THE STORY OF SPANISH
by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow
Many examples are so Hispanicized that English speakers unfamiliar with Spanish would never recognize them. That’s because Spanglish terms remain phonetically and grammatically Spanish.
Spanglish verbs are also conjugated according to the Spanish, not the English, rules. In Spanglish, speakers say chatearemos (we chat), not nosotros will chat. Spanglish turned acceder (to accede) into accesar, but "we accede" is accesamos.
When commentators dismiss Spanglish as a product of lack of education and acculturation, they might be missing a new development: Spanglish is gentrifying. Some Spanglish speakers say capeta, for instance, because they don’t know that the proper Spanish term for "carpet" is alfornbra (in Spanish, carpeta means portfolio).
Spanglish speakers say troca, forma, aseguranza instead of the proper Spanish terms: camioneta (truck), solicitud (application), planilla (form), and seguro (insurance). But even the best-educated Hispanics in Miami or Los Angeles have said, at least once in their lives, tengo un appointment (I've got an appointment), or vamos a lonchear (lett go have lunch). This kind of fusion is natural wherever languages coexist. It happens among English speakers of all educational levels in the majority French-speaking province of Quebec, who regularly say, "I'm going to the depanneur" (corner store).
Barbarisms are not necessarily a sign of ignorance. They are a natural result of bilingualism. Spanglish, can be seen as the badge of a special American identity — the way Franglais is for English speakers in Quebec. Indeed, some Spanglish words demonstrate great linguistic ingenuity and verbal inventiveness. Cuora or cora (quarter of a dollar) is word creation for a concept that doesn’t exist elsewhere — it would have been simpler to say cuarto. The same can be said for janguear (to enjoy oneself, but derived from the verb to hang out).
And Spanglish is not an exclusively American phenomenon. In Gibraltar, the local Spanglish is called Llanito. In the Panama Canal Zone, it's Zonian. Brazil has Portuniol and France has Fragnol, while Peru has Quechuañiol and Japoñiol (Spanish slang among second-generation Japanese immigrants). Though never documented, the historical contact between Spanish and native languages like Guarani, Quechua, and Nahuatl certainly produced their own "fusion" languages.
In his famous essay "El llamado espanglish" (The So-called Spanglish), the linguist Ricardo Otheguy compared the popular Spanish of the United States with that spoken in other countries and found that American Spanish does not contain markedly more English words than popular Spanish spoken elsewhere. In his opinion, it does not even deserve the unique label of Spanglish.
A lot of the discussion about Spanish in the United States — but also in Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Bogotá — is really about the influence of English. Hispanics living in the United States aren't the only ones whose language is infected with Anglicisms. Some of these words are so Hispanicized that they have become unrecognizable, like Central American chinchibi for "ginger beer" or the Cuban yip or yipi for "jeep," or siol, which somehow evolved from "shortstop." Some Anglicisms have even taken on different meanings in different countries. Friqui (from freaky) to a Peruvian refers to someone who is too affectionate, while to an Ecuadorian it means "hare-brained." To a Honduran, frikiado means "annoying."
And while Anglicisms are often derided as products of undereducation, curiously, the Web site of the Academia Argentina de Letras — the country's authority on language — offers packs de libros (book packs). And the books are about Spanish terminology! Spain's Real Academia Espariola has repeatedly condemned Spanglish in the past, yet it recently admitted the words chatear (to chat) and tuitear (to tweet) into standard Spanish vocabulary on the grounds that such words are neologisms.
In short, there's no clear line between what is Spanglish and what are Anglicisms. Nor is there any consensus that either is bad. José Moreno de Alba, former director of the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua, says, "Spanglish doesn't exist. What exists [in the United States] is a variety of Spanish that deserves respect." His American counterpart, Gerardo Piña-Rosales (a Spaniard), director of theAcademia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (ANLE) is more nuanced: "Spanglish exists, but it's getting smaller and smaller as the Hispanic middle class grows." Antonio Muñoz Molina, a novelist, academician, and former director of the Cervantes Institute in New York City, says, "The enemy of Spanish is not English, but poverty."
Spanglish is not the only part of the story bf Spanish that’s unfolding in the United States. There are strong signs that U.S. Spanish might be developing its own standard. This is happening under the formal guidance of ANLE but also under the influence of thousands of translators, journalists, and scriptwriters across the country.
Few people are actually aware that the United States has its own Spanish-language academy. ANLE was created in 1973 by seven scholars, including three Spaniards, and was officially recognized by the Real Academia in Madrid in 1980. Its peculiarity among the twenty-one other Spanish-language academies is that Spanish is not an official language in the United States, nor was the United States ever part of the Spanish Empire (though some of its territory was). That’s why ANLE is not called the United States Academy of Spanish. Officials opted against including "LJ.S." in its name because they feared that would make the academy sound official, and it’s not.
At the moment, ANLE is something of a shoestring operation. It has no office and relies entirely on volunteers: thirty-nine full members, forty-two U.S. correspondents, sixty-one foreign correspondents, and seventy contributors. ANLE receives private donations but has no major funding. Yet that might change. The Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española made the news in 2009 when the U.S. government formally recognized it as the top authority on Spanish in the United States. Laura Godfrey, comanager of GobiernoUSA.gov, the official Spanish-language portal of the General Services Administration, explained that GobiernoUSA.
gov would consult ANLE on the appropriate translation of technical and nontechnical terminology, as well as on questions of grammar and style. The goal was to standardize Spanish usage in governmental documents and improve communication with the widespread Hispanic public constantly making use of Spanish language services.
The catalyst for change was Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 13166, which he signed in 2000 (it was reratified in February 2011). The policy requires all federal administrations and agencies to provide access to services for persons with limited English proficiency. On the heels of this, the U.S. government inaugurated a Spanish-language version of its Web portal in 2003 to help Spanish speakers find information about government programs and services, immigration, employment, education, and more. GobiernoUSA.gov is not a strict translation of USA.gov. It's an adaptation designed to address the specific needs of Spanish speakers, and it has more than twenty-four million users.
But the U.S. government quickly discovered it faced a conundrum: what kind of Spanish to use. Some writers want the standard second-person pronoun to be tu, but those familiar with Mexican rural Spanish prefer usted, end some even favor vos, common in the Southern Cone countries and Central America. So in 2003, Laura Godfrey took the problem to ANLE to set standard guidelines for all U.S. government agencies.
"'When the Academia was created in 1973, everyone spoke of Spanish in the United States, a bit like a foreign element. Today, the true project of the ANLE is to identify what the Spanish of the United States is," explained Leticia Molinero, a translator who has been involved with the Academy since 1996 and has been a full-fledged member since 2011.