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Linguistic Blends

Below, Mary Katharine Ham notes that her local (read: national giant) cable company offers both Spanish and English as options on its tech-support line, rather than defaulting to English.

As she notes later in the comments to that post, she finds this another example of a mentality that holds that immigrants shouldn't have to assimilate into the United States. However, her assessment may be premature.

I've had occasion to listen to speakers of several foreign languages -- including Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. Interestingly, their speech, though otherwise unintelligible to my imperialist American ear, generally contains recognizable words borrowed from English and integrated with their native language.

This sort of syncretic speaking style, I think, is the beginnings of a pidgin -- that is, a manner of speaking that melds two or more languages at points of contact between those languages, incoroporating(as Wikipedia says) rudimentary grammar and other rules on the fly. Left unattended, a pidgin can evolve into a creole, a language that eventually becomes the native language of its speakers.

But in the modern world, these modes of speaking probably can't evolve into pidgins, let alone full-fledged creoles, because of omnipresent, national-level media that reinforce the rules of American Standard English. However, with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population, it is entirely possible that American Standard English could incorporate even more Spanish words than it does now and, given a century or so, evolve into a language that resembles today's English as much as modern American English resembles the English of Chaucer's time. After all, communication is hardly fixed in amber, the desires of linguistic fuddy-duddies notwithstanding.

So what does all of this have to do with Ms. Ham's post? It's this: I don't think that we're necessarily seeing a trend against assimilation. Rather, given that Spanish language accorded the status it is and the considerable influence of the Spanish language, the current trend may not be one against assimilation of immigrants, but instead a movement, intended or not, that assimilates yet another foreign influence into America's standard English.


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Comments (6)

I was in a restaurant in Mo... (Below threshold)

I was in a restaurant in Monterey on the last drive down and a gringa at the next table asked me a question that made me blow Modelo out my nose.
"Do you know what the Mexican word for tortilla is?".

Wow. Pennywit, you are the... (Below threshold)

Wow. Pennywit, you are the most naive, insulated person I've ever met. I think you need to look up assimilation in the dictionary before making the claim that the current trend highlighted in Mary Katherine's post is not against assimilation.

Resistance is futile. You ... (Below threshold)

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated... eventually.

Very much what I was going ... (Below threshold)
Charlie (Colorado):

Very much what I was going to point out. It appears to me that most of the people who get twitchy about this are from back east, or otherwise from parts of the country that never were part of New Spain. For those of us from south of the Arkansas river, the ones who are paying attention realize that as they drive from La Junta to Alamosa, head south to Espanola, stopping on the way to buy enchiladas and hamburgers with green chiles, they're driving through a part of the US in which Spanish is a native language, and has been since well before the gringos arrived.

born and raised in Los Ange... (Below threshold)

born and raised in Los Angeles and grew up very comfortable with California history (even those parts the ACLU is trying to Bowdlerize out of existence)

But you know, the LA basin, being a major port and entry point has DOZENS upon DOZENS of languages... Tagalog, Filipino, Spanish (two dialects, the one from Mexico and the East LA kind) Japanese, Chinese (several dialects), Cambodian, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Armenian and several others ... In such a diverse culture, the infrastructure of OFFICIAL business -- courts, police, fire, etc MUST BE AND REMAIN ENGLISH. Translators should be available, but by convenience NOT AS A RIGHT.

The laziness (and actual bigotry) of any person who chooses to come to the United States and then refuses to make any attempt at learning rudimentary English should be confronted and not tolerated.

If I emigrated to another country, I would NEVER attempt to make them accomodate my English only stance.

One doesn't attend a party then berate the host for not serving the one dish that is one's favorite.

Assimilation is not an issu... (Below threshold)

Assimilation is not an issue for the individual. Said person either adopts more of the customs and culture of his new country or he does not. Few nations monitor what an immigrant does.

The true question is whether assimilation is desirable for a nation. That is: will nations exist well with widely diverse groups each making many of their own rules?

In general history says "no".

But history must be considered carefully - government today is not as governments past. And some diverse societies that had long intervals of peace and prosperity.

Inspection reveals this serene result usually happens under tyrants strong enough to cow all factions into what is perceived as tolerance. Tito in Yugoslavia is one recent example.






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