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Spanglish is a Language

Posted by Jonathan Riedel
Jonathan Riedel
Jonathan Riedel is the founder and current CEO of Forword Translations.
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on Monday, 07 January 2013 in Uncategorized

            High school students everywhere will rejoice at this news – Spanglish is a language!

            Well, it depends on who you talk to, but under my definition, pidgins and creoles count as languages, and under my definition, Spanglish is a pidgin.

            A pidgin is a tongue with a very small vocabulary, usually a couple hundred words or fewer, and is how two people from very different linguistic backgrounds would communicate.  Trading in the days of yore had to be accomplished with pidgins – the Finnish and the Russians had one, and Basque-Icelandic was hot in the 17th century.

            If a child grows up hearing a pidgin more than the language of his or her parents, a creole is born.  A creole is the adult form of the larval pidgin, because what was once just survival language now makes intuitive grammatical sense to the child.  Whatever expressions don’t yet exist in the creole are simply made up according to the rudimentary existing grammar.  For this reason, creoles, especially newer ones, have a very simple structure.  Where French would conjugate a verb, Haitian Creole leaves it untouched; where a French speaker distinguished meaning between two related words, in Guadeloupe they are one lumped word.

            Spanglish is the pidgin that might arise if a structured education system were not in place and a Texan needed help from a Mexican.  “Hola, I need some agua.” “Yes, tengo un bottle de agua.”  Leave this elementary communication system in place for a few decades and gradually a creole will be born (fun fact: the origin of the word “creole” is in the Spanish/Portuguese root “criar”, meaning to “raise,” “bring up.”)  Imagine it – legitimate Spanglish!

            I once worked at a restaurant where an American cook, Gordon, and the dishwasher from St. Maarten, Felix, communicated in a pidgin of English and Haitian Creole.  Gordon would shout out to Felix to get him something from the cooler.  “Hey Felix, bring me some concuchon and brasson!” he’d say, and Felix would understand to fetch ribs and fish.  Funny thing is, concuchon and brasson are not the words for ribs and fish in Haitian Creole; it’s just what Gordon heard from “vyann kochon” and “pwason.”  They didn’t know it, but they were contributing to the foundation of a new language, Cringlish or Engleole.  The same way I would say “sayonara” in Japan or “hakuna matata” in Tanzania, I would say “brasson” for fried grouper in Haiti and hope for the best, making the world one language richer.

            It’s nice to think you don’t have to be Tolkien to create a new language. Try creating a Spanglish or Franglais poem yourself, and see what you come up with - hopefully both you and your interlocutor will understand what you have to say!

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Jonathan Riedel is the founder and current CEO of Forword Translations.

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