It's English, And It's Spanish, And It's Officially A Problem

LAREDO, Tex., Aug. 1—A theatrical company called the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts tours the Southwest each year, presenting new plays in three languages: Spanish, English and Spanglish.

The Spanish and the English are fairly standard. The Spanglish, as the name implies, is a combination of the two, so transmogrified in some words and phrases that it seems to be neither. And so pervasive has is it become that there is concern on both sides of the border.

On the American side, educators say they fear that children speaking English in school, Spanish at home and Spanglish on the street, may fail to learn either Spanish or English properly and thus grow up sounding poorly educated in both.

Campaign in Mexico

In Mexico, the national authorities say they fear that the Spanish language is being permanently debased. Officials in the administration of President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado have begun an advertising campaign to discourage such things as using English names for businesses and restaurants. When Jose Lopez Portillo was President, he established a Committee for the Defense of Culture and Language to preserve both Spanish- Mexican cultural tradition and the mother tongue.

The linguistic amalgam, also known as Southwest Spanish or Tex- Mex or Texican, is variously perceived as a developing language in its own right, as a regional dialect or as a verbal mishmash that is not Spanish, English or anything else worthy of the discriminating tongue.

”The only reason we consider it a language at all, in very loose terms,” said Edward Lucero, administrative director for the theater group, ”is that you can conjugate the verbs. By no means do we advocate that Spanglish become a language in itself. But we recognize the reality of it.”

Miami, New York, Puerto Rico

Variations of Spanglish occur wherever there is a concentration of newly arrived Hispanic people – Miami, New York and New Jersey, California and elsewhere – or a concentration of American influence, as in Puerto Rico. But it is most audible along the 1,952-mile Mexican border.

In cities like Laredo, Brownsville and El Paso, window placards and neon signs hawk such things as ”el super taco” or a ”hamburguesa doble con queso” (double cheeseburger). Street talk is laden with hybrid expressions like ”croseando la calle” for ”crossing the street” or ”cuquiando almuerzo” for ”cooking lunch,” a meal that sometimes becomes ”lonche.”

”They don’t know either correct Spanish or English,” said a young bilingual teacher of Japanese descent in East Los Angeles. ”In the inner city now you have generations that speak Spanglish, even the junior college level. They talk about eating lonche. What kind of word is lonche?”

Unlike the government officials and teachers, linguists are in the main intrigued, but not much concerned. Several linguists said in interviews that they saw neither a lasting debasement of English and Spanish nor a new language that would, even over a century or more, supplant either.

Seen as Natural Evolution

Dr. Jon Amastae, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Texas at El Paso, has done extensive work on Southwest Spanish, as most linguists prefer to call the dialect. He maintains that it is basically Spanish that has evolved as expected in a culture in which there is so much interchange.

”It’s a tangled question that has become a topic of study,” he said. ”Spanglish is different things to different people. A lot of people think it is simply alternating beween English and Spanish, with expressions like ‘fui al cine last night’ for ‘I went to a movie last night.’

”But the reason for the switching is not that the speaker didn’t know the language; it’s simply part and parcel of a dual heritage and bilingual speakers talking to each other.

”Another thing that’s called Spanglish or Tex-Mex,” he said, ”is the degree to which Spanish in the border areas has assimilated English loan words.”

He noted ”jonron” for ”home run,” and the verb form created from it, ”jonronear,” which means ”to homer,” or ”to hit a home run.” Another, he said, was ”noquear,” or ”to knock out.”

Such sports adaptations are not unique to the border area, however, having long been used in other Latin American countries.

More Than Casual Borrowing

At the same time, linguists see something deeper in Spanglish than the sort of casual linguistic pilferage committed by people given to phrases like ”ciao for now.”

Dr. Guadalupe Valdes, a linguist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, suggests that the wholesale borrowing of words from English and the transformation of some of them into Spanish verb forms are more a testament to the strength of the Spanish tongue than an indication of its debasement.

”To be able to take an American word and conjugate it in Spanish takes a facility that attests to the speaker’s knowledge of the language,” she said.

She noted that there is a Spanish verb, castellanizar, that means ”to turn into Spanish.”

In general, she said, switching back and forth between languages would be done by two bilingual speakers ”who want to use all the strings of their guitar, so to speak.”

Other Factors Enter

The process is further complicated by other factors, among them the influence of a slang called Calo, rooted in the argot of the Andalusian Gypsies of Spain, transmitted to the urban barrios of Mexico and further altered by exposure to English words and expressions.

These older forms, some outdated, are added to almost daily with new ones, like the common ”muy nais” for ”very nice,” or the trendy ”muy heavy,” or ”simon,” pronounced, ”see mon,” and meaning ”see, man” among the hip.

Thus, those already confused by Spanglish are apt to become more so when confronted by expressions such as ”?Quivas, Uvas?” meaning, ”How are you, Grapes?” or verbs like ”gorileando,” meaning ”to bully,” or references to a spineless politician as a ”Tio Taco,” literally an ”Uncle Taco,” the Mexican-American equivalent of ”Uncle Tom.”

”It’s nothing that doesn’t happen in other countries and other languages,” said Dr. Mary Ellen Garcia, a linguist who is a member of the professional staff of the National Center for Bilingual Research in Los Alamitos, Calif.

”I’m not so sure that it will become its own language,” she said. ”English is available to carry on your daily life, and Spanish is available to carry on your daily life, and unless you need a new language to do that, it won’t come about.”

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