Borrowed Words Are Never Returned

The Spanish and English languages have a lot in common and Anglos and Hispanics have a long history of borrowing each others words.

At some time or another a neighbor, friend or relative has borrowed money, a book, a tool or other item from us, has never returned it and over time makes it his own.

This appropriation even extends to languages. North Americans, for instance, have borrowed numerous words from the Spanish language and firmly incorporated it into their own. Similarly, some Spanish speakers have adopted English words and given rise to a new language called “Spanglish” that combines words from both such as roofo and yarda, respectively roof and yard. Marketa is a frequently used word derived from the English word market (as in Supermarket) instead of the standard Spanish word, mercado. Other borrowings include: emailear or emiliar, "to email";  twittear, to use Twitter; facebookear, to use Facebook and googlear, to use Google and of course this is all done on a computadora rather than ordenador, the actual Spanish word for computer.

In any case, there is an ongoing and often acrimonious argument over the use of the Spanish language in this country and from time to time, there are calls for the establishment of English as the “official” language of the nation.   

Essentially this means that English would be the only language that local, state and federal agencies could use to transact business and presumably, this exclusivity would extend to private businesses as well. However, it is not my purpose to discuss the merits or deficiencies of the “English Only” proposition and certainly not the equally incendiary subject of unauthorized immigration.

Language is of course one of the most important elements of a culture’s identity and can touch off a firestorm of controversy and even wars.  

A group’s language can feel essential to its very existence. It’s no surprise that often the more vulnerable a group feels, the greater its devotion to its language. This is obviously the case in the United States where conflicts over language persist, particularly in places with large immigrant populations.

However, I prefer to stick to the subject of how harmoniously the Spanish and English languages seem to coexist by borrowing from each other much as neighbors do when they borrow the proverbial cup of sugar.

Let’s start with the fact that English as well as Spanish and other Romance languages have Latin roots. Roughly, 50 to 60 percent of the English language comes to us courtesy of the ancient Romans. 

For instance, the English word annual is taken from the Latin annus and the English word insulate is taken from insula. The same words in Spanish are anual and insular. Additionally, the English, French, Italian and Spanish alphabets are derived from the Latin alphabet and Spanish almost wholly derived from Latin. Even though the Latin language is not in use today, its influence and legacy is still evident as is the root for most of the vocabulary of many European languages, including English, which has Germanic and Greek, roots as well.

Regardless it is a fact that when the United States wasfounded, only 40 percent of the people living within its boundaries spoke English as their first language and many of the Founders though of English stock were multi-lingual. Thomas Jefferson for instance was well versed in Latin and Greek and spoke some French, Italian and Spanish. Furthermore, as the centuries progressed more European immigrants and their various languages took hold but as time went on, their influence waned. Based on past immigrant experience social scientists expect that in the not to distant future, Spanish will cease to be a hot button issue in this country.  

In any event it seems that the culturally diverse peoples of the North and South American continents and Caribbean Islands have a brisk trade in words  that has a long and enduring history. First, much of what once was Spanish and then Mexican territory currently forms several of the states that comprise the United States of America. Secondly, geography plays and important role. The proximity of Mexico, the rest of the Spanish Speaking nations of Central, South America, and the Caribbean, to the United States makes it plain to see why English and Spanish words flow easily across borders irrespective of governmental approval. Some experts claim that there are more than 10,000 Spanish words that have effortlessly crossed over into everyday English. On the other side of the equation the influence of American media and Corporate America has enabled a significant number of English words and concepts to be firmly planted in the soil of the Spanish-Speaking countries.  

Following are a few examples of Spanish words embedded in North America culture. ome North Americans, particularly Easterners go to a café for nighttime entertainment andcocktails. In this regard North Americans are not hesitant about ordering a Cuba Libre, a Piña Colada, a Tequila Sunrise , a Mojito, a Daiquiri,  a Margarita or even a Martini, so named for the New York- Puerto Rican bartender who invented it.  In New York City and its environs grocery stores and even delis have been surpassed by bodegas.”Southerners and school children have lunch in a "cafeteria. The use of the word, siesta is fairly common as doctors talk about the benefits taking a nap in the afternoon. When politicians show no courage, we say they lack cojones and when someone feels they can’t continue, they exclaim, no mas. Big windstorms are referred to as tornados, and we often blame them on El Niño. When we feel shortchanged, we say we got nada and loco is used interchangeably with the American slang word for crazy, nuts.

Then there are English words that have been slightly adapted from Spanish. Cañon became canyon; huracan became hurricane; patata became potato; "tomate became tomato; lazo became lasso; "camarada" became comrade; "aguacate" became avocado; "cruzada" became crusade. "Sabe," which means to know in Spanish, became savvy.

By the way, there is a theory that Tonto’s nickname for the Lone Ranger, “Kimosabe,” was a corruption for the term Que Mas Sabe meaning most knowledgeable one. North American cowboys took many Spanish words and made it their own. Vaquero, for instance is the Spanish word for one who herds cattle and it comes from the Spanish word for cow, which is vaca.  Overtime, vaquero morphed into buckaroo. The buckaroos readily adopted words such as rodeo, corral, chaparral, rancho, sombrero, anddozens of others from the original Spanish adventurers and settlers who came to what is now the South western region U.S. mainland in the 16th and 17th centuries.   

In addition, because the Spanish were here long before other European explorers, they named many North American regions, cities and landmarks — in Spanish of course. This language is clearlyseen in the identifying sign posts and maps of numerous cities and towns in the US and such U.S. states as Florida, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Even New York has Spanish place names like Cuba and Mexico and it's amusing to me that one of the toniest towns in the U.S. is  called Boca Raton; I doubt it would have attracted many rich people to the area if they had known it means rat's mouth.

I also suspect that if English ever did become this nation’s official policy, that the above Spanish-named states would not be mandated to adopt English names. It is also interesting to note that in Puerto Rico there are many suburban neighborhoods have English names; Ocean Park, Levittown, Crash Boat Beach and Mountain View to name a few. Apparently, real estate developers and agents believe that English language place names have a certain cache that makes them desirable places to live.  

In conclusion, despite the linguistic disputes, disagreements and difficulties that currently arise in the United States of America and other parts of the world, the Spanish and English languages are distant relatives and can even be amigos, if you will. Together, they are greater than the sum of their parts.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Aidan November 30, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Psst ... all languages are shared nowadays.


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