English “sons of a gun”: The hybrid-languages

The all-round access to the net, the news from the most hidden edges of the world, the neighbours in all colours of the rainbow, the food made of ‘we-have-no idea-what’ (but, anyway, delicious), on the street the flow of different voices that form a paradoxically beautiful cacophony… What do we call it? Globalization, right? Doesn’t matter how different we are, we face up to the fact that English has dominated our everyday life: it’s bombarding us from the TV and newspapers, it’s a key competence in the labour market, it’s penetrating and settling in our mother tongues with an unbelievable chutzpah. In theory, we all speak it, well or, hmm, at least we try, but sometimes it’s so hard to understand “what a poet means”… Particularly, when he mixes senseless English terms with his mother tongue.

No, don’t think it works in only one direction; now it’s quite normal to hear a Chinese buying a ‘falafel’ or an American guy who struggles with ‘bigos’s or ‘pierogi’s names (Polish national dishes). And nobody feels offended, we know we do our best and finally it isn’t so complicated to understand what a speaker is talking about.

The problem begins when a borrowed word changes its meaning and becomes a false friend, for example, when somebody imagines a ‘bookstore’ and you understand a ’library’ or when he’s telling you he’s met the police and you’re taking it for a lecture on botany:

Spg. word Eng. meaning Spa. homonym Eng. meaning
‘librería’ ‘bookstore’ ‘biblioteca’ ‘library’
‘jara’ ‘police’ ‘jara’ ‘rockrose’


It’s something more than a language marriage, because in that case we could separate them: it’s just as if they got married and then a baby was born of their common long life. A monster-baby, who is a nightmare for foreigners and translators, because it doesn’t want to obey any rules, just like… Spanglish.

It’s not hard to figure out that it originates from the territories of American south borderland. Traditionally Puerto Rico is considered its cradle, but it’s widely used also in Panama or Mexico and it’s one of the distinctive features of the Spanish communities in the USA. It basically consists in lexical (phonetical, mainly calques) and grammatical (morphological and syntactical) shifts between both languages. In other words, we take an English word and “rewrite it” into Spanish in a way that it maintains its meaning. It’s often like to write what we hear following the Spanish orthographical rules. As a result, we get “loan words”:

Eng. ‘busy’ (Spa. ‘ocupado’)→ Spg. ‘bisi’

Eng. ‘shopping’ (Spa. ‘ir de compras’)→ Spg. ‘chopin’ (do you see what I see? It’s a Polish composer’s surname!)

Eng. ‘e-mail’ (Spa. ‘correo electrónico’) → Spg. ‘emilio’ (How can we write a name in the lower case?)

Eng. ‘car’ (Spa. ‘coche’) → Spg. ‘carro’ (Spa. ‘caro’= Eng.‘expensive’; yep, cars aren’t so cheap…)

Eng. ‘church’ (Spa. ‘iglesia’) → Spg. ‘chorcha’

As it’s already mentioned, Spanglish is not limited to the creation of new strange words; it extends also the meaning of these existing:

Spg. ‘carpeta’ (spa. ‘folder’) vs Eng. ‘carpet’ (Spa. ‘alfombra’)

In addition, it uses calques:

Spg.’vacumear la carpeta’ (← Eng. ‘to vacuum the carpet’) = Spa. ‘aspirar la alfombra’

Spg. ‘llamar p’atras’ (← Eng. ‘to call Sb back’) = Spa. ‘volver a llamar’

Spg. ‘Está p’arriba de ti’ (←Eng.  ‘It’s up to you.’) = Spa. ‘Depende de ti.’

Spg. ‘janguear’ ← (Eng. ‘to hang out’) = Spa. ‘pasar el rato’, ‘divertirse’

By the way, this word play, objective of which is to translate idioms, proverbs, proper names, etc. word-for-word is called Fromlostiano:

Spa. ‘De perdidos al río’→ Eng. ‘From lost to the River’ (this is comparable to the English idiom ‘in for a penny – in for a pound’).

Spa. ‘Contigo pan y cebolla’→ Eng. ‘With you bread and onion’

Eng. ‘Apple Computers’→ Spa. ‘Ordenadores Manzana’

If you find Spanglish something special, it is, of course, but it’s not the only mixed language in the universe. Once started, research opens up a huge range of possibilities. It turns out that Spanish can combine with Portuguese (= Portuñol riverense) as it takes place in Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Perú, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay, among others.

The main traits of Portuñol are orthographical and phonetical changes that lead directly to lexical transformations:

Ptñ. Spa. Por. Eng. meaning
oio ojo olho eye
intonce entonces então so
niñũ ninguno nenhum any

It’s worth of underlining that Portuñol adds to the 5 vowels typical for Spanish the 6 nasal vowels used in Portuguese. At the grammatical level, it differs from Spanish with 4 regular verb types, depending on desinence (‘-á, ‘-ê’, ‘-í’, ‘-.ô’ vs Spanish and Portuguese ‘-ar’, ‘-er’, ‘-ir’).

If you think that it’s the craziest quasi-artistic impression of English, don’t even start with the people from Gibraltar. A short sample of Llanito (their language), just to make you sure that it’s like the Russian roulette:

Lla. Está shungo que they gave him el job y a mí no.

Spa. Está injusto que le dieran el trabajo y a mi no.

Eng. It’s unfair that they gave him a job and not to me.


English, from its side, distorts continental French (no, not only Canadian, what would be logical) or, just the opposite, it’s subdued by it. While Spanish seems to be keen on modification, French behaves like a capricious damsel: sometimes it adopts some borrowed words, sometimes it tries to complicate its sophisticated life with some ham-fisted translations :

Fre. ‘Un sac gonflable’ = Eng. ‘airbag’ Fre. ‘Une causette’= Eng. ‘internet chat’  Fre.‘Paire-à-paire’ = Eng. ‘peer to peer’

Now it’s clear why English is a winner in this contest:

Frg.’Quelle hour est it?’ -Fre. ‘Quelle heure est-il ?’- Eng. ‘What time is it?’

Frg. ‘Merci you’= Fre. ‘Merci’ + Eng. ‘Thank you’

Not to mention about the “gerund delirium”…

Frg. ‘le footing’= Eng. ‘jogging’ Frg. ‘le zapping’= Eng. ‘channel hopping’’ Frg. ‘un brushing’= Eng. ‘a blow-dry’ Frg. ‘un parking’= Eng. ‘a car-park’

Frg. ‘le phoning’= Eng. ‘calling’

…or simplified noun derivation:

Frg. ‘a tennisman’= Eng. ‘a tennis player’

Frg. ‘googeliser’= Eng. ‘to use Google, to google’

Frg. ‘tweeter’= Eng. ‘to use Tweeter, to tweet’

But, as notices Hannah Partos (The Guardian, Wednesday 11 March 2015 12.57 GMT):

Franglais, is a case in point: it sounds English, it looks English, but as I soon discovered (…), it wouldn’t make any sense to your native English speaker.

And with these words we can conclude this post. All suggestions about what subjects we should raise in the next one are more than welcome.


by Karolina Dabek


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