While regional Mexican accents are common, he also has taken note of how English language constructs have influenced the type of Spanish spoken along the border.
Such a commingling of languages is only natural, Martinez said in Spanish, and doesn’t necessarily correspond with a corruption of the Spanish language.
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“We’ll find out in time whether it’s good or bad,” the 50-year-old Calexico resident said.
For linguists, it has long been known that when one area’s dominant language comes into contact with another area’s dominant language, certain things happen to both languages. Such is the case with the type of Spanish spoken in the Southwest U.S.
Aside from borrowing English words, stateside Spanish speakers often will use fewer subjunctives than their Mexican counterparts, said John Moore, linguistics professor at the University of California, San Diego. Researchers have also discovered that U.S. Spanish speakers who speak English frequently use pronouns more often when speaking Spanish, although pronoun usage is not as frequently used in the Mexican interior, Moore said.
Those language characteristics likely arise from English influences since they are not visible in Spain or Latin American countries for the most part, Moore said.
The more familiar feature of border Spanish is the constant alternating between English and Spanish — commonly referred to as “Spanglish” in the popular vernacular, but known as “code switching” to linguists.
“Code switching is a universal law of nature,” Moore said. “It’s like saying gravity is bad — you can’t avoid it.”
Indeed, the use of borrowed words — such as “soda” and “OK” — has become unavoidable, 22-year-old Abran Oliva said.
When conversing with his parents, it is common for all of them to pepper their Spanish with English words in order to be better understood, Oliva said. In an effort to better understand how Spanish has been influenced by English along the border, researchers at UCSD have launched the Border Spanish Project. The ongoing study is examining the differences and similarities in the Spanish language as spoken by established immigrants and their children in San Diego County — two groups for whom changes are likely to have happened, Moore said. The Spanish spoken by residents of Tijuana was also studied as part of the project, Moore said.
As part of the project, Tijuana residents were asked what they thought of the Spanish spoken in the region. Respondents revealed that the common reliance on English words was viewed as “not very good,” Moore said.
While the Imperial-Mexicali valleys’ language interchange hasn’t been studied by linguists, Moore said “it’s probably similar to what’s happening in San Diego County.”
Although her mother predominantly speaks Spanish, Joann Valdivia said she struggles with it and often falls back on English to communicate with her. And as a server at a Brawley restaurant who often must take orders from patrons who exclusively speak Spanish, Valdivia said she must be diligent in order to avoid getting orders mixed up.
Along the border it is a disadvantage to not be proficient in both English and Spanish, the Brawley resident said.
“It’s always better for a career to be bilingual,” the 18-year-old Brawley resident said.
The type of Spanish spoken in the Southwest U.S. is of extreme interest to linguists because of what it can reveal about language development, said Ana Sanchez Muñoz, assistant professor of linguistics at California State University, Northridge. It is fascinating to witness the visible and audible changes as they happen, whereas such changes are often examined long after the fact, she said.
In certain situations where contact with a different dominant language is the norm, accelerated changes may be visible as well, Munoz said.
“(Changes) may get pushed further in one direction because of contact,” Muñoz said.
For some second-generation Latinos the prolific use of code switching may be a source of ethnic pride, Muñoz said, noting that language and identity are intrinsically related. Its prolific use has also has led to some backlash from citizens who feel the dominant American culture is being threatened and compromised by such an ethnic phenomenon.
It is not difficult to find instances where speaking Spanish has been made the object of discriminatory practices and policies. Muñoz said.
“The fact that most people have opinions about language doesn’t mean they know anything about language,” Muñoz said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-335-4665 or at email@example.com.
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