Tenga Un Nice Day

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.

5 responses to “Tenga Un Nice Day

  1. Hi there. I’m so pleased to have found your blog! As a fellow Mexican American and someone who’s super interested in anthropology, language, linguistic anthropology, and cultural studies, I’m thrilled to see what you write in upcoming posts. I had never heard of Caló before, but you’ve definitely peaked my interest.

  2. We must recognize how identity is constantly influx, which we can see through America’s changing demographics over the centuries, language is also constantly evolving. Such as the languages of the past, like Latin and Greek, gave way to the ones we use today whose to say the same can’t happen again?

  3. I loved reading this post. I have become increasingly interested in language over past year or so, and am planning on majoring in foreign language. It fascinates me that with the increasing changes in language due to our generation, in the future, we will be correcting our kids to match with the language changes we’re currently growing up with.

  4. This is a really interesting post. I grew up an a area where caló was predominatly spoken, so its especially fascinating to think about how slang can be thought of as a language onto itself. Many of the Latino and Latina kids in my highschool had special phrases or words that coincided with the kind of group of people they spent time with. Perhaps the slang of today will be equivalent to the multiple dialects in languages such as Mandarin and Chinese.

  5. Pingback: Mexican Slang Lesson from Punk Band Molotov | Street Talk Savvy·

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