fran ilich on 7 Aug 2000 22:58:50 -0000

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<nettime> Cyber-Spanglish

On the Language of Cervantes, the Imprint of the Internet

CINDY FLORES DÁVALOS, a 24-year-old Mexican with neon pink hair, speaks
native Spanish and minimal English. But in her job as the editor of a
women's "channel" at, an Internet company here, she operates
in a linguistic netherworld experts call Cyber-Spanglish.  Sitting at her
computer, Ms. Flores keeps her hand on "el maus," which she uses to
"clickear" on the icons on her screen. She loves to "chatear" with her
clients online, and when someone sends her an intriguing "imail," she may
"forwardear" it to a friend. Her instantaneous e-mail service, AOL's ICQ
(named for the play on "I seek you"), gets this rave review: "I love to
ICQuear" (pronounced eye-see-kay-YAR). 

"Our daily routine obliges us to work in English," Ms. Flores says in
Spanish.  "The force of English on the computer screen is overwhelming." 

Ms. Flores's linguistic experience is shared by millions of Hispanics who
are adopting computers and the Internet as the tools and toys of daily
life.  From Mexico to Madrid and from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego,
Spanish-speakers are freely importing English technology-related words
into their vocabulary.  They "taipear" rather than "escribir a máquina."
When they save a file, they make "el backup." And when their computer
jams, it is time to "resetear."  Pronunciations tend to retain the
simplicity of American vowels -- the first syllable of "brainstormear,"
for instance, is usually said brayn, rather than bry-een. 

The hybridization of Spanish and English into Spanglish is not new, of
course.  It has been accelerating for half a century, and has often
irritated Latin nationalists who see the process as cultural infiltration
from the United States, as well as purists who think the mother tongue of
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is quite nice in its classic form, gracias.
What is different now, experts say, is that linguistic gatekeepers in much
of the Latin world appear to be throwing up their hands in the face of the
latest English invasion. 

"This was a hard-fought battle from the 60's through the 80's," says José
Carreño Carlón, director of the Department of Communication at the
Iberoamerican University here. "But the nationalists and purists are in
retreat, especially because in the cybernetic world many English words
have no easy equivalent." 

Without a doubt, many computer-related words -- "click," for instance --
resist neat translation. But Ilan Stavans, a Mexican-born professor of
Spanish at Amherst College who has compiled a forthcoming dictionary of
Spanglish terms, says there is another reason for the quick welcome given
to many English terms now. 

"There's a shift in the cultural climate not only in Mexico, but all over
Latin America and Spain," Mr. Stavans says, noting that the left had once
held intellectual sway there. "Before the fall of the Berlin Wall,
everything that came from the imperialist gringo had to be rejected. But
attitudes have become more receptive to U.S. popular culture, especially
among the middle classes.  They don't reject, they absorb." 

Some 10 percent of the 6,000 hybrid terms Mr. Stavans has collected are
Cyber-Spanglish, underlining the Internet culture's growing influence in
the Hispanic world. 

The United States is expected to have 128 million Internet users by 2001. 
There are far fewer users in Latin America and Spain, but the number is
rising rapidly. Some 2.7 million Mexicans will be wired into the Internet
by year's end, says Marc Alexander, an analyst at I.D.C., an American
Internet market research company, and Mexican users are increasing by 50
percent annually.  In all of Latin America, there are now 13.2 million
Internet users, up from 8.4 million last year. Nine million Spaniards are
now wired. (English is also bending the Portuguese of Brazil, South
America's largest Internet market.) 

The rapid growth has made cyberspace the linguistic crucible that a
century ago was centered on America's southwest border and later in cities
like Miami and New York, where Latinos intending to drive their trucks to
market began saying "Voy a manejar mi troca a la marketa" instead of the
"Voy a manejar mi camión al mercado." 

In more recent decades, Spanglish was fed by English-language movies,
radio and television broadcasts, and advertising. In 1982, President José
Lopez Portillo tried to turn back the tide by creating the Commission for
the Defense of the Spanish Language, which campaigned to rid Mexico City
billboards of words like hamburgers and pub. 

"People rejected that purist campaign," says Tarsicio Herrera Zapién, the
professor of classical letters who is secretary of the prestigious
Academia Mexicana. 

"Languages evolve, and we don't need to fight for Spanish if it is alive," 
Dr.  Herrera says. 

The Academia Mexicana was set up 125 years ago, its statutes say, to "seek
the conservation, purity and perfection of the Spanish language" in
Mexico. But in recent years, Dr. Herrera says. its members have put less
focus on purity and will likely do nothing to prevent the use of

"We can't legislate how people speak," Dr. Herrera says. "We simply
catalog Mexican usages." 

The Academia Mexicana is one of 20 organizations in Latin America
affiliated with the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) in
Madrid, established in 1713 to protect Castilian Spanish from an earlier
source of linguistic pollution: words derived from Quechua, Nahuatl and
other indigenous tongues were being incorporated into Latin American

To encourage the use of proper Spanish, the Real Academia has established
a Web site at . It offers an interactive service, Español al
Día, to answer questions about the correct use of Spanish. 

Mario Tascón, the editor of El País Digital, the Internet version of
Spain's largest newspaper, says the Real Academia has urged Spaniards to
resist the English onslaught by seeking correct Spanish translations of
computer-related terms, a practice he tries to follow as an editor. 

"We don't use el atachment," Mr. Tascon says. "We use archivo adjunto,
which is longer, but at least it's Spanish. We try to use el sitio instead
of el site, but that's a battle." Half the papers in Spain now routinely
use el site, he said. 

"Sometimes English words just force their way into general use," he said. 
"We try to get people to use 'charlar,' for instance, but they say
'chatear' anyway." 

nos vemos en el futuro. 

ilich.  editor sputnik en-linea.  co-editor sputnik impreso.

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