On Becoming a Borrowing: Integration, Diffusion and Attestation of English-Origin Nouns in new Mexico Spanish

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One of the most salient features of the Spanish spoken in the U.S. is the abundance of English-origin words (Hernández-Chavez et al. 1975). These English-origin words are labeled alternately anglicisms or borrowings indicating their provenance from English and subsequent adaptation for use in Spanish. Researchers of U.S. Spanish, and specifically Spanish of the Southwest, have for years compiled lists of English-origin words (Espinosa 1914–15; Kercheville 1934; Bowen 1952; Cobos 1983; Galván and Teschner 1989). While valuable, these works offer no indication of who uses the borrowings or how often the words are used. It is unknown if the borrowings listed are part of the lexicon of the speakers of the community or if they are random words overheard by the researcher. The questions then are: How does an English-origin word reach the status of borrowing? What is the role of the community in determining which words form part of the lexicon and which do not?

The usage of a word in a given language variety can be measured by the number of times the word appears, frequency, and also by the number of different speakers using the word, diffusion. In most dictionaries and lists of anglicisms the frequency of any given word is not relevant to its status in the vocabulary of the language or its inclusion or exclusion in the dictionary (Alfaro 1970; Lorenzo 1996; Rodríguez Gonzalez 1997; Sanchez 1995). These dictionaries assume that words that have been given Spanish pronunciation and uttered by at least one speaker are borrowings and as such include them as entries.

Poplack et al. (1988) proposed that the status of words within the lexicon, or vocabulary of the language, should be determined by studying naturalistic speech data from the community in question, not by random observation. The measures that Poplack et al. (1988, 52) proposed for determining the status of a word within a community are frequency, diffusion, and attestation. Poplack et al. (1988) studied the French-Canadian bilingual community using these measures in an effort to allow community norms to determine status. Thus, the speech patterns of the community tell us which words are part of the lexicon, who uses them, and how often they are used. Frequency measures the number of times that a word is used in a given corpus, diffusion is the number of different speakers who use the word, and attestation is the appearance of the word in normative dictionaries. Using this system Poplack et al. were able to provide an accurate description of the influence of English on the French-Canadian community. No large scale study like Poplack et al. has been done for any U.S. Spanish bilingual community.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5848/CSP.2022.00010

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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