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Keep Tranquilo and Habla Spanglish


Some people would say that Chicanos invented Spanglish. But who’s a Chicano? The term Chicano refers to someone born in the United States of Mexican parents or grandparents, and is considered a synonym to Mexican-American. While we can’t pinpoint the word’s origins, there are at least two theories, according to Tejano historian Arnoldo de León. The word may trace its roots all the way back to the Nahuatl term “Meshico”, that might have then become the familiar modern-day word Mexico. Others think Chicano is just a variation of mexicano. Either way Mexican Americans have used the word Chicano to describe people of Mexican origin living in the United States since the early twentieth century.

One thing that has evolved from blending the Mexican and US cultures is a blending of the languages. Spanglish, the language of the Pochos –the way some Mexicans would call Chicanos. The use of Spanglish in the US reflects the growth in Hispanic immigration and population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 56.5 million Hispanics living in the U.S today. This Hispanic community is, therefore, second in size only to Mexico in the Spanish speaking world. The following are examples of words used in the US and the border areas, even when the Spanish option is well known and conventional:


lonchear / lonchar (to have lunch), almorzar,

la marqueta (the market), el mercado,

la carpeta (the carpet), la alfombra,

la troca (the pickup truck), la camioneta,

unos biles (some bills), unos billetes,

una ganga (a gang), una pandilla,

la aseguranza (the insurance), el seguro.

There are other ways that Spanish and English have been combined in the Chicano community and others. One way is loan words or linguistic borrowing. Loan words occur when a language does not have its own word for a new term, and instead of making a new word the language simply borrows a term from another language. Here are some examples of new words used in Spanish speaking countries:

cliquear (to click), googlear (to google), likear (to like someone or something on social networks), textear (to text a message), hackear (to hack),

estoquear (to stalk sb/sth),

espoilear (to spoil a series, movie, etc.).

Another way two languages evolve together is through code switching. Code switching is characterized by the following features: 1) switching between languages using unchanged words, and 2) speaking these words as an authentic speaker would pronounce them. Code switching often occurs mid sentence, in order to keep or emphasize a cultural or contextual significance in one or the other language.

An example would be if a friend says "Jessica, tenemos que ir a la fiesta temprano because it’s Cinco de Mayo and there’s going to be a lot of people”, the speaker will feel a deeper cultural link with Jessica than if she were to simply say the same thing in just one or the other language.

These two languages intertwine as does the cultures between the US and Mexico. In some circles the term Chicano has been replaced with the more inclusive Latinx. Latinx is a term that has found footing recently due to its more global reach and gender neutrality.


~ If you enjoyed this article please share it with friends and give my page a like on Facebook! I’m a Spanish teacher based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since 2007 I have been exclusively teaching Spanish to people from all over the world. Whether looking for an online Spanish tutor, or in person while visiting Buenos Aires, please reach out to me with any questions you might have!~
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