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Habla you Spanglish

01:00 Wed 10th Apr 2002 |

Q. Come again

A. Do you speak Spanglish Spanglish is a combination of Spanish and English, rather like Franglais, which is a mixture of English and French.

Q. Franglais As in the Miles Kingston column in Punch

A. You're going back a bit there but, yes, there was a regular column in Punch in the late 1970s and early 1980s called 'Parlez-Vous Franglais' that made fun of this hybrid language, with examples such as: 'Si vous tes un first-time reader de Franglais, welcome! Franglais est comparativement painless et ne donne pas un hangover. En quantits judicieuses, il est mindblowing. Ayez fun.'

And who could forget former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman's chart hit 'Je Suis un Rock Star' Wyman made much jocular use of Franglais as he exhorted the object of his desires to stay at his place in France, as follows: 'Je suis un rock star / Je avez un residence. / Je habit la, la south de France. / Voulez-vous partir with me, etc.' What a wag.

However, the origins of the term were quite serious. It was popularised by the French writer Ren Etiemble in his Parlez-vous franglais (1964), in which he condemned the spread of Anglo-Saxon culture and language - particularly the American branch - after the Second World War. As a pejorative term it refers to the use in French, both in France and perhaps more problematically in Canada, of purely English terms such as le five o'clock (teatime - hasn't anyone told them it's between 3.30 and 4 ), le weekend, le ticket and so on.

Q. So are these just joke languages or are they real linguistic developments

A. Genuine developments, of which there is a long and honourable history. Languages which have grown this way include Yiddish (a German-based language with many words from other sources, especially Hebrew, Slavic languages and Spanish), Swahili (a mixture of Arabic and various African tongues, which evolved as the language of commerce along the East African coast) and Lingua Franca, the now defunct 'lingua franca' of the Mediterranean. Since the 19th century there have been numerous patois and pidgins which grew out of the mixing of languages during the period of European colonial expansion. One of the most interesting of these is Camfranglais.

Q. Camfranglais

A. A kind of multi-hybrid language that has emerged in the West African state of Cameroon. It is a blend of the two colonial languages of the country, English and French (a former German colony, Cameroon was mandated to Britain and France after the First World War), various indigenous languages and Kamtok, the local English-derived pidgin. Although not an official language of the country it is, unlike most other patois, considered pretty classy by

Cameroonians, and is the preferred lingua franca of many, even eclipsing English and French in some quarters.

Q. This is all getting very complicated. Back to Spanglish

A. It's really an American thing. As the Spanish-speaking population of the USA increases, the tendency for Hispanics to incorporate English words in their speech has shown a marked growth. Within this there are dialects, with the Mexicans and Central Americans in California and the South West, Cubans in Florida and Puerto Ricans in the North East all having their own versions. But this is a two-way process, with Anglophones in areas with large Hispanic populations using Spanish words in return. Much of this process is what is known as 'code switching', where bi-lingual people effortlessly mix languages. Examples of this would be: 'You've got a nasty mancha [stain] on your shirt,' where an English-speaker uses a Spanish word; 'Quiero parquear el coche' for 'I want to park the car,' where an English word has been turned into a Spanish form; and 'Te llamo para atrs,' which is a literal translation of the English for 'I'll call you back.'

Ilan Stavans, professor of Spanish and creative writing at Amherst College in the USA, is in the process of compiling the world's first Spanglish-English dictionary. He compares the emergence of Spanglish as equatable with that of Yiddish in medieval Europe, and believes that we are witnessing the birth of a new and vital language, which, as the demography of the USA shifts in a Hispanic direction might eventually replace standard American English.

Q. How about a few examples from Ilan's Spanglish dictionary

A. Antibaby - the pill; chirlider - cheerleader; dauntau - downtown; flonquear - to fail an exam; honrn - home run; jersi - tee-shirt; lonche - lunch; mopear - to mop; oben - oven; queque - cake; ringear - to ring; sochal - social-security number; yarda - patio

Q. Anything else

A. It is not hard to blend any two words to come up with the name of a new language, but some have more currency than others. For example, Anglikaans is a mixture of English and Afrikaans used by some white South Africans and Japlish denotes the use of English words and phrases in Japanese, such as 'salaryman' for loyal company employees and the rather unpleasant 'yellowcabs' for Japanese women who go out with non-Japanese men. Other than that there is the topical and rather laughable Mockney (mock Cockney) as expounded by the likes of Guy Ritchie and the rather more credible Texican (Texan and Mexican), which could be said to be a form of Spanglish, featuring both Spanish and English words.

See also the answerbank articles on Yiddish, Dutch, dialect and accent and Lingua Franca

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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