Monday, April 18, 2011

Defending the Mother Tongue

"¿Como se dice slash en español?" (translation: "how do you say slash in Spanish?") asked Xavier Serbia during a recent edition of "Dinero," a program on CNN en Español. My brother looked at me and we both thought the same thing, is this guy serious? We then looked at the television screen and answered his question in unison, "barra." (For the record, you can also say "diagonal.") This isn't the first occasion in which I've heard Mr. Serbia, the first Puerto Rican to host a program on CNN's Spanish language news channel, speak in Spanglish. In fact, he brazenly confesses to speaking it. Since CNN en Español is broadcast throughout Latin America, Mr. Serbia confirms the stereotype that Puerto Ricans can't speak Spanish correctly.

Defending the mother tongue is an argument which many in the pro-independence and pro-colony parties have strongly adhered to. They believe that if Puerto Rico ever becomes the 51st state, the island will cease to speak Spanish. Well, I have a bit of news for those who foresee the obsolescence of the mother tongue, it's already happening. Today the island celebrated the birthday of José de Diego, considered to be "the Father of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement" and staunch defender of the Spanish language. I firmly believe, should Mr. de Diego be alive today, that he would be extremely disappointed with the island's vernacular transformation. Just today, in El Nuevo Día, I saw a headline which read: "Posible 'Hit and Run.'"

Truth be told, people do not come to Puerto Rico to learn how to speak Spanish. Unlike countries in Latin America, such as Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica, among many others, the island does not have schools dedicated to teaching Spanish. I have only seen a continuing education program at the University of Puerto Rico which offers "Conversational Spanish." Language can speak volumes about a country's culture. In Puerto Rico, Spanglish is spoken and it clearly indicates the strong American influence on the island. For those who view the proliferation of English as a threat to the island's culture and identity, today served as a reminder to preserve the Spanish language. They might also represent the decreasing number of Boricuas who say "estamos listos," (translation: "we are ready") instead of "estamos ready."

Note: The image above was obtained from the Facebook page of Unidos por Nuestro Idioma, a group which believes in the importance of preserving the usage of Spanish in Puerto Rico.


Tyeisha said...

And to think I plan on coming to PR this summer to have my kids be immersed in a summer camp in hopes that they will pick up Spanish from the kids around them.

For me P.R. is a "safe" place. there are enough people who speak English for me to be comfortable if my Spanish fails, and enough people to speak Spanish to get an immersion like experience.

Cassie said...

I've always thought of Puerto Rico as a land in transition. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Most Puerto Rican people speak both Spanish and English -and nearly all speak some Spanglish. Money is the dollar, gas is by the liter, road signs are in Spanish, and they are US citizens but can't vote in presidential elections. It is a little bit U.S. and a little bit Latin America. It is a relatively poor country, but one of the richest in the Caribbean. It's a land of contrasts and juxtapositions that speak volumes about its history and place in geopolitics.

Some people say that because of these things it doesn't have an identity, but just because it is a conglomeration doesn't mean it doesn't have its own "sabor"! Language constantly evolves to the needs of its users to communicate. Spanish and Italian were once considered the poor man's Latin. Now they are their own distinct language -and Latin is dead! Maybe we can't compare that to Spanglish, but it's happening regardless. New words are contantly being added to the dictionary or just being used in everyday speech.

I was helping at a Quinceañera event this weekend and the DJ/MC didn't know the words to describe the dresses like "lentejuela", "tirante", "abalorio" and wanted to just use the English equivalents because he couldn't read in Spanish even thought it's his mother tongue. He ended up not even doing it so I had to fill in (and Spanish is my second language)! This is the way things are nowadays, supongo.

Bueno, until mas tarde! :-)
Cassie Lifetransplanet

Kofla Olivieri said...

Everytime I talk to my sister who lives in Mayaguez, she reminds me the correct word when I slip a Spanglish word in our conversation. It is a shame when the news media in Puerto Rico incorrectly use Spanglish in their articles.

adriana said...

As with many issues on the island, the choice of language has also been politicized. In cities and towns (for ex: Guaynabo) where the local elected official is from the pro-statehood party, you'll see signs in English and vice versa. In San Juan, the newer police cars have "San Juan Police Department (SJPD)" emblazoned on them.

In the San Juan metro area, you'll encounter a greater number of people who can speak English. However, according to the findings of the 2010 Census, 85% of Puerto Ricans confess that they do not speak English "very well." An estimated 95% speak Spanish (I think they should re-phrase it to "spanglish") at home.

Mitch said...

Don't forget that English itself is an amalgam of Saxon, Norman and a variety of other tongues thrown in for spice. For all we know, hundreds of years from now, Spanglish may be the dominant tongue in the Americas.

Anonymous said...

There are also regional differences. A perro up north is a pejo, a carro is a cajo etc etc. in my area. Right when I think I know a word a bunch of letters or endings or words just drop out of a sentence!