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Duck, purists: Spanglish is validated
Arizona Republic
Oct. 2, 2003

O. Ricardo Pimentel -- columnist

Welcome to los Unaited Esteits, home of espanglés, better know as Spanglish.

And, of course, I've just angered a lot of purists out there.

I'm talking about those who believe that Spanglish, the dynamic fusion of Spanish and English into an evolving tongue that transcends slang, is a gutter language.

They are keepers of the language flame and view Spanglish as the fire hose.

And, after reading Spanglish - The Making of a New American Language, they will view author Ilan Stavans as the fireman.

To pochos like me, however, the book is overdue recognition of what has long been our informal lingua franca, neither English nor Spanish but both. It is recognition that when cultures clash, they also merge, in this case via language.

Allow me to translate some of the words above. Rather, allow Stavans, who teaches Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, to translate. His book is also a Spanglish dictionary.

A pocho is "a Mexican person assimilating to the culture of the United States" or "a person from the United States of Mexican descent." It adds that the term is often used derisively by Mexicans about Chicanos (Mexican-Americans).

And Unaited Esteits, of course, is the United States.

Well, as a pocho in los Unaited Esteits, I've grown weary of being corrected, mostly but not exclusively by Spanish-speakers, for slipping in those Spanglish terms. I'm not sure, however, if Stavans would totally approve of my methods or motives.

Much better at English than Spanish, I've often had to rely on Spanglish to get by, anglicizing enough Spanish words as I went along to probably give Stavans a couple more chapters in his dictionary if they were real words.

Nonetheless, no matter how imperfect my Spanish or Spanglish, Stavans has validated my existence and this nether world of language duality I've grown up in.

I mean, to know that champú really does mean shampoo gives me a new sense of linguistic purpose.

To know that call waiting is the same as cal waitín gives me hope for full fluency.

I've been parquiando my carro (parking my car) for years. Stavans writes that I may also have been parquiando my carrucho, but I grew up parking my carrucha, always feminizing my cars. Who knew? There are rules.

Stavans, also known in Latino literature circles as an award-winning essayist and commentator, writes that Spanglish isn't really just restricted to los Unaited Esteits. It exists throughout Latin America, wherever English has become a force in commerce and culture. And this, of course, is a worldwide phenomenon, meaning folks other than Spanish-speakers have also been anglicizing their languages.

Stavans' book, compiled with the help of many students and in his travels, tells us that many of the terms are regional, tied to national origins.

For instance, Cuban-Americans of the language-purity persuasion have sneered at the "Cubonics" spoken by their progeny.

Mexican parents have long whacked their kids upside their heads for their caló, slang.

Puerto Ricans have their own language adaptations; same for all others here from elsewhere in Latin America.

This merging of languages has caused some to conclude that the result is "broken" language, spoken by the lower classes. But Stavans notes that another school of thought is that this is as much language construction as destruction.

Stavans is a self-described "middle-class Jew from Mexico" who immigrated to the United States. Growing to appreciate Spanglish has been a journey.

"Spanish was the language of the past for me, English the language of my future," he writes. "It was only when I was already comfortable in both Spanish and English . . . that I suddenly detected the possibilities of Spanglish."

In fact, Stavans strongly urges folks to learn both English and Spanish well. With this book, he is merely chronicling what Latinos with tongues straddling two languages have long known: Spanglish is an indisputable fact of life.

Stavans likens Spanglish to Ebonics, the so-called new Black English. It's what happens when transplants lose one tongue and craft another.

But a more apt comparison, I think, is Stavans' look at Yiddish. Rooted in Hebrew, but also influenced from outside, there came a time when many Jews merely spoke a substitute outgrowth, Yiddish.

It seems clear to me that this is a possibility for Spanish in the United States.

And, sorry, it wouldn't bother me a bit.

Ay te wacho. (See you).

Reach Pimentel at ricardo.pimentel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.