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Spanglish: English's Assault on Spanish

Part 1: Words Jump the Language Barrier

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Sign at bar in Buenos Aires.

Sign seen at a bar in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Photo by Beatrice Murch; licensed via Creative Commons.

Are these English or Spanish?

  • Dolores dice: Need advice? Escríbeme. (On home page for the online Latina magazine.)
  • Tengo que ir al bus stop para pick up mi hija. (Overheard in the U.S. West.)
  • Haz clic aquí. (Commonly seen on Spanish-language websites.)
  • Llamenos para delivery. (Seen on advertising signs in Peru.)
  • Se venden bloques. (Signs in Guatemala.)
  • Tips para marketing. (Advertisement in Mexico.)
To varying degrees, they're all examples of Spanglish, the growing use of English in the everyday speech and writing of Spanish-speaking people. Purists may be alarmed, but the fact is that Spanish is changing, as do all living languages. And these days, the biggest change is the infiltration of English vocabulary and, less commonly, even syntax into the Spanish language.

The most extreme cases of Spanglish can be heard in the United States, where some Spanish-speaking immigrants and their descendants use Spanish and English interchangeably, even in the same sentence. Such Spanglish can be heard not only on the streets and in the supermarkets, but also on some radio and television stations, although its use in writing seems to be limited mainly to the trendy young. Less extreme examples can be seen all over la Internet, where English words, especially those related to technology, sometimes replace their Spanish equivalents. English words also are creeping into everyday speech in Spain and Latin America, spread through advertising, movies, and the other media of popular culture.

Despite some grumbling from editors and professors, among others, the incursion of English into Spanish hasn't yet generated the intense reaction that it has for French. Most of the linguistic battles in Spanish-speaking countries involve minorities such as Basques in Spain or indigenous Mayan and Incan groups in Latin America. So far, no countries have taken the extreme step of banning or limiting English words in advertising, as has been done in France and part of French-speaking Canada.

But then again, while French has declined from being a contender as a true international language to its sometimes embattled position today, the number of people speaking Spanish is increasing, if only because of relatively high birth rates in Latin America. In fact, there are more people who speak Spanish as a first language than speak English as a first language. In short, Spanish is in no danger of dying out.

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