By Tom Stephens, LIN@R
Just this past week, I happened to be chatting with an old friend, of Colombian birth, about life, her daughters, her husband, and of course, up pops the perennial issue: does such-and-such a word “exist” in Spanish? How could I not have an opinion?
The story goes that a Colombian cousin, a judge in her country, was visiting my friend and her family here in New Jersey and the issue of politics arose. My friend’s husband, also of Colombian descent, ended one of his declarations on laws and the police with something like “tienen que enforzar la ley” in rather emphatic tone. The cousin-judge looked quizzically at her relative and said “I don’t understand that word – enforzar. It doesn’t exist in Colombia. What do you mean?” (Clearly I paraphrase, and translate, here.) Everyone was then stumped as to how to say “to enforce the law” in Spanish.
For that phrase, “to enforce the law,’ one might say “hacer cumplir la ley” but that becomes a mouthful indeed. Maybe ejecutar or imponer? Those options should be relatively universally understood in the various Spanishes worldwide. Yet, I question what makes the use of the Anglicismenforzarincorrect for the aforementioned situation. The answer, in fact, is very little.
Here’s the way I see it. Let’s consider the following example. In Argentina and Uruguay, especially around the River Plate basin, many speakers, especially those “of age,” will use the Lunfardism manyar as a substitute for comer “to eat,” the normative word accepted by the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española. Lunfardo, an Italian-Argentine urban slang that resulted from mass Italian immigrations to the fin de siècle Americas, by all accounts developed as a type of Mafioso jargon; today what would pass for normative River Plate Spanish has incorporated many of Lunfardo’s Italicisms, including the aforementioned manyar, and others such as laburo ‘work’ (normative trabajo) and birra ‘beer’ (normative cerveza). A quick internet search reveals many sites ready and willing to give their opinions on Lunfardo, including the Pig Latin-type language play calledvesre (revés ‘reverse’ inversely pronounced) ascribed to the Lunfardo/Mafioso style of secret language code. In none of these sites does there exist any real attempt to disparage the language vagaries that so permeate the River Plate region; these forms are duly praised and recognized as regional, and in good stead.
So, why are Anglicisms so roundly chastised by the many so-called purists, who want to keep Spanish “unblemished” by those awful English words adapted into North American Hispanophonia? And, furthermore, why isn’t that same purism typically applied to Argentine Spanish, so heavily influenced by Italian borrowings? A simple observation: mass prejudice. Spanish is one of the least “pure” languages that exists; if it weren’t for Arabic borrowings (upwards of 4000), the Spanish we know would be quite different. Languages are organic reflections of our daily lives – how we live them, with whom we interact, where we are and go – everything. So, if Argentines are allowed their Italicisms, Mexicans their Nahuatlisms, Peruvians their Quechuisms, and Anglophones their Gallicisms, why can’t US Hispanophones use free colloquialisms that include Anglicisms, neologisms, brand names, and the like?
The answer is: they can, and they do. If outsiders don’t understand, well, they can ask, like the Colombian judge, or they can j.f.g.i. If you don’t grok the abbreviation, just search the internet.
Ain’t language wonderful? Or, is that isn’t?
This article was first published in LIN@R.
Tom Stephens is a Professor 1 in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Rutgers-New Brunswick, where he is in his 32nd year. He holds a PhD in Romance Linguistics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is the author of the Dictionary of Latin American Racial and Ethnic Terminology. Stephens has also served as Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Faculty Athletics Representative to the NCAA for a decade.
[Photo courtesy I have an idea]