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Published:August 21st, 2007 04:35 EST
Hispanics, Asians are reinvigorating English, professor says

Hispanics, Asians are reinvigorating English, professor says

By SOP newswire

Washington – English is a living, dynamic language that is invigorated by new speakers, including foreign students, tourists and immigrants, says cultural critic Ilan Stavans.

Even native English speakers never use the exact same language, Stavans said in a USINFO Webchat August 20. “As the language changes, often as a result of newcomers, so do its speakers.”

For example, the mixing of Chinese and English, Korean and English, Japanese and English, and Vietnamese and English are worldwide phenomena, Stavans said. Within the United States, Asian immigrants are using English as their language of communication while also infusing it with their own linguistic attributes. Stavans predicts that English in the late 21st century will borrow from the constellation of Asian languages in unforeseen ways.

“It is a mistake to think of the English taught in the classroom as divorced from the living English, the one heard on the street, in restaurants, on TV and music,” according to Stavans. Teachers should introduce students, even beginners, to the wide array of possibilities of a language, he added. “In a multiethnic society like ours, it is important to use different linguistic varieties as education tools.”

Spanglish is a hybrid form of English and Spanish especially popular among young people, and one of the most striking ways language evolves in response to immigration and globalization, according to Stavans. (See related article.)

In the last five years, Spanglish has become an important marketing tool in the United States, Stavans said. Such companies as Taco Bell, Hallmark and Mountain Dew are using Spanglish to reach a new type of customer.

In a global economy, companies seek diverse ways to advertise their products, and those ways often include an array of linguistic possibilities, according to Stavans.

Translators play an especially important role in understanding innovations in language – to be successful they need to be attuned to two languages and must be willing to improvise, “perhaps even to coin new terms,” Stavans said.

The characters in a novel seldom use a standard language to communicate, Stavans said.  Instead, they personalize the language, adapting it to their needs, making the language “local.” A good translator is also an ethnolinguist, capable of recreating the various sounds or tone of spoken language, Stavans said.

Stavans teaches at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is an internationally known cultural critic, translator, public speaker, editor, short-story writer and TV host.

For more on recent developments in English, see the electronic journal Dynamic English.

A transcript of Stavans’ discussion and information on previous and upcoming webchats are available on USINFO's Webchat Station.

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

By Carolee Walker
USINFO Staff Writer