[lg policy] Spanish Thrives in the U.S. Despite an English-Only Drive

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Aug 24 11:17:14 EDT 2017

Spanish Thrives in the U.S. Despite an English-Only Drive
Leer en español


At Carnitas Porky’s, a restaurant in the South Valley of Albuquerque, the
menu is listed in Spanish on the side of the building. Credit Adria Malcolm
for The New York Times

ALBUQUERQUE — Wander into El Super, a sprawling grocery store in the same
valley where fortune seekers on horseback laid claim nearly four centuries
ago to one of Spain’s most remote possessions, and the resilience of the
language they brought with them stands on display.

Reggaetón, the musical genre born in Puerto Rico, blares from the speakers.
Shoppers mull bargains in the accents of northern Mexico. A carnicería
offers meat, a panadería bread, a salchichonería cold cuts, and there’s
also a tortillería — that one’s self-explanatory for many who never even
studied the language of Cervantes.

“Everything I need here is in Spanish,” said Vanessa Quezada, 23, an
immigrant from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, gesturing toward the branch
of the First Convenience Bank, where tellers greet people with a smile and
“Buenas tardes.”

Indeed, the United States is emerging as a vast laboratory showcasing the
remarkable endurance of Spanish, no matter the political climate.

Drawing on a critical mass of native speakers, the United States now has by
some counts more than 50 million hispanohablantes, a greater number of
Spanish speakers than Spain. In an English-speaking superpower, the
Spanish-language TV networks Univision and Telemundo spar for top ratings
with ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. The made-in-America global hit song of the
summer? “Despacito.”
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At the same time, more than 20 states have enacted laws making English the
official language, President Trump won the election with a platform that
included building a border wall, and his push for new limits on legal
immigration would require that applicants speak English to obtain legal
residency green cards.
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Juan Rodríguez, 44, a Colombian immigrant who owns La Reina, a
Spanish-language radio station in Des Moines, said it was an “extremely
uncertain time” for some Spanish speakers, particularly undocumented
immigrants who are trying to be seen and heard less often now that the
president has made deportation a priority.

“But that fear doesn’t prevent us from living our lives in Spanish,” Mr.
Rodríguez added. “Iowa may be an English-only state, but it’s also our

Throughout the world, the position of English as the pre-eminent language
seems unchallenged. The United States projects its influence in English in
realms including finance, culture, science and warfare.

But on a global level, Mandarin Chinese dwarfs English in native speakers,
ranking first with 898 million, followed by Spanish with 437 million,
according to Ethnologue, a compendium of the world’s languages. Then comes
English with 372 million, followed by Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese
and Russian.

Immigration from Latin America bolstered the use of Spanish in the United
States in recent decades, but scholars say other factors are also in play,
including history, the global reach of the language, and the ways in which
people move around throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

Authorities in parts of the United States have repeatedly argued for
curbing the spread of Spanish, like the former Arizona schools chief who
said all Spanish-language media should be silenced. A judge pushed back
this week against that official’s drive to also ban the state’s
Mexican-American studies program, saying the ban was “motivated by racial

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Linguists trace some of the coveted vibrancy that Spanish now enjoys to
decisions made well before Spain began colonizing the New World in 1492.
Greetings for customers in both Spanish and English in the San José
neighborhood of Albuquerque. Credit Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

As the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes explained in “The Buried Mirror,” his
book about the Hispanic world, the 13th-century Spanish king Alfonso X
assembled a cosmopolitan brain trust of Jewish intellectuals, Arab
translators and Christian troubadours, who promoted Spanish as a language
of knowledge at a time when Latin and Arabic still held prestige on the
Iberian Peninsula.

Alfonso and his savants forged Spanish into an exceptionally well-organized
language with phonetic standards, making it relatively accessible for some
learners. They are thought to have hewed to a policy of “castellano drecho”
— straight or right Spanish — imbuing the language with a sense of purpose.

Even today, Spanish remains mutually intelligible around the world to a
remarkable degree, with someone, say, from the Patagonian Steppe in
Argentina able to hold a conversation with a visitor from Equatorial
Guinea, one of Africa’s largest oil exporters.

Drawing on entropy, a concept from thermodynamics referring to disorder,
Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, the Canadian authors of a 2013 book
charting the evolution of Spanish, describe the degree to which Spanish is
spread out geographically over a wide array of countries.

By this measure, Mandarin ranks low on the entropy scale since most of its
speakers live in the same country. English boasts greater entropy, but
Spanish, the majority language in more than 20 countries, ranks first,
followed by Arabic.

Rivaling Spain and parts of Latin America, the United States exemplifies
how the movement of people throughout the Spanish-speaking world is taking
the language in new directions.

In metropolitan Los Angeles, an area with more than 4 million Spanish
speakers — more than Uruguay’s entire population — linguists say that a new
dialect has coalesced as different types of Spanish come into contact with
one another. And here in New Mexico, an influx of Mexican and Central
American immigrants is nourishing and reshaping a variant of Spanish that
has persisted since the 16th century.
A washing machine with instructions for both Spanish and English speakers.
Credit Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

Ojos Locos, a cavernous sports bar in Albuquerque, offers a glimpse into
how Spanish is changing. Like El Super, it’s part of a chain founded in the
United States aimed at the Latino market.

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“What’s a sports cantina without delicious authentic Mexican comida — mas
tacos, mas wings y mas cerveza,” Ojos Locos explains on its website. Such
servings were in abundance on a recent Sunday when Mexico’s national soccer
team played against Jamaica, and mexicano Spanish seemed to be the venue’s
dominant language.

But some tables were effortlessly mixing English and Spanish, especially
those where children were accompanying their parents, while others,
including tables of mixed-ethnicity couples, cheered, conversed and cursed
(Mexico lost, 1-0) over their frozen margaritas almost entirely in English.

The ways in which families use languages at the dinner table also show how
Spanish is evolving.

In the Nava family, which moved to New Mexico from northern Mexico more
than 20 years ago, the grandparents passionately debate in Spanish the
performance of their football team, the Dallas Cowboys.

But when their adult children talk to one another, it’s in Spanglish. And
the language of their grandchildren? Mainly English, with a sprinkling of
Spanish words here and there.

“Our real communication is in Spanglish,” said Cindy Nava, 29, a policy
analyst at the New Mexico Legislature who arrived in the United States at
the age of 7. “But we still recognize the importance of speaking Spanish

Irking some grammarians, Spanglish is indeed gaining ground, evident in the
way characters in telenovelas are speaking, Daddy Yankee’s reggaetón lyrics
or ads like the Wendy’s commercial in which sweethearts bond over bacon
cheeseburgers served on buns of “pan de pretzel.”
Mia Mundo | La hermana desconocida de Tina | Telemundo Video by Telemundo
Wendy's bilingüe Video by Laura Martinez

Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latino culture at Amherst College who has
translated classics like Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” and Saint-Exupéry’s “The
Little Prince” into Spanglish, argues that we are witnessing “the emergence
of something totally new, not in any way pure, a mestizo language.”
Chavez Karate in the South Valley of Albuquerque. The United States now has
by some counts more than 50 million Spanish speakers. Credit Adria Malcolm
for The New York Times

Long before Mr. Trump was elected, the growth and durability of Spanish had
caused concerns, leading to “official language” laws that in some cases
limit the use of any language other than English in government offices and
documents, and in other cases are largely symbolic.

Continue reading the main story

Rosalie Porter, who came to the United States from Italy as a child and is
now the chairwoman of an organization seeking to end bilingual education
and declare English the official language of the United States, said, “When
I was an immigrant child, my language was not politically correct.”

“Today it’s different,” said Ms. Porter, whose group, ProEnglish, was
founded by John Tanton, a Michigan doctor who started a handful of
organizations seeking to restrict immigration. “Immigrants enjoy a lot more
visibility” she added, emphasizing that she understood the business reasons
behind the growth of Spanish-language media.

Even apart from political efforts, the continued growth of Spanish in the
United States is not assured. Linguists have documented how new generations
of Latinos around the country are steadily shifting to English, just as
descendants of other immigrants have done.

But if the past is a guide, Spanish will continue to evolve and endure.

“In many places in the U.S., English and Spanish are in bed with each
other, a contact that is both generative and exciting,” said Junot Díaz,
the writer who masterfully explores the immigrant experience in the United
States, largely through the travails of his Spanglish-speaking Dominican
protagonist, Yunior.

“For many of us,” he went on, “Spanish is our path to love, and as history
has proven no one can legislate away love.”


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