On accents and Spanglish (My latest blog post)

  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    May 18, 2012 3:45 PM GMT
    Speaking Spanglish

    I can’t roll my R’s. I’m a native Spanish speaker who can’t roll his R’s. Never been able to do it. That, combined with the fact that my life is now lived almost entirely in English, means my Spanish no longer sounds native. A few weeks ago a Texan told me that his Spanish is better than mine. At first I said to myself, “This schmuck has some gall.” But then I thought about it, and you know what? Maybe he’s right. Maybe my Spanish is now Spanglish. And if it is, I’ll own it.

    Last year, when I was in Philly, I was interviewed by a reporter with the local Spanish-language newspaper. Writing about my move to the U.S. 11 years ago, the reporter said:

    "The break with Guatemala was almost complete, and irreparable. That is what you can deduce from Constantino’s Spanish. His Castilian R sounds Americanized, completely shelved, as if he refused to relive a language in which he wasn’t understood."

    I laughed when I read that. Then I emailed the reporter to let him know that my relationship with the Spanish language is not as fraught with drama as he seemed to think. I’d be lying, however, if I said it hasn’t made me think about my use of language, and especially, what language I’ll speak with my children when they’re born. I want them to be bilingual at least, and will encourage them to learn more languages. But will we speak Spanish at home? I honestly don’t think so.

    I’ll probably be judged by many who will accuse me of losing my roots, or who will think I’m a bad parent for not passing the language on to my kids. I used to shake my head at immigrant parents who didn’t use their native language when talking to their American-born children. “They’re denying them a great opportunity,” I used to think. But what I’ve come to realize is that the most important purpose of language is communication. And when it comes to family, efficient communication is paramount.

    The reason why most second-generation Americans speak English with their parents is because they find it easier. A lot of my fellow first-generation immigrants feel guilty about this, and think they should be stricter about forcing their children to speak the old country’s language. They shouldn’t. At home you must speak in whatever language facilitates open and deep conversation. If that language happens to be English, then so be it, and if it ends up being a hybrid, no hay problema.

    Languages evolve. That is the beauty of them. They must adapt to culture, and time. They must serve the people who speak them, not the other way around. As a writer, I see language as my tool, not my master. And that is how everyone should approach it. Who cares what you sound like, as long as you’re able to respectfully and happily communicate with your fellow humans?

    So I have a funny accent in English, and now I have a funny accent in Spanish. I sound like a native speaker in a grand total of zero languages. That’s fine. I sound like me in all of them. And when I become a father, I will do my best to encourage my children to just find themselves, be themselves, and sound like themselves.

    ------
    Constantino Diaz-Duran is a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He is exploring what it means to be an American in the 21st century, walking from his home in New York City, to Los Angeles. Follow his progress on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    May 18, 2012 3:53 PM GMT
    The Texan who told me his Spanish is better than mine, by the way, is an RJ'er. He's a great guy. Glad I got to meet up with him for drinks, and he knows I don't really think he's a schmuck! icon_biggrin.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    May 18, 2012 4:47 PM GMT
    Hey, I can definitely relate to this. When my family moved to the US from Spain, English became the language of the household. I ended up having to relearn Spanish in school starting in middle school. Quite frankly, I speak and write English better because I've lived here a lot longer, but I've made a lot of progress in Spanish over the years.

    I used to think negatively of Spanglish until I spent a year in San Antonio, TX. Living there definitely taught me how useful Spanglish can be. I quickly got the hang of it and saw why people spoke that way. Even though I moved back to Virginia over a year ago, I still use Spanglish with my mom, haha.

    As for my accent, I sound like any other American when I speak English. My accent in Spanish has always been more interesting to people because so few Spaniards live in the US in comparison to Latin Americans. As a result, the different accents of Spain are unfamiliar to people here. Whenever I speak Spanish to people, sometimes I have to decide if I should use my native accent (Andalusian) or try to use a more standard accent (Castilian). Even though I can speak Castilian, it doesn't always come naturally to me. It's quite a chore to enunciate every S and final consonant.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    May 18, 2012 5:34 PM GMT
    I have a similar problem . My parents emigrated from France to North Queensland in 1951 , where i was born a few years later . At that time this Australian's region wasn't developed as it is nowdays , and they settled among other French emigrants . I do speak English with a mixed French/Australian accent , and i speak French with an heavy Australian accent . I think it comes from the fact that i was home-schooled until i started middle school ,then totally stopped to speak French until i attended the University . So thinking about it , i don't have the correct accent with any of these 2 languages ..Hahaha...icon_smile.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    May 18, 2012 10:20 PM GMT
    I've been lucky enough to keep both my English and Spanish intact. It ain't easy!
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    May 19, 2012 12:17 AM GMT
    Tino, you certainly bring up an interesting point about the language situation within immigrant families. A lot of Americans think it's just a matter of time before Spanish overtakes English in this country, but I couldn't disagree more. For one thing, English is still overwhelmingly the dominant language all across the US except Puerto Rico. Even though there's a healthy percentage of Spanish speakers now, English speakers still outnumber everyone else by quite a bit. Also, the children of current immigrants are not likely to continue speaking the language of their parents or grandparents. By the second or third generation they'll be native English speakers and monoglots at that. Kids usually want to be like their friends, so if their friends speak mainly English, they'll want to speak only English. Plus, a lot of parents tend to discourage their kids from learning the old language because they think it will put their kids at a disadvantage (which is far from true), so they'll emphasize only English if they can.

    When you look at the different immigration waves throughout the US's history, the position of English has never been under threat. Immigration was more substantial in the past too. Just look at the current descendents of immigrants of the early 20th century: all English monoglots today. Almost none of them can speak the language of their grandparents or great-grandparents because the original language is usually be lost within a generation or two.

    That happens to immigrants anywhere though. It's definitely not unique to the United States.