John M. Lipski

The Pennsylvania State University

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Is 'Spanglish' the Third Language of the South?: Truth and Fantasy about U. S. Spanish

Spanish is the second most frequently spoken language of the United States, and the southern United States are experiencing the proportionally most rapid growth of the nation's Spanish-speaking population. Beyond the usual bastions of south Florida, Texas, and historically isolated enclaves in Louisiana, Spanish-English linguistic encounters have given rise to a range of contact phenomena often derided by non-specialists as "Spanglish" but in reality representing the emergence of innovative Spanish dialects. Belief in the existence of a hybrid "Spanglish" which is neither Spanish nor English is widespread among both native and non-native speakers of Spanish in the United States and abroad, but there is no consensus as to the nature of this purported contact language. In most cases the word "Spanglish" and the related connotations of linguistic hybridity qua illegitimate birth are used to denigrate the linguistic abilities of Hispanic speakers born or raised in the United States. The present study traces the origin and development of the "Spanglish" image and describes the many distinct phenomena that this term has included. These observations are then compared with empirical studies on U. S. Spanish--from Florida to Texas--including the behavior of subject pronouns, verbal tense and mood, noun-adjective concordance, syntactic calques, and lexical neologisms. The resulting data contrast sharply with claims of a hybrid language; emerging instead are nuanced regional varieties of Spanish that exhibit the same range of features as in earlier contact situations. The study concludes with an injunction against unrealistic portrayals of language contact in the United States, whose only lasting legacy has been the continued marginalization of Americans who speak languages other than English--in its most standardized and prestigious varieties.