Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Spanglish as part of our daily soundtrack

Photo by satanslaundromat/Flickr (Creative Commons)

KPCC's OnCentral blog has featured an audio piece on Spanglish as part of its "Sounds of South Los Angeles," an ongoing series.

Of course, that mishmash of Spanish and English and random creativity that works its way into quotidian conversations around Southern California (me to my mother yesterday: "When are they coming to clean la carpeta?") is also part of the sound of East Los Angeles, South Gate, West Covina, Santa Ana - take it from there.

But it's nice to hear the linguistic soundtrack of so many families' lives recorded. Reporter Paige Osburn describes it so:

Spanglish is a form of code switching, a phrase used the wider world of lingustics to describe swapping out words from multiple languages in one conversation.

It's a regular fixture in the mouths of countless Spanish speakers learning English, and English speakers learning Spanish. But it's particularly prominent in the second and third generation children of immigrants.

Que es code-switching? It's that thing bilinguals do that drives monolinguals crazy, switching in the middle of a conversation from one language to the other, often to to express an idea better captured in one of the languages. But while code-switchers are often accused of being linguistically lazy, this isn't true, some experts argue. Language expert François Grosjean, author of the book “Bilingual: Life and Reality,” has referred to code-switching as "a verbal skill requiring a large degree of linguistic competence in more than one language, rather than a defect arising from insufficient knowledge of one or the other.”

Then there is the Spanglish code-switching that occurs not because there is a word lacking in the other language, but because people simply get creative when thrown into a new language with new words, some of them featuring familiar sounds. Carpeta? This is a Spanish word, yes. But it refers to a folder. The proper word for carpet is alfombra, a lovely word with Arabic roots.

We know better. But then, these kinds of things happen in a place like L.A.