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'Spanglish' surges into everyday usage along the US-Mexican border

By Craig SavoyeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 27, 1984



''Hey, Gorileando, don't kiklar my muy star wars bikla. I call la ley on you.'' What was that? That was Spanglish.

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In translation: ''Hey, bully, don't kick my ultramodern bike. I'll call the police.''

Yes, Spanglish is spoken here - ''here'' meaning the US-Mexican border and points north, where it's often the newest tongue in town. The developing language is one part Spanish, one part English, a little of both, and a lot of neither.

Actually, Spanglish is not entirely new. In fact, the newest thing about Spanglish is the name. The verbal phenomenon has puzzled and intrigued linguists for years under the pseudonyms Tex-Mex and Texican. But the rapid increase in immigrants and illegal aliens into Southern US from Latin America has resulted in a surge in the use and development of Spanglish.

Linguists who have studied Spanglish generally agree that in border areas use of the language is widespread, not only among teen-agers on the street, but in bilingual homes, in stores, and in advertising.

Spanglish as a mode of verbal communication is, in the view of many linguists , more than just an occasional Spanish/English word thrown into a spoken sentence.

But is it an actual language or just sophisticated slang?

''That, of course, is the key question,'' says Dr. John Amastae, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Texas at El Paso. ''Even where people switch from a string of words in one language to a string of words in another, the structure of the original language is maintained. In that sense you don't have anything new.''

Dr. Amastae doesn't believe the possibility of Spanglish developing as a language can be considered solely in linguistics terms. He thinks it would require a unique set of political and social circumstances for Spanglish to become a language, something like the formation of a sovereign state along the border seeking a completely new identity and adopting Spanglish to further that end. He does not foresee this.

Manuel Carlos, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, takes something of a dissenting view. ''I think the language will gain recognition when the border areas become powerful enough that political candidates must use this language to campaign in,'' he says.

But his timetable for full development of the language - the point at which it breaks off and becomes a separate dialect - spans at least 100 years.

Spanglish seems to have generated more alarm from language purists south of the border than north. Mexico went so far as to establish a national commission charged with the defense of Mexican language and culture under President Jose Lopez Portillo. Current President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado is trying to minimize the use of English names for businesses and restaurants.

In the US, there is concern about the failure of bilingual programs and the spread of non-English-speaking areas in cities such as Miami, but specific concern about Spanglish does not appear to be widespread.