The Spanglish Language
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The Spanglish Language

Generally speaking, Spanglish refers to the blend of the Spanish and the English languages. Not a “pidgin” language (a simplified. middle language that develops as a means of communication between groups that don’t have a language in common), Spanglish is totally informal, with no pre-established linguistic rules of structure.

Generally speaking, Spanglish refers to the blending of the Spanish and English languages. 

Not a “pidgin” language (a formalized, middle language that develops as a means of communication between groups that have no common language), Spanglish is totally informal, with no pre-established rules of linguistic structure.

Although Spanglish contains common patterns o fword and phrase usage, it is actually a dimension of what linguists term “code switching,” whereby two languages are interwoven in a free-form style that literally allows the two languages to be intertwined at will by the speaker. 

For example (English and non-Spanish terms bolded):

•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 US West.)

•Haz click aquí.  (Commonly seen on Spanish-language Web sites.)

•Llamenos para delivery. (Seen on advertising signs in Peru.)

•Se venden bloques.  (Signs seen in Guatemala.)

Tips para marketing.  (Advertisement in Mexico.)

Quite different from the bi-lingual phenomena commonly resulting by close border contact along the United States-Mexico border (as well as California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Atlanta, New York, and Chicago), Spanglish is a new and developing language evolving in most major cities of the US--anywhere Spanish populations interact with other cultures.

In fact, while Spanglish is restricted to the English/Spanish formula by definition, variations intertwine a number of other languages with Spanish.

For example, the Hispanic population of the United States and the British population in Argentina use varieties of Spanglish.

Sometimes the creole (a pidgin language that has become an institutionalized language) spoken in Spanish holiday resorts which are exposed to both Spanish and English is commonly termed Spanglish.  Similarly, the code switching used in Gibraltar is called Llanito. 

Spanglish may also be known by a regional name; some people refer to "Tex-Mex," that blending of terms often heard in Texas, as Spanglish, which is not technically accurate; neither is the case with "Ladino" spoken in New Mexico, because both are language varieties of Mexican Spanish.

The primary stigma confounding linguistic analysis and classification is that there is no clear distinction between Spanglish and simple bad Spanish or English. "Parquear" used for "to park" is clear and deliberate Spanglish; "actualmente" for "actually" rather than "at present" is closer to incorrect use and ambiguous as it has a clear, but different, meaning in true Spanish.

In many parts of the world, perhaps no place moreso than in the US, Spanish and English have mixed on various levels by various methods for centuries.

For example, a fluent Spanish/English bilingual speaker addressing another such speaker might exhibit code-switching with the sentence: “I'm sorry, I cannot attend next week's meeting porque tengo una obligación de negocios en Boston, pero espero que I'll be back for the meeting the week after. Changing some words to English, for example, "Te veo ahorita, me voy de shopping para el mall” ("See you later, I'm going shopping in the mall”). True Spanglish typically involves this kind of exchange.

Spanglish phrases often use shorter words from both languages as in: "Me voy a hacer wake up” (rather than, "Me voy a levantar" or "I am going to wake up.")  A common code switch in Puerto Rican Spanglish is using the English word “so,” as in "Tengo clase, so me voy" ("I have a class, so I'm leaving"), rather than the Spanish "porque" with different order ("me voy porque tengo clase").

Word borrowings from English to Spanish are more common in Spanglish, using false cognates in their English senses, colloquializing English expressions. For example:

•The word carpeta is "folder" in standard Spanish.  In some forms of Spanglish it means "carpet" instead of Spanish alfombra.

•The word clutch (pronounced: "cloch") is Spanglish, Mexican Spanish, and Latin American Spanish for gear-shift of an automobile. The standard Spanish word is embrague.

•In Spanglish, yonque denotes "junkyard,” not the standard Spanish deshuesadero.

•In Spanglish, the word boiler is both "water heater" and "boiler.”  The standard Spanish words are calentador de agua (water heater) and hervidor or caldera (boiler).

•Lonche is Spanglish for “lunch,” as in "hora del lonche" (lunchtime). The correct Spanish term is almuerzo.

•Other borrowings include emailear or emiliar, "to email,” nerdo, "nerd,” and laptop, "laptop computer.”

What is essential to understand is that Spanglish, by linguistic definition, is an independent language as are its components--English and Spanish.

And while all languages evolve over time (or face extinction), Spanglish will most likely evolve into a dominant language in the US and other parts of the world where Spanish-speaking populations reside, becoming interwoven into countless  language patterns in decades to come--even where Spanish-speaking populations do not reside. 

Just as various “versions” of Latin are in common usage today--the foundation of French, Spanish, and Italian, for example, Spanglish could quite possibly spawn other languages based on its usage and free-form structure.  At this time, Spanglish could quite possibly become a very dominant language unparalled by other developing languages.

(Note to readers:  I urge readers to incorporate any comments found below into their understanding of the Spanglish language as I am not of Spanish or Latino background.)


Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language, Ilán Stavans

Spanish/English Codeswitching in a Written Corpus, by Laura Callahan


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Comments (7)
Ranked #4 in Linguistics

Not bad. Add this one to your sources: Homegirls: language and cultural practice among Latina youth gangs By Norma Mendoza-Denton It's on Google books. She has invented an ipa symbol /I/ for "eeeeeeee fool." Love it. I'm from Watsonville, California, where it's happening right now. Thanks for posting!

Already in my file, A. Cardott. But, that's another discussion.

I used to speak this language when I worked in Gibraltar, very strange combination, one or the other is fine, but knowing which words they wanted you to use in Spanish and which ones to use in English was somewhat problematic. A good read James.

Thank you, DeeBee. Yes, this is largely a status and prestige language.

Ranked #15 in Linguistics

Reminds me of a film with the same title featuring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni and Paz Vega.

Ranked #4 in Linguistics

DeeBee -exactly. There are some words in either language that you find out you're never supposed to choose, and depending on who you're talking to.


This type of language use is not unique to Spanglish.

I'm from Durban, South Africa where the majority speaks Zulu. It's become common amongst the younger people to use a mixture of English and Zulu in the same way that you have described 'Proper Spanglish'.