Spanglish: A foot in each…language


What happens when one language spoken by millions meets up with another language spoken by millions?

In the case of Spanish and English, the answer is “Spanglish.”

Spanglish – a term invented in the middle of the last century by Puerto Rican linguist Salvador Tió, (who called it “Espanglish”) – describes both the mixture of Spanish with a heavy usage of English words, or of English with a heavy usage of Spanish words (Tió originally called this latter “Inglañol”).

Spanglish is a geographical or migration-linked phenomenon; in the US, the vast majority of speakers are located in areas bordering a Spanish-speaking country, such as southern California, Texas and Arizona, or in areas with a high percentage of Spanish-speaking immigrants, such as New York City and Miami. The phenomenon can also be found outside the US due to political and/or historical reasons – such as the US government’s policy of educating in English in Puerto Rico until the mid 1940s, and the US control of the Panama Canal Zone until 1999. On the other side of the world, Andalusian Spanish has mixed with British English to form “Llanito”, the “Spanglish” of the British colony of Gibraltar.

Because of the diversity of the Spanish and English variants that end up forming Spanglish in different locations, Spanglish itself lacks uniformity in the ways it varies from standard Spanish. So, it is correct to say that there are different Spanglishes, or variants of Spanglish, and some of them even have their own names: Tex-Mex (Chicano), Cubonics (spoken in Florida and derived from Cuban Spanish), Nuyorican (spoken in New York and derived from Puerto Rican Spanish) and the previously mentioned Llanito.

Despite these differences, the following semantic, phonological and morphological phenomenon can be found in all versions.


Probably the most obvious phenomenon of all, code-switching (alternating between two or more languages in a single conversation in a way that is consistent with each language’s syntax and phonology) in Spanglish gives us sentences like:

No, I can’t go to the fiesta porque mañana tengo que trabajar.
Te llamaré pa´tras.
Está p’arriba de ti.
Va a correr para presidente.
¿Cuando puedes deliberar las groserías?
Voy a vacunar la carpeta.

The first is an example of “intersentential” code-switching. Only the language changes; otherwise, the sentence is grammatically and semantically correct.
The second, third and fourth are examples of a “calque”, a literal translation that disregards context.
The fifth and sixth are examples of “semantic extension”, where speakers extend an original meaning or assign a new meaning to a word in their own language due to its similarity to a word in the other language. This is often the result of false cognates.

Loan Words

Loans words occur as new items or ideas arise for which the original language does not have a specific term, or when the original language of the term has more linguistic prestige than the borrowing language. The original word is often adapted to fit the second language’s phonetic or morphological rules. Examples are rife; below are a few.

rufo – roof
troca – truck
likear – to like (Facebook)
likear – to leak
dale play – turn on (video, music, etc.)
lonche – lunch
mopear – to mop
dropear – to drop
marqueta – market
chores – shorts

Finally, Spanglish can be fun. Fromlostiano is a kind of artificial play on words that only Spanish/English bilinguals can enjoy. It consists of translating Spanish idioms literally into English resulting in an expression that is grammatically correct but entirely nonsensical.

Here are a few that we hope will make you smile. We encourage you to play around and come up with your own.

1. No es moco de pavo – It’s not turkey snot!
2. Estar al loro – To be at the parrot.
3. Estar a dos velas – To be at two candles.
4. Manda huevos – Send eggs.
5. Estoy sin blanca – I’m without white.

“Spanglish” Finds Its Way into the Spanish-Speaking World’s Most Prestigious Dictionary

The Real Academia Española (RAE), the Spanish-speaking world’s language authority, is finally rolling out the welcome mat for the word “Spanglish” (or espanglish, as the term is written in Spanish). The RAE plans to incorporate the word into the 2014 edition of its master reference work known as the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE).

The RAE’s decision to finally include the word “espanglish” came about as a result of years of lobbying by the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (ANLE), an organization that defines Spanish language standards in North America. In the past, the DRAE neglected to designate terms as specific to U.S. Spanish speakers, but with the growing number of Latinos in the United States, the RAE realized that it could no longer afford to ignore this segment of the population. As such, the next edition of the DRAE will specifically indicate if a term was coined by Spanish speakers in the United States.

While the linguists at ANLE are celebrating the inclusion of “espanglish” in the DRAE, not everyone is pleased about the new addition. Language purists view the existence of Spanglish as threatening. A number of noted Spanish-language writers and academics have made disparaging remarks about the rise of Spanglish, and one linguist in particular warns that the Spanish language as a whole is in danger of devolving into something of a dialect without clearly defined standards.

The highly esteemed academic Antonio Garrido Moraga offered this opinion about Spanglish, “I advocate for Hispanics to learn English and preserve Spanish. Now, if they don’t learn English and they only express themselves in that jumble of Spanish and English, they’re condemned to the ghetto.”

Like it or not, the acceptance of the concept of Spanglish by the RAE opens doors for the inclusion of other Spanish words “made in the USA.” The word “forma” instead of “formulario” (form), “aplicar por” instead of “postularse” (apply for), and “aseguranza” instead of “seguro” (insurance) are just some of the words that are heard daily on the streets of New York, L.A. and other major American cities with a significant Hispanic presence. If Spanglish advocates get their way, these words will soon be gracing the pages of the DRAE as well.

Example of Spanglish:

Spanish Words Disguised as English

Long before the hybrid Spanglish came on the scene, the two languages—Spanish and English—were mixing it up in dusty border towns and far-flung tropical locales. Over the years, English has been enriched by the addition of numerous Spanish loan words, some borrowed with virtually no changes while others have been anglicized to a certain extent, either in terms of spelling or pronunciation. When American settlers began exploring the west in the early 1800s, they encountered an established Mexican culture that supplied the English language with a number of everyday words. Merchants trading in the Spanish-influenced Caribbean returned not only with goods but new words as well. Novel dishes and ingredients introduced to us through exposure to Hispanic cultures have broadened both our menu options and our vocabulary.

While languages such as Spanish and French have academic bodies—the Real Academia Española and the Académie Française, respectively—charged with maintaining the purity and integrity of these languages, no such body exists for the English language. English abounds with words adopted from other languages, and new words continue to enter the language, many of which can claim foreign pedigrees.

The following list of words, although far from exhaustive, provides a glimpse of some of the Spanish loan words that you probably use all the time but never gave a second thought as to their origins.

adobe, alpaca, amigo, armadillo, banana, bandoleer, bolero, burro, bronco, caiman, caldera, chili con carne, chihuahua, condor, conga, conquistador, corral, coyote, creole, cumbia, daiquiri, desperado, embargo, flamenco, galleon, gaucho, gazpacho, guanaco, guerrilla, hacienda, iguana, jaguar, junta, latino, llama, machete, macho, maize, mambo, manatee, maracas, mariachi, marijuana, matador, merengue, mesa, mescal, mosquito, negro, oregano, paella, pampa, patio, pasodoble, piñata, plaza, poncho, puma, quinoa, rodeo, rumba, salsa, siesta, silo, taco, tango, tapas, tequila, tobacco, tornado, tortilla, vanilla, vigilante, vertigo.

Can you think of any other examples of Spanish words that have snuck into English?

Spanglish Spoken Here

Spanglish, the love child born of the relationship between Spanish and English, features a rather inventive mix of the two languages. English words frequently get a “makeover” before being adopted by Spanglish users, with spelling often changed to loosely fit the rules of Spanish. Check out these examples of Spanglish at its finest.

  • Breakfast might get top billing as the most important meal of the day, but lonche [English: lunch; Spanish: almuerzo] doesn’t trail far behind. Just make sure you’ve picked up some grocerías [English: groceries/food; Spanish: alimentos/comida] at the marketa [English: market; Spanish: mercado], or you may go hungry.
  • Hey, do you want to go for a ride in my new troca [English: truck; Spanish: camioneta]?
  • I can’t find a spot that’s closer, so I’m just going to parkear [English: to park; Spanish: estacionar] here. We’ll have to walk a few bloques [English: blocks; Spanish: cuadras], but it’s good to get some fresh aigre [English: air; Spanish: aire].
  • I really need a haircut. I think I’ll head over to the barberchop [English: barbershop; Spanish: peluquería] later this afternoon.
  • I can’t stand my boss. I’m going to quitear [English: to quit; Spanish: renunciar] my job!
  • Someone was tochando [English: touching; Spanish: tocando] the escrin [English: screen; Spanish: pantalla]. It’s covered in fingerprints and smudges.