Is Spanglish a language?

Anyone who has heard phrases likeTe llamo pa’ atrás pa’ janguear el viernes, que estoy vacunando la carpeta” will ask themselves if Spanglish is its own language. At least in terms of mutually intelligibility, it doesn’t seem very simple to classify the phrase within either English or Spanish, right?

Spanglish constitutes an increasingly widespread form of expression in the United States, where it is used by bilingual speakers of English and Spanish, who combine both languages in their daily life. As with any social phenomenon, the question of whether or not Spanglish is a language has its proponents (who defend their criteria with tooth and nail) and its detractors, who believe that it is nothing more than a way of speaking. In this post, we will present both ideas so that at the end you can come to your own conclusion as to whether or not Spanglish is a language.

Spanglish is a language

Among those that defend Spanglish as a language, we find Ilan Stavans, a Mexican sociolinguist and Lewis-Sebring Professor at Amherst College (Massachusetts). And the researcher doesn’t just work to compile and spread the reasons that make Spanglish a unique languagebut as part of his great effort to legitimise his claim that Spanglish is a language, provides a translation of the first chapter of Don Quixote, which begins: “In un placete de La Mancha of which nombre no quiero remembrearme, vivía, not so long ago, uno de esos gentlemen who always tienen una lanza in the rack, una buckler antigua, a skinny caballo y un grayhound para el chase.” Okay…

The RAE says no to Spanglish as a language

In any case, the argument that Spanglish is a language doesn’t convince everyone. In fact, among its detractors we find the most important institution regarding the Spanish language, the RAE (Real Academia Española or Spanish Royal Academy). Although the Academy doesn’t have the power to determine whether or not Spanglish is a language, it is true that the definition it provides for the phenomenon is capable of determining the point of view of its followers, as well as conservative perspectives on the language/way of speaking. 

The first definition of Spanglish offered by the RAE was not exactly benevolent, as it stigmatised its use as a “deformation” of English and Spanish. In any case, the final version, which is available online and in the 23rd print edition of the DRAE is limited to the following definition: “Way of speaking of some Hispanic groups of the United States in which lexical and grammatical elements of Spanish and English are combined”. Is Spanglish a language? The RAE says no way, but it previously held an even more combative point of view, so who knows what the future holds.

Culture and context define what a language is

Beyond whether each of us agrees or not that Spanglish is a language and the status that we can give to this phenomenon, at Ontranslation we believe that the social and cultural environment is a key factor when communicating with others. The age of “one country, one language” has ended, the sociolinguistic realities of countries (and also markets) are extremely varied and translation has been supplanted by localisation. We hope that this post helps you to understand a little more about Spanglish and come to your own conclusions.

By the way, “Te llamo pa’ atrás pa’ janguear el viernes, que estoy vacunando la carpeta” in European Spanish would be “Te llamo de vuelta (I’ll call you back) para quedar (to hang out) el viernes (on Friday), que estoy aspirando (I am vacuuming) la alfombra (the carpet)”. There, you’re welcome.

About the author

Oscar Nogueras

Es el CEO de Ontranslation y dedica algunos ratos libres a escribir en este blog para compartir sus conocimientos sobre internacionalización, cross-border ecommerce y Traducción SEO. No es para menos, ya que entre su formación cuenta con una licenciatura en filología inglesa, un máster en tradumática, un posgrado en elearning y un MBA. En definitiva, una declaración de intenciones donde la cultura y los idiomas se sirven mezclados, no agitados.

6 responses to “Is Spanglish a language?”

  1. Mike Stellar says:

    This is good info.I really appreciate your research. Thanks for sharing! Your blog helped me to understand a little more about Spanglish.

    • ontranslationAdmin says:

      Thanks Mike! Regards from the team.

  2. Frank Toro says:

    I was delighted to find your post as I am preparing a monograph about “Spanglish”.
    Please keep me in mind if you prepare any new material on the subject.

    • ontranslationAdmin says:

      Thanks Frank! We will keep you posted in case we added some new extra info. You can also check out other posts on the subject, like Spanish variants. Best regards from Barcelona.

  3. Tammie Millligan says:

    Sure would be nice if one of the translator apps had Spanglish available.

    • Oscar Nogueras says:

      Tammie, thanks for your comment! Sure it would! :))
      Best regards from Barcelona.

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