We are “Spanglish”

It is good to remember that a language is much more than a system in which we communicate. We learn about the world that surround us by using language as a tool, so language mediates between us and the world. We could assume then that if the world around us changes, the tool could also change as well.  Let’s also remember that languages are organic, ever-evolving structures. They transform and they grow within the society they work and that transformation can happen in one-generation span or it could take some more time.

So, whether “Spanglish” is only the result of the “Hispanicizing” of some English language words or the switching of codes between two languages , we could definitely say that “Spanglish” is one of the results caused by the transformation of Spanish originated by  the interaction between U.S and Latin-American cultures.

Many not-so-very-flattering things have been said about Spanglish:  Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel prize winner writer, has said the Spanglish is not good or bad, it is abominable. The tongue of the uneducated (Stavans, I. p.3) has also been a description for this new structure.  The language purists will always see “Spanglish” as an aberration of both tongues, but this new construction is without a doubt the survival tool for a lot of Latin-American people interacting with the U.S culture. Let’s consider that evolution: adapt or perish.

As marketers we need to grasp this phenomenon. If we really want to understand the culture of U.S. Hispanics, it is mandatory that we deeply comprehend the codes, processes and stages of Spanglish. Every generation of U.S. Hispanics will be more deeply involved and immersed in the process of adaptation to the new culture.

First generation of immigrants, those who came from their country of origin as grown ups and try to adapt to the new society, will use Spanglish as a survival tool. For them, that new tool has a different purpose and it is used in a different context. They grew up having Spanish as their mother tongue, their first memories will have Spanish as language as well as their first socialization stages and most of their education process. Those individuals will develop different feelings towards Spanish, English and Spanglish.

It is a whole new game for later generations of U.S. Hispanics. The deeper they are in the adaptation process, the more different the context and the situations in which they use their different languages and codes.  For a third generation, English as a language has a totally new meaning. They were educated in that language, they interacted with their friends and were socialized by them in English, so for that reason they might use Spanglish in a different way.

It is not a matter of whether is good or bad, or abominable, or for the uneducated. Spanglish is a cultural consequence of the clash of two cultures and as marketers we need to understand the whole process. Depending of whom we want to talk to we should use a different code.  If we want to make a deep connection with first generation U.S. Hispanics, we should use Spanish but that might not be the effective way if we want to do the same with later generations. For the latest ones is a new environment, and like Marshall McLuhan said “Environments are not just containers, but are processes that change the content totally.” (McLuhan E. p. 275)

I am going to wrap up by quoting Ed Morales from his book Living in Spanglish: The search of the Latino identity in America: “I realized that the working definition for Latinos or Hispanics should be ”everything “.  All races, all creeds, all possible combinations. Then I thought we should call ourselves “Spanglish”, because it was a word that expressed what we are doing rather than where we came from.” (Morales E. p.2)

Spanglish: the making of a new American language. Ilan Stavans. Harper Collins publishers. NY. 2003

Living in Spanglish: the search of the Latino identity in America. Ed Morales. St Martin’s Press. NY. 2003

Essential McLuhan. Eric McLuhan & Frank Zingrone. Routledge, NY. 1996

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