Chicago or in Minnesota. So you don’t have to be in Tijuana or Juarez to be a Spanglish speaker.

Spanglish is, unlike the other mixed languages, a language of immigration and of acculturation. It’s not based in a particular border town, or a particular border region, like Franglais in the border towns of France and England, or Portunhol on the border of Venezuela and Brazil. And so what the media often says, that Spanglish is a recent phenomenon that has evolved because of recent immigration and that will disappear as soon as immigration stops, is a fallacy. First of all, it’s not recent, and secondly, I don’t think immigration will stop, no matter how tall the wall between Mexico and United States is.


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