- On Spanglish:Denominator of Linguistic Hybridity or Sociocultural Identity?
hybridity/hibridez, identity/identidad, linguistics/lingüística, Spanglish, Spanish/español, United States/Estados Unidos
Response 1 to "Lenguas, culturas y sensibilidades en los Estados Unidos: Español y Spanglish en un mundo inglés"
In reclaiming negative words intended to subjugate a population and imbuing those words with positive meaning, minoritized social groups are able to deny their oppressors access to their linguistic tools of disparagement. For instance, the word queer, which was historically used as a pejorative outgroup designator for gays and lesbians, was reclaimed by the gay community in the twentieth century, which "challenged the legitimacy of negative attitudes towards homosexuals, and it destabilized the privileged position of heterosexuality as the authority against which non-normative practices could be judged" (Meyerhoff 2006: 64). Similarly, rather than allowing outgroup use of Spanglish as a derogatory term, many Latinx scholars are reclaiming the word as a positive marker of hybrid identity and transcultural repositioning (Guerra 2004), inverting the social hierarchy that enabled their subjugation in the first place.
In tandem with this movement to reclaim Spanglish, a counterargument regarding the linguistic appropriateness of the term has emerged. Otheguy and Stern (2010) contend that the name Spanglish itself does a disservice to the variety it describes by perpetuating a misunderstanding of its linguistic properties. They write:
Some researchers who have accepted the term Spanglish have argued that the word is not intended as the name of a hybrid language, but rather, that it refers to a way of using the languages. … However, the very form of the word, and the way we usually think about languages, directly lead to a misunderstanding, as the word Spanglish is naturally interpreted as a reference to a linguistic hybrid. If we proposed the word grinitosis, and insisted that it was not the name of an illness, or that the word grinocide is not a type of killing, we should not be surprised to be misunderstood. The word Spanglish is misleading because the components of this word are obviously the names of two other languages, Spanish and English, and hearers reasonably conclude that Spanglish too must be the name of a language, a mix of its two component parts.(96)
While Zentella (1997, 2002) and other pro-Spanglish authors focus on the term's sociocultural importance, Otheguy and Stern take on a more purely linguistic approach. These distinct viewpoints on Spanglish reflect two conflicting ideologies about language and the central aim of the field of linguistics. American structuralism and generative grammar isolate language from its contextual use, prioritizing the study of langue/competence over context (Bybee 2006: 711). Usage-based models expand linguistic inquiry to include the potential influence of context and use, explicitly addressing experience in our understanding of mental grammar. Incorporating context even more than usage-based models are sociocultural and anthropological approaches [End Page 41] that position contextually governed social and cultural practices as front and center in linguistic analysis. These perspectives on the import of context represent a continuum, with more traditional linguistic approaches at one pole and sociocultural/anthropological approaches at the other.
Although more sociocultural and more linguistic interpretations of Spanglish are both valid, they rely crucially on different ideologies about language and linguistic analysis. The use of "Spanglish" may appear problematic and misleading for those whose goal is the documentation of the linguistic properties of Spanish in the United States, and the use of 'Spanish in the United States' may seem inadequate to linguistic anthropologists discussing US Latinxs' hybrid experiences, cultures, and linguistic practices. In other words, our different goals as linguists may color our understanding of Spanglish and its academic appropriateness, rendering its use more or less suitable for our specific purposes. Regardless of our individual interpretation of the term, recognition of the ideological continuum encompassed by Spanglish may help explain the roots of linguists' disagreement about its appositeness and foment acceptance for terminological uses that may deviate from our own preferences.