December 24, 2004

More threats to language

As I noted here recently, advice givers often view slang as a threat to their languages. And again and again they finger another class of innovations as an agent of decay and decline: borrowings, especially from languages that they view as culturally intrusive (or invasive, or imperialistic, as the case might be). Case in point: official French hostility to English borrowings since World War II.

Sometimes the two types of threatening innovations come in a single package. That most dangerous of creatures, the street-speech borrowing.

Luis Casillas has sent me a particularly nice example of panicked response to such borrowings:

Spanglish, the composite language of Spanish and English that has crossed over from the street to Hispanic talk shows and advertising campaigns, poses a grave danger to Hispanic culture and to the advancement of Hispanics in mainstream America. Those who condone and even promote it as a harmless commingling do not realize that this is hardly a relationship based on equality. Spanglish is an invasion of Spanish by English. ["Is 'Spanglish' a Language", Roberto González Echevarría; New York Times, March 28, 1997;]

Casillas comments:

The nice thing about that quote is that the "threat" theme is developed in a more concrete manner than it often is, because the use of "invasion" casts it in nationalistic terms, which makes the cultural issue at stake quite clear. Further down:
If, as with so many of the trends of American Hispanics, Spanglish were to spread to Latin America, it would constitute the ultimate imperialistic takeover, the final imposition of a way of life that is economically dominant but not culturally superior in any sense.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at December 24, 2004 12:30 AM