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Published:August 16th, 2007 05:22 EST
Professor Says, Spanglish Offers Stepping-Stone to English

Professor Says, Spanglish Offers Stepping-Stone to English

By SOP newswire

Washington -- Spanglish, a hybrid form of English and Spanish especially popular among young people, is one of the most striking ways two of the world’s most widely used languages are evolving in response to immigration and globalization.

Spanglish is “a very creative, jazzy way of being Latino in the U.S. today,” said Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, who has studied and defended this hybrid language.

Almost 92 percent of U.S. Latinos say it is very important to learn English, and another 7 percent say it is somewhat important, according to the Latino National Survey, the most in-depth look at the country’s 43 million people of Latin American descent. But English-language acquisition usually does not happen all at once. In Spanglish: The Making of A New American Language (2003), Stavans presented thousands of American words with both Spanish and English etymological roots spoken by a wide array of people, young and old -- immigrants, Latinos born in the United States and non-Latinos.

“It is also a general form of communication used in Puerto Rico, the U.S.-Mexican border and other ‘hybrid’ spaces. In other words, it breaches boundaries,” Stavans told USINFO.

Spanglish is widely spoken in the Latino community, although its usage varies from place to place and generation to generation. Stavans sees it as a good thing. He has been translating Don Quijote de la Mancha, or Don Quixote, by Cervantes, into Spanglish, just in case anyone doubts what this hybrid can do.

One of Stavans’ favorite Spanglish words is estressar, which expresses a very modern form of anxiety, in English to be stressed out.  Some Spanglish words render an English word -- average, for example -- in a form easier for Spanish speakers to say: averaje (a-ve-RAH-je). Others show the wit and imagination characteristic of all slang: someone who is assimilating may be referred to as an avocado, or a dynamic female may be referred to as an aeróbica (ay-RO-bi-ka).

Stavans, who was born in Mexico to a Jewish family with roots in Eastern Europe, was raised in a multilingual environment. He has authored many books, including Dictionary Days (2005), On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language (2001) and The Hispanic Condition: The Power of a People (1995).

He sees Spanglish not as an expression of alienation from U.S. culture but as “an attempt to break that alienation, to find ways for Latinos to assimilate -- although on our own terms.” Spanglish speakers are constructing a positive identity and the use of Spanglish seems to accelerate or facilitate their Americanization.

To those who worry that Spanglish will corrupt English or Spanish, Stavans says: “Language exists in a state of perennial corruption. Spanglish doesn't pollute English or Spanish more than the languages of adolescents, sports, advertising, etc. -- or, for that matter, any other foreign language. A healthy national language always figures out a way to negotiate with its counterparts, internally and externally, no matter in what state of development these tongues find themselves.”

Moreover, Spanglish continues to develop and change. Stavans has taught courses on Spanglish at Amherst and elsewhere, and several of his former students now are pursuing careers in the field, becoming part of a network of researchers and informants. “I've been regularly adding numerous entries to my database. I hope to bring out a new edition [of the dictionary] in the next few years,” he said.

“Spanglish should be used as a stepping-stone in the process of English-language acquisition,” he said. “And it's crucial to stress that as appealing and fashionable as Spanglish is, the only route for Latinos to become full-fledged Americans is through English. This, of course, doesn't mean they should abandon Spanglish; instead, they should use it as a key to open the American door.”

Or, as Stavans put it in an interview with National Public Radio: "Latinos are learning English. That doesn't mean that they should sacrifice their original language or that they should give up this in-betweenness that is Spanglish. Spanglish is a creative way also of saying, 'I am an American and I have my own style, my own taste, my own tongue.'"

For more on Spanglish and other recent developments in English, see the new electronic journal Dynamic English.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

Source:By Jeffrey Thomas
USINFO Staff Writer