Spanglish: English's Assault on Spanish

Part 1: Words Jump the Language Barrier

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.

    Although it isn't always possible to accurately predict how or if an English term will be adopted into Spanish, there are some patterns that are evident. Many of them hold true whenever one language absorbs part of another. For example, the terms most likely to be adopted are those where the acquiring language doesn't have convenient terms of its own. Thus the Spanish terms adopted into English in recent years have been mostly those of foods, words such as taco, tapas, flan, enchilada and burrito, plus a few related to Mexican culture, such as piñata and machismo.

    And many of the indigenous languages of Latin America have adopted Spanish terms such as days of the week and other aspects of the conquering culture.

    Following are examples of the different ways Spanish is adopting English vocabulary:

    Outright adoption: Some words of business and technology such as marketing, merchandising, rating (as of a TV show), CD-ROM and flash (for cameras) have become more or less accepted as genuine Spanish. Other terms, such as email and links, exist side by side and struggle for supremacy with equivalents of Spanish derivation (in this case, correo electrónico and enlaces). Generally speaking, nouns added to the language in this way are masculine. One prominent exception is la Internet, probably because a synonymous term, la Red (the Net), is feminine. (The usage el Internat is also used, but less frequently, and often Internet is used without the definite article.) Often terms that enter the language through popular culture also are adopted unchanged.

    Examples include OK, sexy, cool, Top 40, rock, rap, and oh baby, which have varying degrees of acceptance.

    Adoption with changes to make them more "Spanish": This is especially common with verbs, which usually get the -ear suffix. Examples include tipear (to type), clickear or cliquear (to click, as with a mouse), emailear (to email), and pompear (to pump gasoline).

    For examples of nouns, a political meeting is sometimes called a mitin, and a block for buildings is a bloque.

    Use of English cognates or literal translations: Examples cited in a recent article in the Argentine newspaper Clarín are the use of reportear for "to report" instead of informar, and remover for "to remove" instead of sacar. Such usages are common in newspaper and magazine articles translated from English, less so in articles originally written in Spanish. Other examples include the usage, especially in Latin America, of educación instead of pedagogía for "education" and computadora instead of ordenador for "computer."