It may be a slow process, and it may be met with criticism along the way, but believe it or not, languages evolve. When was the last time someone corrected your grammar? Or rather, when was the last time you used slang or said something grammatically incorrect, but nobody even noticed? The way we speak is constantly changing, and most of the time, the changes are welcomed by some, and mocked or condemned by others. But when does slang push an idiom into new territory? When do we unintentionally create for ourselves a whole new language?
My 5th grade teacher was from Colombia, and one thing I learned from her about Colombians is that they pride themselves over having the best and purest Castellano (Spanish). If anybody in my Spanish class ever said something incorrectly or, somehow ventured into the forbidden realm of Spanglish, my teacher would scold us and say “¿Y porque ahora estas hablando como Mejicano?” “How come you’re suddenly speaking like a Mexican?” My teacher wasn’t talking about the Mexicans in Mexico per se, but rather the Mexican-Americans, the Chicanos, the ones whose language some would call “impure” and “corrupted.” Yes, this was an uncomfortable joke my teacher had going with us, a really mean one, but it got me thinking. Why is variation in dialects such a bad thing?
Caló, a Chicano dialect, is a perfect example of slang that’s bordering on becoming a legitimate language (so basically a language purist’s worst nightmare). Caló is difficult to define, but in short, it is an odd mix of Spanish slang, English words, and some other interesting influences like 15th century Castilian Spanish, “Black Slang,” and Aztec Nahuatl (among many other things.) The word “Caló” is even borrowed from the name of the old Romany language in Spain. Often, Caló is criticized, not just because of its deviance from Spanish, but because of racist attitudes towards immigrants, and its association with gangs.
So Mexican-Americans have taken the liberty to change the way they speak Spanish. What’s wrong with that? Even if you could legitimately make the argument that Spanish slang is a threat to the integrity of the language, what would you do about it? The evolution of language natural, inevitable, and just like progress in technology and style, it adjusts to the needs of the people. Think about where we would be today if languages hadn’t evolved. Nobody wants to try and decipher the all-caps, no spaces Latin of the Roman Republic, nor do we want to go back to the days of typing out every word in the acronym “OMG.” So let language do what language must. Whether it’s Spanglish, or Caló, or something completely unexpected, let’s leave it to the Mexican-Americans to decide where Mexican-American language will go.