Language Limbo Kids acrosse the U.S. mix it up, create 'Spanglish'

Just For Kids: Kids News

November 26, 1998|By Lisa Bertagnoli | Lisa Bertagnoli,Chicago Tribune

"Vas a ir al baseball game today?"

"Are you going to dance class mas tarde?"

Huh?

Some of you might think something is wrong with the computers. But if you live in a place where Spanish-speaking people and English-speaking people live side by side, you'll know these phrases are Spanglish.

Spanglish is a mix of Spanish and English spoken mostly by kids who hear and see both languages every day. Though teachers often don't like to hear Spanglish in the classroom, kids speak it at recess or whenever they're hanging out with friends.

"It's kind of weird and fun," says Yaretzi M., a 10-year-old at St. Augustine Elementary School in Laredo, Texas. "It's like a secret language."

Maritza B., a 7-year-old Spanglish speaker in Chicago, agrees. "We can talk about people and they won't understand us."

What Yaretzi and Juan Alberto are doing is cool but not too unusual, experts say. "When two languages come in contact, it's natural that they mix and borrow from each other," explains Kati Pletsch de Garcia, a linguistics professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. (Linguistics is the study of how languages work.)

English words are found in languages all over the world. And English has picked up lots of words from other languages, such as "restaurant," which is French, and "duffel," as in duffel bag, which is Dutch.

People who study languages say Spanglish isn't the only mix of English and another language in the United States. "Chinglish" is spoken in large Chinese-English neighborhoods, and you can probably guess where "Japlish" is spoken. But Spanglish is more widely spoken because people from Spanish-speaking countries make up the United States' biggest immigrant population.

And just like plain old English (think "soda," "pop" and "soft drink"), Spanglish changes from city to city and has different names. In Laredo, for instance, it's called Tex-Mex or pocho, which is the Yaqui Indian word for "border people."

Spanglish speakers shouldn't be embarrassed by their skill, Zentella says. "It's an important way to learn both languages."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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