Is Spanglish Something to Celebrate?

Down with the manglers of a grand language.

Dear Mexican: I'm a Spanish court interpreter in Santa Barbara, California; I've also worked in Los Angeles courts. I just read your most recent column regarding the promotion of the learning and practicing of English by Latinos in the United States. Generally, I agree with your view. But my question is why can't we also promote the use and practice of PROPER SPANISH in this country? One only needs to take a stroll through the many Latino neighborhoods throughout California and witness the signage on businesses and nonprofits alike with awful misspellings and grammatical errors—or, flip through the pages of community periodicals or view the commercials on U.S. Spanish television.

But that is not the worst of it. What about the legions of "bilingual" service professionals who work in private and public agencies who speak and write substandard Spanish? Many of these "professionals" are just taken at their word when they assert that they grew up speaking Spanish, their biliteracy never truly tested. Sadly, this is the case with most Chicanos, and even native Latinos who neglect their Spanish literacy in favor of awkwardly assimilating into a forced English. Their arguments for using improper Spanish are disingenuous: "Mexican immigrants won't get the big words," or "Sometimes, there aren't translations for big words or concepts." The fact is that these "professionals" project their own linguistic incompetence and intellectual indifference when they use Spanglish in dealing with the Spanish-speaking community. English is the only official language in the United States, so our Spanish can only be based on something just as official. Why is Spanish not respected as an established foreign language?

As a court interpreter, it's my duty to translate complicated legal terminology every day. It's unethical for me to lower the register, and use words like tíquete, corte, probación and felonía, when the proper words are boleta de tránsito, tribunal, condena condicional and delito grave, respectively. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the public I work with understands and appreciates my formal usage. Such standards should apply to any field. I've come to realize that the human experience is universal: There is a veritable translation for everything! Moreover, it's actually impossible to direct a translation to a certain group or audience, as the only material that the translating agent has to work with is the source language, English. Walter Benjamin argues this point quite well in his essay, "The Task of the Translator." Apart from the academic shortcomings, this practice also promotes a negative stereotype: Those dumb Mexicans are too illiterate to understand.

Finally, I must ask: Do Latino immigrants really need to learn to master English? Isn't it possible to create communities in a strictly Spanish-speaking context? Many major corporations already attempt to cater to our market, the largest ethnic group in the United States.

—Hasta la Madre en Sta. Bárbara

Dear Wab: Usually, I ask readers to chop down their preguntas as much as possible—we can't regulate our borders, but we can sure as hell protect against run-on sentences—but yours was an eloquent enough rant to sneak in, and raises many interesante points. As a court interpreter, you know the difference between legal and colloquial English, so I suggest you treat Spanish the same—I doubt you ask for prayer when demanding your breakfast bill. Besides, what kind of a boring world would we live in if proper language governed how we spoke? That's right: France. And of course Latinos should learn English—remember, it's the bilinguals who'll rule the world, and the monolinguals who'll get left behind. Just look at what's happening to gabachos in our global economy...

GOOD MEXICAN OF THE WEEK: Spanglish—not the horrible Adam Sandler movie, but the language. Long viva mongrel tongues! Abajo with custodians of Cervantes, Shakespeare and Flaubert!

Ask the Mexican at themexican@askamexican.net, be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

 
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4 comments
August reader
August reader

I don't think "abajo with custodians of Cervantes" helps your cause. He mocked antiquated ideas like chivalry and used irony to make readers laugh at the stupidity of the old ways, like you do. Cervantes I don't think promoted purity of language, he only used it to tell stories.He did it so well that Don Quixote is routinely listed as one of the most important books of al time see http://thegreatestbooks.org -

Sasoldier
Sasoldier

they need to learn English. The school systems don't offer classes for italian children or japanese or chinese. These children have to learn English before they can enter school. Talk about discrimination. Where is the ACLU?

No wonder the school systems are running out of money.

IntellectuallyIntermixed85
IntellectuallyIntermixed85

They don't offer classes to these groups for a very simple reason. They are minorities. Minorities groups cannot be exclusively catered to. The majority is always taken into consideration and since spanish speaking latinos & hispanics ARE the majority, as much as it may vex you, classes in the appropriate language are necessary.

Dont
Dont

There is not enough sarcasm in the cyberworld to add to what I'd like to say to IntellectuallyIntermixed85, who I assume also beleives it to be a problem that IHOP doesnt serve tamale pancakes.

 
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