Mr. Grumpy at Tumbit has got all hot and bothered about Spanglish. He thinks expats shouldn´t actually speak like expats and has two levels of grumpiness :
- Expats speaking in Spanish but resorting to English words they´re unsure about in Spanish.
- Expats talking to English friends and substituting “every third” English word for a Spanish one.
My advice to Mr. Grumpy is to throw caution to the wind because this kind of “wrong” speech has a name and it´s not Confusion, Forgetfulness or Ostentation. It´s “code-switching” and it´s completely natural. Anyone who lives with – or more precisely, lives in – more than one language does it. It´s only linguistically-deprived monolinguals, poor dull souls, who don´t, and even they still have to deal with all the other minefields afflicting language, like register, accent and context.
In these IT days, we hear quite a lot about codes. WordPress even go as far as to argue that “code” is poetry. I might take that up in another post, but in the meantime I want to stress that the kind of code we´re talking about when we think of Spanglish is linguistic code – ie. language and all that it entails, which is a great deal. (Switching does not mean beating grammar into a reluctant schoolboy with twigs of birchwood, but changing from one language to another).
In fact, code-switching is how languages get invented! When we read in the dictionary that a particular word “ comes from the Latin” (or Greek, Arabic or Sanskrit), it means that certain strange, unintelligible words from far off places have eventually become our very own native words over a period of hundreds or thousands of years. Linguistic expression is necessarily predicated on a state of being – who, what, where, why, when, how and whether one is – and is an organic, living thing to which all speakers contribute all the time. It´s not something mastodontic which exists over and above us and could go on without us. No, we are the ones who make it!
And it doesn´t only happen with vocabulary. I always hated the classical cases and declensions that my Latin teacher, Mrs. McLay, tried unsuccessfully to beat into my adolescent brain. Apparently the Romans did too and by reprehensible vices like sloth and mental fogginess invented prepositions, thus contributing to simplifying classical Latin into the vulgar Latin that ordinary folk could actually speak.
As an English and Spanish speaker I, for one, am thrilled about losing all that nominative, accusative, genitive and vocative stuff! (Sorry Germans et. al., even if often we still, as you do, at the end of our sentences our prepositions put).
The main point about code-switching is that it is anti-translation.
Because translation is slow, inhibiting fluency, and is thus better suited to the soporific and laborious work of scribing legal contracts. (Trust me, I know, snoooore……). Code-switching applies to us because the spoken language has to be economical and quick. If almendros pops into your mind quicker than almond trees then almendros it is, because speech is not about the muscles of your mouth or linguistic correctness but the new neural pathways creating themselves in your brain and making you bilingual!
The fact is that language is not a question of Tufty the Squirrel walking safely up one side of the street and down the other. No, it´s about him darting beady-eyed and dangerously back and forth across the road. Anything can happen and usually does, Spanglish even. However, this code-switching flow of articulated sound and meaning, for trade, love, ritual and lately, ideas, only becomes a “problem” when a certain piece of territory is linked to a certain language in order to create a certain nation state with physical boundaries. It may be a mark of civilisation to have One State, One Language, keeping all illegal utterances out, but to achieve this, linguistic expression has to be policed. And what is policing, but policy?
This is what Mr. Grumpy is doing when he yearns for an either/or paradigm. When he states he only ever begins a conversation in Spanish that he “can be sure of finishing,” he´s policing his own linguistic output and testing his translation capabilities. To my mind, not allowing yourself to grab at all the wonderful, poetic, chaotic speech resources you have at the tip of your tongue is like imposing a form of corporal punishment on yourself, like the birch!
So don´t police or translate your speech, because if you ARE an expat, it´s no crime to speak like one!