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 espanglishespañol 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?



  1. says

    Great post! I am raising my sons to speak both English and Spanish and though they fight me on it. And I feel like crazy person saying everything in English and then in Spanish I know that having two languages will only open doors for them.

  2. says

    Oh boy. This post and interview got me a little stirred up. I’m not sure that I can express all of what I’m feeling in a comment. I speak Spanish, I’m glad I do, and I’m raising my children to speak it as well. My families roots are in Mexico and I do not see Spanish as what connects me to my Mexican roots. Spanish is a language that was imposed on Mexico and it could be argued that although what is spoken in Mexico is definitely Spanish that it is also a product of Spanhuatl OR Spamaya or any such combination. Language evolves and you have to give people a little credit and trust that they will indeed find a way to understand each other. I speak English, but there are parts of the U.S. where people use colloquialisms that are completely foreign to me, but there is enough commonality in the language that I can open my mouth and ask for an explanation. Anyway that a little of what this post and interview stirred up in me. Definitely a compelling topic.

  3. says

    What an awesome interview! In cali we say “parqueate aya” (park over there) The youth now has evolved with the spanglish even saying “yo le voy a los laguneros” (I go for the Lakers) It’s become pretty crazy…Spanglish does exist!

  4. says

    Of course I speak spanish because is my first language and I learned english at school as my second language. I like spanglish, I think is cool but being realistic it doesn´t help neither english or spanish, because many confussions comes from it. I know many people who actually speak spanglish because they have been raised in Miami o r New York and the sad part of it, is that they haven´t mastered any of the two languages and have lot of confussion when writing or even expressing themselves. I have nothing against spanglish, I think it may be even cultural now, but again,I think it may be dangerous :(

  5. says

    LOL I laughed out loud because I had no idea that “te voy a llamar patras” (pardon my spelling) wasn’t legit Spanish. I always think of Spanglish being Spanish and English words being combined in speech – but still being used in it’s native language not as an infiltration of either language. Fascinating.

    I think Spanglish exists as an evolution of our language. I compare it to slang. Certain words in the English language exist today but were at one time frowned upon and thought to be just slang. But as we move forward, culture naturally adopts the words which accurately represents the story of what’s happening. So Spanglish to me is very much the same – our culture has morphed into something we’ve never seen before, something so vastly diverse that the languages which existed before weren’t suffice to capture our story.

    I speak Spanish, English and Spanglish. Depending on what I’m saying, the message I’m communicating – each finds it’s place to really convey what I’m trying to get across.

    Wonderful and thought provoking piece!

  6. says

    Wonderful interview. I am a Spanglish master! My mother only spoke Spanish to us growing up and as adults she speaks Spanish, Spanglish and English. I take pride in my multilingual background.

  7. says

    The more and more I speak Spanglish, the more I feel like I’m doing myself a disservice. For me, it’s a matter of being lazy when a Spanish word escapes me and it’s easy to throw an English word in there! I can appreciate however, their acknowledgement of the culture and quasi-langauge :)

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