Speaking Spanglish

There are two articles that I recently found about bilingualism and Spanglish which made me want to be part of the conversation. The first one: Intermingling languages: From conversation to literature by Francois Grosjean and the second one: Why does Spanglish get such a bad rap? by Roxana Soto from Spanglishbaby.com.

I too find the bilingual behavior fascinating and enriching. I speak Spanish. I learned English in school, in Mexico. I didn’t grow up in a bilingual home or in a community where code-switching was common. Actually, I didn’t consider myself “bilingual” until not so long ago, and sometimes it still feels like a very ambitious adjective for me to use, as someone whose adult life is now spent at Wordreference.com. Note the also very ambitious use of the term “adult”.

I tried to find a serious definition of Spanglish without success. The definitions as well as the value judgment vary depending on who you ask. For some people raised in a bicultural atmosphere, it is a normal and expected phenomenon which precisely defines their culture. Among others who may not be part of the bicultural/bilingual experience, it is more likely to be seen as a distortion of the language and even as a lack of skill and vocabulary.

Again, it can mean different things. In my opinion, switching from one phrase in English to another in Spanish is not Spanglish. I mean, if those phrases are constituted by correct grammar and real words, it is either English or Spanish. To me, Spanglish, the one I “look down upon”, if anything, refers to the sudden invention of words, unfortunate use of false friends (pairs of words or phrases in two languages that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning) and misguessed cognates.

While funny in most cases, nobody would want their Bachelor’s degree confused with bachillerato (high school) on a certificate or have their gringo husband telling people you are embarazada (pregnant) because you blushed. (The bump might not be helping my case here). By the way, I really am pregnant but not embarrassed about it.

The more time I spend thinking in English the easier it is to incorporate English words into my informal Spanish and vice versa when I know the recipient will clearly understand what I mean. I definitely get the recurrent argument that some concepts are better expressed in a certain language. Our inner speech is developed from external speech; the more resources we have to express our mental concepts and cognitive awareness the more efficiently we will be able to voice our thoughts. Put in the famous words of Wittgenstein: “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”.

On the other hand, as a translator, I’d better be able to deliver whatever concept is necessary in a sensible and accurate way in my target language. I am still learning English everyday as it is the language surrounding me mostly. But I do feel a responsibility towards my Spanish to somehow preserve its proper use given the language-suffocating environment. I want to be able to use it and understand it correctly when a formal context arises, when the circumstances require it and most importantly, I want to be able to pass it on as intact as it was given to me. I told you I was ambitious.