Rhythm in Words

November 23, 2013

Spanglish: A Bastard Jargon?


Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley it was hard not to mix languages when talking with friends, but never with my father, for he prohibited us from mixing languages. Like Octavio Paz, he probably believed Spanglish was an abomination. Regardless, for some unknown reason, I find myself combining English and Spanish words more often than I desire. Why? I have yet to find out, but I believe it has to do with sending a strong message and finding the best words, in both languages, to achieve such goal.

While searching for Spanglish poetry, I stumbled upon a website called La Frontera; Cultural Identities in the US/Mexico Border. I wanted to share what I found because I believe it sheds some light on the subject.


¿Pero qué es esta nueva algarabía,

this real mess de lenguas abrazadas,

unidas in just one, tan enlazadas

you don’t believe it si tú no lo hear?

Sí, ya tú sabes que pasó last year.

That’s the problem, you know , las temporadas

he doesn´t work , que son muy fastidiadas.

OK. Te dejo. Bye. Take care, María.

Ellas no saben de academicismos.

Para hollar con su paso el día a día

han trenzado en el alma dos abismos

dos caos que conjuntan su armonía,

que se atraen, se repelen, se desean.

That’s just the way it is . Pasen y lean.

Andres Gonzalez Castro

I felt Castro’s poem to be the perfect follow up to my experience with Spanglish in El Paso. In my interpretation of his poem, I felt it embodied the struggle to define Spanglish, but also the difficulty to determine ones feelings towards the language. As readers we feel the author’s lucha de determinar sus sentimientos. From line to line he changes his tone, from this real mess, to lenguas abrazadas there is a range of emotions from disdain to cariño. Pero a la vez, por usar Spanglish en el poema, es evidente que tiene una admiración por el idioma mezclado.

It seems to me that his poem is simply recognition of the varying feelings towards Spanglish, but acknowledging its utilidad and beauty. The last estrofa says it all and leaves us as readers with the final word according to Castro.


dos caos que conjuntan su armonía,

que se atraen, se repelen, se desean.

That’s just the way it is. Pasen y lean.


He recognizes the harmony and beauty in the blending of such different languages and the way they simply fit together, despite the chaos. To aid in the analysis of this poem, I read an article called Spanglish: Tickling the Tongue, by Ilan Stavans.

Ilan Stavans

Throughout the article Stavans, like Castro, paints a picture of the conflicting views towards Spanglish. He begins by citing Octavio Paz, Nobel Prize recipient, who responded to the a question of his opinion on ‘espanglés‘ by saying,

‘Ni es bueno ni es malo, sino abominable.’ (It’s not good, nor bad, but abominable).

Stavans explained, as I’ve heard and read many times so far, that Spanglish is commonly considered a ‘bastard jargon’ spoken by millions of ‘uneducated’ people – over 35 million as of 2000. But Stavans goes on to defend this ‘idioma bastardo‘ as he calls it a ‘bridge of sorts that unites the Latino community in the United States’ and even Latin America and beyond.

And here we begin the defense of Spanglish. Stavans says that it has been in existence for over 150 years, since the Treaty of Guadalupe was signed in 1848, with its relevance increasing exponentially ever since, particularly hoy en día.

As English and Spanish are the second and third most widely spoken languages in the world, after Chinese, and are the dominant languages cohabiting the U.S., it’s only natural (as I’ve said time and time again) that they would begin to cross one another, just as Spanish itself was a hybrid of many languages, for example Arabic in words like ‘Almohada’, ‘Aguila’, etc. When two cultures live together, it is impossible for there NOT to be crossing of their languages simply because as humans we are communicators – ever looking for ways to express ourselves better.

Main photograph is from this website.

Featured photograph is of Ilan Stavans,  a sociolinguist known as a world authority in Spanglish, the hybrid form of communication that emerges at the crossroad where Spanish and English speakers interact.

He has edited a dictionary of Spanglish words called Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language (2003) that includes an essay in historical analysis on the development of this linguistic phenomenon. Stavans writes that its first manifestations date back to 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed after the Mexican-American War ended and a large portion of Mexican land was sold to the United States.

He describes various distinctive varieties of Spanglish, such as Cubonics (Cuban-American), Dominicanish (Dominican-American), Nuyorrican (Puerto Rican in New York), and Chicano (Mexican American). He also establishes differences across generational and geographical lines, stating that recent immigrants are prone to use a type of Spanglish that differs from second- or third-generation Latinos.

Stavans studies Spanglish by making comparisons with Black English and with Yiddish as well as Yinglish (the type of Yiddish used by Jewish immigrants to the United States and their children). And he reflects on the cultural similarities between Spanglish and jazz, rap, hip-hop, and graffiti.


In 2002, Stavans published in the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia a Spanglish translation of the first chapter of Cervantes’ Don Quixote of La Mancha. The translation has been controversial throughout the world, garnishing celebrations and attacks. Critics accuse Stavans of using Spanglish to call attention to himself.

Supporters say that the translation is an indication that the Latino community in the United States has come of age. Stavans has responded to the reactions with interviews in which he argues that Spanglish is today’s manifestation of “mestizaje,” the crossbreeding of racial, social, and cultural traits of Anglos and Latinos similar to what occurred during the colonization of the Americas in the sixteenth century.

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .

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