Sunday, December 30, 2012

spanglish: two sources

Just before the term was out I got some information about so-called Spanglish, but things were busy and I was unable to write much of it down. Now, in the heart of break, I am remembering some of it and hoping to write down what I know so that it's not lost altogether. Sometimes ruminating about what I know helps me at least come up with the right questions. There will be more sources, I'm sure, but if I don't know how to approach the subject, I won't get much information.

One problem was that my students were very naive about grammatical rules and linguistics in general. I phrased the problem as this: We know that there is a lot of language-mixing going on. We know that people make sentences that use both languages (English and Spanish) freely. The question is this: Is this widespread enough, with a large enough community, that this language begins to have its own rules? And if it has its own rules, what are they? Would they be the same where Spanglish is spoken in California and New York? Can we prove that it's a language of its own? I invited them, in a prompt for a research paper, to enter the discussion and try to prove it one way or the other.

When I brought it up in class, I got very little argument, because they really had little concept of what I meant by "rules." They even now have little concept of rules, as we know them, in English, and corresponding but different rules in Spanish. My interest really is in the interaction of these rules. I wanted to know what happens.

One of the most helpful people to me was I.D., who identified herself as being from Lubbock, but seemed to have relatives elsewhere in Texas and roots in Mexico. She said that Spanglish was a way of life when she was growing up, but she called it Tex-Mex. "Isn't Tex-Mex a kind of food?" I asked her, but she was more comfortable using the term "Tex-Mex" for what she spoke. It's definitely not Pachuco, she said, though I was unfamiliar with that term. She explained that there was a Californian side of this picture, where it's glorified in movies and such, and made to sound fancy, or glorified. She felt that what happened on a day-to-day basis in Texas was quite removed from this and wasn't described adequately by what one could experience in the media.

She gave examples which all seemed to be English words or expressions that had been worked into a Spanish system. By Spanish system I mean they sounded Spanish and had Spanish endings, gender, Spanish grammar. Tex-Mex would simply take an English word, say "truck", and make it "troca", and "park" became "parquear" or some such; clearly borrowed words that were integrated into Spanish pronunciation and grammar. She admitted to mixing Spanish and English within a single sentence; it happened all the time.

One thing she made clear which was verified by the second source. It really depended on context, how much you used, and what you did. She had one grandmother who wouldn't tolerate it, either that, or didn't know the English words, so she in effect had to use Spanish 100% of the time at that grandmother's house. Another grandmother had very limited tolerance of it. It wasn't that she couldn't understand, but because she wouldn't use it and they respected her, they wouldn't use it around her. She said, the young used it all the time; they lived in a bilingual world, and switched freely. To the older generation, it had different meaning.

One thing that has become clear to me since I got here, independent of the sources, is that the Spanish-speaking Texan community feels a little isolated from Mexico itself. A whole swath of northern Mexico has been overrun by drug lords to such a degree that people don't feel as comfortable visiting, or traveling through, as they used to. They still call family in Mexico as often as possible, and visit whenever they can. They have problems at the border as there is a heightened sense of watchfulness of people coming and going. It is just not as easy as it used to be; Mexican-Americans have in effect stepped out of that problem but in the process have isolated themselves from their community back home, which in many cases is going through the political turmoil of adjusting to the terror of very wealthy drug gangs.

A second source, C.L., identified himself as from Austin, and also claimed that Spanglish was a way of life for him as he grew up. If there are no rules, he wrote, let's make some, because this is definitely a language. He also maintained that it was different for his generation and that of his parents. The parents, he said, would use it for a different reason, to show that they were trying to fit in to the new world. We kids, he said, would use a lot more of it, and would use it sometimes to aggravate the elders.

He gave a number of examples, but I was unable, overall, to answer my own questions. If it had rules, what were they? Also, I misplaced the paper; it does not seem to be where I left it, though I'm sure it's around and will bring up more questions when I find it and reread it. The impression I got, that stuck with me, was the emotional nature of its use. These were kids who lived in two worlds; they grew up in two worlds. They spoke two languages interchangeably with each other, as something they shared, but, being bilingual, could slip immediately into either all-English (school) or all-Spanish (grandmother's house). Their concept of rules for either language was somewhat limited, so they had no examples of times when one language's rules would interact with another's. I don't get a sense of an organized community developing something and going in its own direction, or having rules such as, "when we make noun phrase constructions in this mixed language, we generally do it this way". It happens spontaneously, but it happens a lot, because you are talking about millions of people now, in Texas alone.

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