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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  1. bullwinkle August 19, 2005
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