Language Exchange or Abuse? Looking at Language Mixing in America and “Mock Spanish”
In Modern Standard American English, speech is rife with influences from all over the world. English in itself is a language that is heavily borrowed from Latin, French, Germanic, Greek, and many other languages that have mixed together and refined itself into its own solid language. Though the influence isn’t always directly apparent, one way that English’s broad variety can be seen is through looking at loanwords and borrowed phrases from other languages all across the globe. Residing in a prime example of a “melting pot” country, American English truly encapsulates a wildly diverse and multicultural form of language. Yet, even though American English borrows many key loanwords and phrases from languages worldwide, there is also a dark side to all of this language exchange. Various mock forms of foreign languages within the United States developed over time, and with this, showed that racial bias and discrimination can be prevalent as far deep as the very words we say.
Knowing and understanding the background of foreign loanwords in American English can be extremely helpful when discussing racism in language. English in America, especially in casual speech, borrows a lot from languages all across the world. In many cases, some words run so deep in English language that many people would not know that the borrowed phrases they spoke didn’t originate from American English. It is generally accepted that once a foreign word or phrase becomes commonplace in a language, that is when it officially becomes a loanword.
These loanwords, among many more within American English, show that Americans have truly embraced a more “worldly” language, and that linguistic purity within English has rarely been an issue within American society. Many Americans have accepted and embraced other languages’ influence on culture in the United States. What has become an issue, though, is the intentional misuse and abuse of other languages. This intentional misuse or incorrect mixing of a native language, known as a mock language, has presented itself within America, and predominantly affects the Spanish language.
Before diving into the concept of “Mock Spanish”, a distinct difference between Spanish-infused English (known as “Spanglish”) and “Mock Spanish” must be explained. Spanglish is a form of speech that results from an interaction between Spanish and English used by people who speak both languages or parts of them. Spanglish has many dialects throughout the United States, and “is currently considered a hybrid language by linguists—many actually refer to Spanglish as “Spanish-English code-switching”, though there is some influence of borrowing, and lexical and grammatical shifts as well”. The origin of Spanglish is considered to have been caused mainly by immigration, and lacks a definite dialect due to its widespread speaking population.
Mock Spanish, on the other hand, is part of the darker side of linguistic diversity in the United States. Mock Spanish consists of Spanish words or phrases that are borrowed by groups of people that are considered to be mostly mono-lingual circles within America. Examples of Mock Spanish are words and phrases such as: “hasty banana” (for hasta mañana), “buenos nachos” (for buenas noches), “el cheapo”, “no problemo”, “hasta la bye-bye”, among many others. The usage of Mock Spanish can certainly be considered to be quite offensive towards native speakers of Spanish because of its intentional mispronunciation and usage of incorrect Spanish grammatical structure. The main problem stemming from this is that Mock Spanish facilitates a lack of understanding and appreciation for an important minority language in the United States, and deliberately disrespect a vital part of a group of peoples’ culture. With this, many scholars argue that “the incorporation of pseudo-Spanish terms and other humorous uses (of Spanish)… constitute a type of covert racism”. Though Mock Spanish can at times be considered “harmless” and unintentionally racist, more care should be taken when using another group’s language in order to “spice up” a conversation or to try and be more Spanish-lingo savvy. Learning and trying to understand another language is certainly a very positive and self-enriching thing to do, but one must make sure that it is being done and used with the right motive and correct form.
Thanks to the amazingly diverse American populous, the English used here in everyday interaction is full of different words and expressions with origins from all around the globe. With this, though, comes the responsibility of Americans to make sure that the ever-growing and changing linguistic diversity of English in the United States remains open-minded and aware of proper usage and possibly discriminatory language practices within society.
Author: Angelo Hurley
Taken from <em>Languages in Conflict</em>