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Spanglish: An Ongoing Controversy

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The founding fathers of this country had the foresight to appreciate the importance of the Spanish language for the United States, as shown by the epigraph of this article. Peter Carr, the nephew in question, had informed his uncle of his plans to study several subjects with his new tutor. Among those subjects were Italian and Spanish; but Jefferson advised against the study of Italian and strongly recommended instead the accurate study of Spanish, as a “valuable acquisition” in view of the future connections of the US with the Spanish speaking countries.

After more than two centuries, Jefferson's expectations have been largely surpassed: not only did Spanish become the most studied foreign language in this country, but the United States itself is now to be considered, according to the most recent statistics, among the most populated Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Moreover, Spanish is currently at the heart of a heated debate that divides the US population between those who celebrate it as the country's “foreign national language” (Alonso 2007), and those who consider it a threat to this nation's very identity (Zentella 1997b; Huntington 2004; Colombi 2009). Most importantly, though, many have started to wonder if the Spanish currently spoken in the United States by many of the 45 million Hispanics (who became, in 2003, the largest racial-ethnic minority in the US, overtaking African-Americans) is indeed (or still) a variety of Spanish, or, as some have claimed, a rather new American language, produced by the blending of two languages and two identities into a single one, usually referred to with the transparent acronym of Spanglish (Stavans 2003; 2005).

The term Spanglish—widely used in popular culture as well as among several communities of Spanish speakers particularly in the United States—has stirred a strong controversy among its partisans and its detractors at both the political and the educational levels (a good synthesis of this controversy is Fairclough 2003; see also Dumitrescu 2008 a,b,c; Paz 2005). The 2005 Encyclopedia Latina: History, Culture and Society in the United States says the following in this regard: “A controversial language [emphasis added], Spanglish is debated along ideological lines. In the United States, opponents argue that it is a block in the road to Latinos’ full assimilation into the melting pot. These opponents also believe that Spanglish is proof that bilingual education was a half-baked language-learning system. Supporters counter-argue that Spanglish is not an obstacle but, instead, the stepping stone to a new culture, part Latino and part Anglo” (Stavans 2005, 113).

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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