Monday, May 9, 2011

Who Can Use Mock Spanish?

By: Stephany Batista            

     While reading Jane Hill’s article on covert racism and the use of mock Spanish, I was struck by one similarity. Oftentimes, the person using mock Spanish and engaging in this covert racism was someone who did not speak Spanish and so they either over pronounced words, especially with an Anglicized pronunciation, or they make grammatical errors that a native Spanish speaker would not make. When reading this article and engaging in our class discussions, I started to remember an episode of the Disney channel show, Wizards of Waverly Place. And I began to ask myself, was it still considered mock Spanish if a Spanish-speaker is the one using it? I, myself, often find myself using phrases like, “Ay caramba!” or saying “gracias” with an over Anglicized pronunciation. Now, I am a native Spanish speaker, I have been speaking since I learned to talk, however, when I pronounce these phrases, I do not say them as I would normally say them. I pronounce these words with an over Anglicized pronunciation, as if I did not know how to speak Spanish or on what syllables the stress belonged.  

        On this particular episode of Wizards of Waverly Place, Alex Russo, who is played by Mexican-American actress Selena Gomez, is struggling to pass a Spanish test, in order to be able to go out to eat at a new restaurant with all of her friends and a boy she has a crush on. In this clip, Theresa Russo, played by Maria Canales-Barrera who is of Cuban descent, is attempting to teach Alex a few simple words in Spanish, so that she can pass her test. However, it becomes obvious that helping Alex pass her Spanish test is a lost cause once Theresa begins to tutor her. The video below is a clip from the above-mentioned episode.

     In the clip, we see Alex’s mother point to various items in the house and expect Alex to respond with the correct Spanish word for it. However, instead of responding with “lampara” when her mother points to lamp, Alex responds with “lampito.” When her mother points to a cup, Alex again responds with the incorrect answer, “cupito.” This is when her mother becomes frustrated and responds, “Just adding –ito to every word does not make it Spanish.” Jane Hill mentions this usage in her article, “The third tactic for constructing Mock Spanish is to add Spanish morphology…” The adding of “el” before another word or adding “o” to the end of a word, such as “no problemo”, characterizes this tactic. 

       In this article I found online, Daniel Trotta talks about the various reasons why Americans are now mixing more Spanish into their everyday speak (notice the use of mock Spanish just in the title, Americans Not Waiting for Manana to Learn Spanish”). Trotta argues that America is losing its reputation as an English-only nation because of the influence that Latin American immigrants are having on the English language. Rather than consider this use of mock Spanish as insulting, Trotta believes that it makes newly arrived immigrants feel at home and as if they have a part of their country here with them. However, Carmen Fought, a linguistics professor at Pitzer College in California, criticizes this belief. Fought believes that this usage highlights the double standard that is present in the American culture.

       Although Jane Hill makes it clear that she does not believe that all white speakers who use mock Spanish are racist, she does say that this usage can be interpreted in different ways. The interpretation clearly depends on the context in which the phrases are used and on who is using said phrases. 

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