Espanglish No Existe Says a National Humanities Medalist


News out of Spain rocked the world, with huge implications in the U.S.  Nah, not the horrible news of that European country's financial mess or the projected 25% unemployment rate. Rather, in the archane world of philology or the study of language and literature in written form, the scholars at the Real academia española (RAE)--considered the guardians of Castilian Spanish--decided to accept the word espanglish--español mixed with English--as an entry into their dictionary, as reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune.

It's shocking because for years, this institution was slow to accept change to the language, particularly that coming from Latin America, where millions more not only speak it, but nourish, preserve, and keep Spanish alive.  For many, the RAE is seen as one of the last relics of Spanish colonialism.

[Note: The Oxford and my favorite, the Merriam-Webster dictionary have listed "Spanglish" for years.]

This is the complicated cultural and linguistic context in which espanglish exists.  Now where it gets political is that the majority of the Spanglish being spoken is occurring not in Spain or Latin America, but further north, in the U.S. where the term likely originated, where the blend of English and Spanish is inevitable, and where Spanish will either die or survive--stronger yet different.  As I have written before, 21st century U.S. is where the Latin American George Washington Simón Bolívar's failed dream of one America--Nuestra América--is being fulfilled because of the demographic boom of the Latino community.

This is a delicious irony of history that has profound linguistic, cultural, and political repercussions.  As immigrants become more "Americanized" so does language.  It always has.

What's different now is that the volume of recently arrived immigrants, even though coming in fewer numbers due to increased border enforcement and the crappy economy, constantly nourish Spanish but themselves are equally being influenced by their peers some who have been here longer, others who are native English speakers.  For language, the result is the rise of a new language--Spanglish, one that Yale Professor Roberto González Echevarría correctly notes is as diverse as the U.S. Latino community.  The version spoken in Miami among Cuban-Americans is different than that in New York City among Puerto-Ricans and Dominican-Americans which differs from how Chicanos in the Southwest express themselves.

Click on the video to hear our interview conducted a year and a half ago when Roberto was awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medal (plus wait until the end for a really cute "moment" between a teacher and his former student).  He acknowledges that Spanglish is and will be spoken but makes a compelling argument against institutionalizing it:

This phenomenon of a label--spanglish in this case--failing to capture the subtleties and the complexities of the largest and fastest growing minority group in the U.S. (projected to make up 25% of the population by 2050) has big repercussions equally for corporate brands, political parties, and candidates who are struggling to connect with Latinos.

Those who succeed will practice the prompts outlined in my interview with Roberto. Whether a political ad or commercial selling laundry detergent, outreach to Latinos must at once demonstrate a mastery of our cultural and ethnic differences, yet capture what unites us: the powerful desire for a better life, our aspiration to achieve the American dream.

How have you conserved Spanish while mastering English?  Or is it all, if not Greek, Spanglish to you?