What is Spanglish?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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Spanglish is a hybrid of Spanish and English which is seen in many regions of the United States with large Spanish-speaking communities, especially along the border between the United States and Mexico. In addition to being observed in North America, Spanglish is also present to a lesser degree in some parts of Spain and Latin America where there is a great deal of cultural mixing between English and Spanish speakers.

Before delving into the fascinating world of Spanglish, it is important for readers to be aware that there are many different versions of Spanish spoken around the world. The Spanish spoken in Spain can differ quite substantially from the Spanish spoken in Latin America. As cultural mixing has occurred, the lines between different forms of Spanish have sometimes blurred, but occasionally words have conflicting meanings, and Spanglish is most commonly associated with Latin American Spanish.

Spanglish is not a dialect or a pidgin language. Instead, it is a case of code switching, in which parts of two languages are mingled and spoken together. For example, a teenager in Los Angeles describing a friend who is a little crazy might say “oh, she's so loco en la cabeza (crazy in the head),” blending a Spanish phrase with an English one. Speakers of Spanglish may be able to communicate just fine in English or Spanish, but they choose to speak the languages concurrently, or they follow cultural norms in which the two languages are blended.


English speakers may pepper their sentences with Spanish words or Spanish-isms, while Spanish speakers may occasionally drop in words in English. This practice is especially common among children of immigrants who feel more comfortable in English and sometimes struggle to think of the correct Spanish word to use. Language learners adjusting to unfamiliar grammatical structures may also fall back on Spanglish to get a point across.

Speakers of Spanglish may also use made-up words, Hispanicizing common English words with the addition of familiar Spanish suffixes. False cognates are also common, which can be confusing to native Spanish speakers because they may see familiar words used in unusual and unfamiliar ways which are sometimes accidentally amusing. “Embarazada,” for example, is a Spanish word meaning “pregnant” which sounds and looks a lot like the English word for “embarrassed,” and Spanglish speakers may make puns on this similarity, along with the correlations between many other false friends in English and Spanish.

Some language purists have condemned Spanglish, arguing that it weakens both Spanish and English and that it sounds ridiculous or is a sign of poor education. However, Spanish and English are living languages, and the blend of both is simply one more facet in their evolution. This blend of English and Spanish has also allowed people to bridge cultural and linguistic gaps, especially in border communities, and this is a notable accomplishment.


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