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4:38 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Puedes Believe It? Spanglish Gets In El Dictionary

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 5:47 pm

The Royal Spanish Academy — the official arbiter of the Spanish language — recently announced that it will add the word "Espanglish" to the 2014 edition of its dictionary. This is a big deal for the traditionally conservative academy, and it's a big deal for supporters who feel that mix of Spanish and English has officially been ignored for more than a century.

The most common type of Spanglish features speakers switching back and forth from English to Spanish. Por ejemplo, if I started talking to you in Spanglish, te diría que it rained very hard this morning while I was riding la bici y me empapé. (I got drenched this morning while riding my bike.)

Another form of Spanglish involves translating phrases and words from English into Spanish or vice versa. The roof becomes "La rufa" and if your "roof is leaking," you might say, "La rufa esta liqueando."

Professor Ilan Stavans, who teaches Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, is the author of Spanglish, The Making of a New American Language. He says linguistically, other immigrant groups are unlike Latinos.

Although first generation immigrants from Poland, Germany and Italy created hybrid languages comparable to Spanglish, Stavans says, they eventually instilled English in their children. The immigrant language, whether Polish, Italian or another, became subjects of nostalgia.

"This is not happening among Latinos," he adds. "Latinos are not losing the Spanish language, but they are not keeping it in a pure form. And this impure form is a language that has been around for over 150 years."

What is surprising, however, is that the Royal Spanish Academy has now decided to recognize Spanglish.

"The future of the Spanish language is not in Spain, it's not in Mexico, it's not in any Latin American country, it's in the United States," says Gerardo Piña-Rosales, the director of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, which has been lobbying the Spanish Academy to recognize Spanglish.

Spanglish-speaking Immigrants

But at least for now, Spain is still the final arbiter of the official Spanish language. The Academy is defining Espanglish as a form of speech that mixes "deformed elements of vocabulary and grammar from both Spanish and English."

It's the word "deformed" that's rubbing Piña-Rosales the wrong way. In fact, he and several of his colleagues are complaining to Spain. As for Stavans, he says the definition indicates "a lack of understanding of how language works. A nearsightedness, as if language is formed in one part of the world and deformed by the barbarians."

But as Stavans himself points out, perhaps more than any other immigrant community in U.S. history, Spanish-speaking immigrants and their descendants have always maintained a close bond with their roots — something that was unthinkable in the past.

He says, "For an Italian from Sicily in the 19th century to dream of going back home ... meant many many miles and an astonishingly large effort, and many many dollars.

"For someone who is Latino and lives in San Antonio or in New York City for that matter or in Chicago, it's very easy. It's very cheap as well. And so we are a very movable population. We never really cut the umbilical cord."

As a result, Stavans says, a Latino within the U.S. feels no need to cling to a pure version of Spanish, yet is constantly refreshing his or her memory of the native tongue.

In other words, Spain's attempts to define the hybrid and keep the language pure might just be quixotic.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally this hour, a new word has been accepted by the official arbiters of the Spanish language. The Royal Spanish Academy is adding the word Espanglish to the 2014 edition of its dictionary. It's a big deal for the traditionally conservative academy and for people who believe that the mixing of Spanish and English has been officially ignored for years. But as NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports, not everyone is happy.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The most common type of Spanglish features speakers switching back and forth from English to Spanish automatically and unconsciously.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken) muffins, poppy seed, cinnamon, banana nut, (foreign language spoken).

GARSD: For example, the cooks at my neighborhood cafeteria always make a point of telling me what they had for breakfast.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oatmeal con brown sugar and raisins.

GARSD: Another form of Spanglish involves translating phrases and words from English into Spanish or vice versa. The roof becomes (foreign language spoken). And if your roof is leaking, you might say (foreign language spoken).

ILAN STAVANS: Most immigrant languages have gone through a similar evolution.

GARSD: Professor Ilan Stavans teaches Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College.

STAVANS: They have given place to English in the children of those that were the immigrants, and the immigrant language has become a subject or an object of nostalgia. This is not happening among Latinos. Latinos are not losing the Spanish language, but they are not keeping it in a pure form, and this impure form has been around for over 150 years.

GARSD: Stavans is the author of "Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language." It's a language that's so pervasive it comes as a surprise that the Royal Spanish Academy has just now decided to recognize it. Gerardo Pina-Rosales is the director of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, which has been lobbying the Spanish academy to recognize Spanglish.

GERARDO PINA-ROSALES: We are putting pressure on the Royal Academy, and they know it. They know basically that the future of the Spanish language is not in Spain, it's not in Mexico or any other Latin American countries, but in the United States.

GARSD: But at least for now, Spain is still the final arbiter of the official Spanish language, and the Spanish Academy is defining Espanglish as a form of speech that mixes, quote, "deformed elements of vocabulary and grammar from both Spanish and English." It's the word deformed that's rubbing Pina-Rosales the wrong way.

PINA-ROSALES: They added that, and we are complaining because we don't think it's a deformation at all.

GARSD: He's not the only one who's ticked off. Many Latino scholars, including Ilan Stavans, were horrified at the definition.

STAVANS: The use of deformation really points, at least to me, a lack of understanding of how language works, a nearsightedness, as if language is formed in one part of the world and deformed by the barbarians.

GARSD: But as Stavans himself points out, perhaps more than any other immigrant community in U.S. history, Spanish-speaking immigrants and their descendants have always maintained a close bond with their roots.

STAVANS: For an Italian from Sicily in the 19th century to come to the United States as an immigrant to dream of going back home meant many, many miles and many dollars. For someone who is Latino and lives in San Antonio or in New York City for that matter or Chicago, it's very easy. It's very cheap as well. And so we are a population that never quite cuts its umbilical cord.

GARSD: As a result, Stavans says that Latino living in Irvine, San Antonio or New York City feels no need to cling to a pure version of Spanish. So as Mexican-American comedian George Lopez once said, the Royal Spanish Academy's fight to keep the language intact might be quixotic.

GEORGE LOPEZ: Because we're always going to speak Spanglish.

(LAUGHTER)

LOPEZ: It's too late. That's all we've talked in our house for years. (Foreign language spoken). I went to the store to buy the (foreign language spoken) that I like, (foreign language spoken) sold out.

GARSD: Jasmine Garsd, NPR Noticias. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.