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Spanglish
A Chilensis perspective

By Natalia Sáez

I walked into a deli in New York City one day, and began ordering a bagel with tuna and
cheese. I first ordered it in English, but then I realized that the man who was helping me might
speak Spanish. So, I took a chance, and I switched. After describing my order again in Spanish,
the man asks me “lo quiere melteado? [do you want it melteado]”. At first, it took me a second to
realize what he had just said. The living nature of Spanglish, witnessed at that very moment, had
me in awe. As I came to, I understood that melteado was a mixture of the English verb melt, and
the grammatical morpheme eado, which can be equivalent to the ed suffix in English. I
immediately related it to other similar Spanglish expressions such as posteado (posted),
emaileado (emailed), and linkeado (linked). After more than ten years living in the city, this was
the first time I had ever heard melteado. I felt so honored to have experienced it, because I
figured that it may have recently emerged within the business of food catering, among other
possible contexts (e.g., at home). Or perhaps it had appeared a while ago, but I just hadn’t
experienced it. With so many interactions occurring between Spanish and English speaking co-
workers and clients within the food industry, it is more than likely that new expressions would be
created by mixing languages. In doing so, people can understand one another, and continue their
work together. It was a joy for me to realize that I was able to interact with this community.
Given that I knew both Spanish and English, I could understand the man, get my bagel with tuna
and melted cheese, and continue my journey to the museum. This is how Spanglish gains love
from its speakers. It isn’t just a matter of combining words from both languages, but it also
reflects people’s shared and individual identities, as well as mutual understanding.

The amazing ability for identities to transform in unison with language is at the core of
communication systems such as Spanglish. Just like other language systems, Spanglish has
patterns, and it evolves through time. Overall, it would be difficult to argue that any aspect of
language is static. For instance, many Chileans who have been living in New York for a long
time have gradually adopted different accents, even when speaking in Spanish. These accents
can be viewed to be reflections of various English and Spanish speaking communities with
which Chileans interact, and from which they expand their repertoires of cultural knowledge. In
addition to accent transformations, the co-existence of different communities usually sparks
creative combinations of Spanish and English elements, from which Spanglish emerges at full
force. In relation to the word meltear described above, and considering that Spanish has many
more verb conjugations than English, a prolific way to create Spanglish expressions can be by
taking the root verb from English (e.g., melt) and adding a Spanish conjugation (e.g., ear, eado,
easte). The capacity to multiply into different conjugations might make it convenient for
speakers to apply this strategy in creating Spanglish expressions. Whether one chooses to
communicate more in English or in Spanish, or a combination of both, would ultimately depend
on the context, and who you’re talking with. Although we might use Spanglish quite often in
some contexts, when Chileans get together, we would probably use more chilenismos than
Spanglish. But again, it depends on who you’re speaking with, as well as what you’re talking
about.

While knowing Spanglish can give people more linguistic options and opportunities to
interact with different people, it is not necessarily seen as a benefit for some. What might call
people’s attention is the fear of whether Spanglish could be “incorrect” or “inappropriate”. Just
by considering the question, there is an underlying assumption that there might be a “correct” or
“appropriate” way to speak a language. This might be true, particularly depending on context,

given that one speaks differently to their boss compared to their partner or friend. However, from
a more general perspective, knowing and speaking Spanglish, in itself, should not be considered
a flaw. On the contrary, it can be seen as an advantage towards communicating and interrelating
with surrounding communities. By considering that there could be a “perfect” English to which
people should conform can relate to ideas of hierarchy, superiority and, consequently,
discrimination. The purist’s illusion that there is an immaculate English or Spanish system would
contradict the natural tendency of human languages to change and evolve. Is there such a thing
as the “correct way of speaking English in general”? If so, does this mean that there are varieties
of English that are “incorrect” (e.g., African American English or particular varieties of English
in other countries)? By asking whether Spanglish is good or bad immediately assumes that there
is some kind of English out there that is shining in gold, but is falsely static. What could be
missing is the understanding that languages are always changing, and resources are chosen
depending on contextual factors. Spanglish could provide more choices to facilitate
communication, and in this sense, it would not reflect a deficit in knowledge. Instead, it would
consist of an expansion of creative strategies to interrelate with people in different situations.

For Chileans who are not living abroad, but are living in Chile, there is also a tendency to
use English ingredients in their expressions. These additions, however, do not seem to be
unsavory or incorrect. Examples of mixed expressions include “Qué heavy!” (“How shocking!”),
“envíame un mail” (“send me an email”) and “súbele el delay” (“turn up the delay”, in the
context of electric guitar effects). Language creations such as these are typically related to what
are known as anglicisms, which are borrowings of English words into the Spanish language.
Chilean Spanish has been gradually incorporating more English words into its repertoire, which
have become essential in speakers’ ability to share common knowledge and create mutual
understanding in particular contexts. The need to communicate has led residents of Chile to
combine languages for several purposes, and conventionalize these mixed expressions to convey
a variety of ideas. Some have reached very strong levels of conventionalization within the
Chilean community, to the extent that they are now considered habitual or normal ways of
communicating. This organic process of language evolution has been aided by the increasingly
greater contact between Chileans and speakers from around the world, especially with those who
speak English. It seems that, from the perspective of speakers living in Chile, mixing English
with Spanish is not “incorrect” at all. For Chileans living in the United States, however, speaking
Spanglish could spark certain feelings of discrimination by some sectors of the country.

Although people in Chile do, indeed, combine Spanish and English on many occasions,
their systems can be considered to greatly differ from the Spanglish developed in other places of
the world. In the United States, for example, Spanglish has expanded and established itself in
different cities, where people in each community recognize and share similar expressions. The
Spanglish born within a certain geographical area symbolizes the cultures of those who live and
work there. For instance, Miami has its own Spanglish, where one would say “Fuiste a la pary?”
(“Did you go to the party?”), and “pero like” (but, like). In New York, one might hear people
asking one another “Hi mami, how you are?” (“Hola mami, cómo tú estas?”), where English
words are ordered according to Spanish syntax. While there may be general patterns within
particular communities, common expressions could also be seen to be living in all of the
“Spanglishes”, such as “ver un show” (“see a show”). One of the greatest advantages is that
people living and speaking within a particular Spanglish system can also identify and use
expressions from other Spanglishes. You might hear a Chilean in New York ask someone “How

you are?”(“cómo tú estas?”) on a sunny afternoon. But, when gathering among mostly Chileans,
you are more likely to hear the same question in Chilean Spanish (“cómo estai?). This is just one
example of the cultural, conceptual and linguistic flexibility that speakers can work with, as they
relate to different groups of people and expressions.

Perhaps only a Chilean would understand that “the Queen, with cave, passed August”
(“La Reina, con cueva, pasó agosto”), which went viral on social media when Queen Elizabeth
died on September 8 th this year. Among other Spanglish-speaking communities, only Chileans
can figure out this translation, because they know what the expression “con cueva” means, which
is part of Chilean Spanish (the English equivalent could be barely or hardly). This flexibility to
navigate linguistic and cultural resources throughout several systems of communication
highlights the expansive nature of speakers’ knowledge, rather than a shortage. The ability to
navigate a diversity of resources has been referred to as translanguaging within the frameworks
of bilingual and multilingual studies. Rather than seeing languages as being separate and static
systems in one’s mind, the translanguaging perspective suggests that speakers draw on all the
elements from their repertoires in flexible and integrated ways (e.g., García & Li Wei, 2014;
Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2015). By viewing forms of communication as the offspring of
intercultural exchange, translanguaging would be considered a normal phenomenon that emerges
naturally over time. I’m excited to see how Spanglishes transform over the coming years as
communities continue to develop. The more Spanish speakers interact with English speakers,
especially within the same geographical area, the more Spanglish will evolve and expand.

References
García, O., & Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education.
Palgrave Macmillan.
Otheguy, R., García, O., & Reid, W. (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing
named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review, 6, 281 - 307.

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