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October 9, 2003 - 'Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language' - 2003-10-08

Broadcast: October 9, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- we talk with the author of a book called "Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language."

RS: Ilan Stavans is a professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He's originally from Mexico. His newest work is a lexicon and "user's manual" to a mostly spoken language used by Latinos. People of Spanish-speaking ancestry are now the largest minority in the U.S., comprising more than 13 percent of the population.

AA: Spanglish blends the two most spoken languages in the country. It can mix English and Spanish in the same sentence or even within in the same word -- like "Hollywoodiano," a noun defined in the book as "Hollywood lifestyle."

But Ilan Stavans says Spanglish is more than simply words.

STAVANS: "It is the announcement of a new way of thinking, of a new way of being, by a large portion of the population that lives in the United States that traces its roots to the Hispanic world. According to the U.S. Census, this population is almost 40 million people, which is a huge number -- it's the entire population of Spain and seven or eight times the population of a country like El Salvador.

"And the fact that this population is having an identity struggle, so to speak -- it is part Anglo, part Hispanic, but neither one nor the other -- is perfectly reflected on the language that is spoken, Spanglish, that is part English and part Spanish. And it is a way of saying I'm neither here nor there but I am perfectly who I am."

RS: "Where do these words come from, where does this new identity come from?"

STAVANS: "These words come from the streets, come from the people. They are to be heard in playgrounds, in restaurants, by gardeners, by migrant workers in states like Oregon and Wisconsin and Arizona, by urban dwellers, youngsters that live in the inner city, in New York, in Chicago, in L.A., in Miami.

"And it is really a very spontaneous, very popular way of communication that, it is important to stress, goes beyond class. It is not only spoken by those that don't speak fluent English or don't speak fluent Spanish. It is actually a way of relating by people of the middle class and upper middle class and even the upper class. And as such I think it is an extraordinary American phenomenon, one that tells lots about who we are as a country, as a people."

AA: "Now I see you've even got 'Cyber-Spanglish.' Why don't we talk about some examples of Spanglish terms, including words that you particularly enjoy."

STAVANS: "Of all the Spanglishes that exist -- there's the Spanglish spoken by Cuban Americans. Mexican Americans speak their own Spanglish and New Yoricans -- that is, the Puerto Ricans that live in New York -- have their own style and manner. Of all the ones, the one that I feel is more provocative, perhaps, or stimulating is Cyber-Spanglish, maybe because we tend to think of Hispanics as rooted in the past and not always looking at the future. And Cyber-Spanglish is the answer to that.

"We have terms like 'downloadiar,' meaning to download, or 'attachiar,' or 'forwardiar,' all verbs that relate to sending manuscripts or sending messages from one side to another. The language of technology and the language of the Internet is fascinating. There is a term that is very popular in the U.S.-Mexican border and more so in Mexico, a Spanglish term, to refer to the Web, 'la Web.' But in Spanish 'web' or 'weba' has also this kind of risky element of being lazy, but being lazy together with just wasting your time in front of the Internet."

AA: "Actually, that raises the question of, in the same way the French are concerned about English words coming into French, is there a similar concern about Spanish?"

STAVANS: "A substantial concern, particularly among those that consider themselves purists of the language. If in the United States, the debate on Spanglish is played out against issues like assimilation and integration -- are Latinos following the patterns of other, previous immigrant groups, are they becoming part of the American tapestry, are they giving up their immigrant language and embracing English -- outside the United States the debate is very different.

"The debate has to do with American foreign policy, with cultural imperialism. But I think this is a misguided perception. I don't think that, at least for the time being, Spanglish is replacing anything else. But it's certainly making its way through, and that scares some people."

RS: Ilan Stavans is author of "Spanglish: the Making of a New American Language." It includes a chapter of the Spanish classic "Don Quixote de la Mancha" translated into Spanglish!

AA: That's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is And you can find all our programs at With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.