April 04, 2004


Eddie at Romanika has a long and interesting discussion of Spanglish in Action, starting from the example "Los papeles no matcheaban".

See this post for a summary of Ruth King's ideas about some striking syntactic as well as lexical effects in Canadian French/English contact phenomena. She argues that some varieties of Canadian French have borrowed English-style "preposition stranding" along with English prepositions, as in "Le gars que je te parle de." I wonder if Spanglish varieties show either borrowed prepositions, borrowed verb-preposition pairs (like Prince Edward Island French "se dresser up" or "singler out"), or preposition stranding?

My favorite Spanish/English contact story concerns a traditional cold remedy. I can't recall where I heard or read this story, unfortunately, and for once Google is no help. Anyhow, here's how I remember it:

A guy from a Caribbean Spanish background grew up in the U.S. One of his most vivid and cherished childhood memories was the smell of the medicine that his grandmother would treat him with when he had a cold. She would make up a kind of poultice and rub it into chest and back. The medicine gave a pleasant warm tingling sensation to his skin, and its strong smell would clear his head. Her word for this special, magical, traditional remedy was bibaporú.

When he was grown up, his own child got a bad cold, and he had the idea of trying to get or make some of this medicine. His grandmother had passed on, so he asked his parents about bibaporú (which he anglicized to "bebop-aroo"). What was in it? where could he buy some? or how could he make some? After his parents got over their surprise, they told him to try the corner drugstore. Bibaporú turned out to be Vicks Vapor-Rub -- as assimilated to the norms of Caribbean Spanish phonology: "v" is [b] word-initially; syllable-final stops are deleted; the vowel of vicks (IPA [ɪ])becomes the vowel of bee (IPA [i]); etc.

[Update 12/10/2007 -- Alan Shaw writes:

I'm just catching up on recent Language Log entries and was taken aback by your reference on November 19 to the bebop-aroo effect. There was absolutely no need for me to follow the link to your 2004 post (which appeared long before I started reading Language Log) to know what it was, for I have experienced it in my own life!

My father owned and ran a drug store in the Times Square area from the 1950s to the 1980s, and when I was a teenager I helped out behind the counter quite a bit. Many of our customers spoke no English, and I was just learning Spanish. My first milestone in divining the customer's needs was when I caught just the first few words of a sentence "Yo quiero algo..." and ran back to ask Dad what and where the algo was. Later on I had the bebop-aroo request. Really. Dad had obviously heard it before for he knew exactly what it meant.

(Actually it was more like o-rhoo -- sorry for my feeble sound spelling but I'm sure you get what I mean.)


Posted by Mark Liberman at April 4, 2004 06:06 PM