Deconstructing Spanglish

|| Formal Essay |

Spanglish is a linguistic phenomenon characterized by a pronounced blend of Spanish and English words that are communicated in continuous, alternating streams during a language encounter. It is commonly used by a substantial portion of the Hispanic population in the United States. While not a pidgin language, it strictly follows grammatical rules within contexts. In addition, the codeswitching between the two parent languages are rarely random or messy.

However, the term has come to be used by some people in a pejorative sense, mainly because it is far from formal and because of the notion that it bastardizes both languages. Linguist Ana Celia Zentella strongly opposes this notion and provides quantified evidence to the contrary: Spanglish users should be proud of their ability to fluidly switch between languages. In addition, these users' communication through both languages addresses complex socio-linguistic issues and shows a level of skill that is considered as "ideal bilingual."

In her book, Growing up bilingual: Puerto Rican children in New York, Zentella examined the nature of "Spanglish" and the factors that led to the rise in its usage among people of Spanish heritage in the subject neighborhood. In her study, Zentella explored the factors that triggered codeswitching as well as the question of language dominance. According to Gumperz, codeswitching is the "juxtaposition within the same speech exchange of passages belonging to two different grammatical systems or subsystems." Codeswitching may occur as intersentential, intrasentential, or lexical items. It is also distinct from the mere acquisition of loan words.

One salient finding on the Spanglish phenomenon is that it is greatly influenced by the way bilingual players manipulate two distinct codes for various reasons: 1) to conform with neighborhood norms; 2) to pursue the speaker's immediate goals; 3) to meet societal expectations of both the English and Spanish languages.

Meanwhile, Mock Spanish refers to the common linguistic usage performed by mostly monolingual, native English speakers that employ pseudo-Spanish terms such as buenos nachos (instead of buenas noches), and "hasta la bye bye." While intended to generate humor, Mock Spanish is considered a covert form of racism that disparages or depicts Hispanic people in a pejorative manner. Commonly used by middle- to high-income educated whites, Mock Spanish largely propagates the negative stereotypes of Hispanic people. Mock Spanish language encounters are taken unfavorably by Spanish speakers even when its use is not intended to insult.

Mock Spanish demonstrates an ethno-political play where the dominant aggressor appropriates linguistic artifacts owned by the offended player to create value-laden humor that is mostly executed at the expense of the offended player.