Since it was imposed in 1898, after the U.S. invasion, the presence of the English language in Puerto Rico has been marked by controversies centered on the preservation and valuing of Spanish. Voices such as those of Margot Arce de Vázquez, Ana Lydia Vega, Juan Carlos Quiñones Santiago and Sara Meléndez Rivera have commented widely on this phenomenon, weighing the pros and cons from the most conservative to the most daring positions. Below is a discussion on the topic in light of socio-linguistic facts that show that English is inextricably embedded in Puerto Rico as the language of big business and political initiatives, along with the weakening of the use of the Spanish language for those same purposes and its relegation to the artistic or strictly academic realms.

Puerto Ricans are challenged daily to gain command of the English language, to decode and use the values of the cultural group it represents, and to use it as a vehicle for economic, socio-political, intellectual and cultural prosperity. They are challenged to compete in the labor market, taking advantage of the opportunities that portray them as complete human beings, likely to triumph in any scenario. However, the majority of the graduates of secondary schools in Puerto Rico, both public and private, do not fully command the Spanish language, much less English.

Experts agree that the best method of teaching English is not being used. Arce de Vázquez, Meléndez Rivera and Quiñones Santiago have both observed that in countries such as the United States, contact with one or more secondary languages takes place for most people after twelve years of age, a reasonable time for the speaker to have a full command of the mother tongue. This greatly aids the learning process and the ability to gain command of other languages in a relatively short time. On the other hand, they suggest that bilingualism in Puerto Rico is a fallacy, because only a small group uses both languages fluently, while the large majority resort to Spanglish to try to communicate. They say try to communicate because in the street (including in professional settings) there is no efficient management of English alongside Spanish, but rather a mix whose generalization greatly limits progress in various settings. In particular, Vega, like Quiñones Santiago, makes a valuable contribution by clarifying that Spanglish is a morphosyntactic error characterized by the attempt to think in English and try to speak or write in Spanish, while code-switching is a perfect transition (at the phrase level) between the two languages, without compromising the morphosyntactic structures. The latter is the sign of true bilingualism. In addition to this, it must be recognized that languages are similar to a computer operating systems: although they speak the same way, each one processes information based on its own syntax (algorithm).

In the end, a living language evolves and becomes richer through interaction with others, but in Puerto Rico the Spanish language tends to grow weaker compared to English in advertising, consumerism, colloquial use and even on the job. Below are some examples that provide a simple look at the issue:

Spanglish – Thinking in English and trying to write or speak in Spanish.

Example:

En españolEn inglés
Te devolveré la llamada.I’ll call you back.
Nonexistent in Spanish ►Te llamaré para atrás.
En españolEn inglés
Juan se involucró con Lola.Juan got involved with Lola.
Nonexistent in Spanish ►Juan se envolvió con Lola.
Nonexistent in English ►Juan got wrapped with Lola.
En españolEn inglés
Escríbeme.Text me.
Nonexistent in Spanish ►Textéame (nadie en español se sillea en las sillas ni se cameaen las camas)

Code-switching – Changing from Spanish to English at the level of phrases.

Example:

In English you can get involved in many activities or with somebody but in Spanish you can only envolverse in your bed sheet or with gift wrapping paper.

Cognates – Words that are similar at the root level in different languages.

Examples:

SpanishEnglishFrench
nochenightnuit
colorcolorcouleur

Linguistic borrowing – Words borrowed from another language, either directly or through adaptation.

Example:

From Spanish to English
barbacoabarbecue
huracánhurricane
From English to Spanish
computercomputadora
shampoochampú

Anglicisms – Words taken or derived from the English language.

Example:

In Spanish

In English

estacionamientoparking
fiestaparty
lavandería laundry
examen cortoquiz

 

Author: Alan Figueroa Cruz
Published: June 15, 2015.

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