Why I will never be completely fluent in Spanglish…

After almost four years in Spain I can say that I nearly speak fluent Spanish. I still make grammatical errors, of course, and I will probably always have a Norwegian accent with a slight Mexican twang. I may sound like a local to people who do not speak Spanish, but my cara de guiri (face of a foreigner) gives me away every time, in spite of my attempts at becoming a true Andaluza.

Anyone learning Spanish in Andalucía has the additional language challenge of what’s popularly called Spanglish, a hybrid language taking words and expressions from both English and Spanish, often merging the two into new and un-heard-of terms. The difficulties for expats start when the Spanish take English words and bastardize them. Yet Spanglish goes both ways and the Spanish have equal difficulties understanding an English-speaker trying to communicate in Spanish and inventing words by taking the English expression and adding an a-ending. When I started learning Spanish, I used the same tactics with French words, as one gets it right more often by starting from another Latin language.

Our first acquaintance with ‘Spangli-zation’ was during a night-walk with our senderismo group. We were climbing down from catching the sunset on a local peak. Our group includes several avid photographers who will stop to take pictures along the way, and equally many who will offer helpful and not-so-helpful advice as to how they should compose their shots. At this time I was still primarily at the listening stage of my Spanish knowledge. Anyhow, the advice came at bullet speed (the Spanish speak incredibly fast, in case you haven’t noticed), but with the plethora of advice I noticed one suggestion coming out louder and more frequent than any other. Pon el flaa!, someone insisted. I could figure out from French that pon meant put, and el would be the Spanish article, but what in heavens name was a flaa? I hadn’t heard any word sounding like that. My husband who speaks fluent Spanish (though not yet Andalucian Spanglish) was equally lost. Si, voy a poner el flaa, said the photographer and put the flash on. Duh! Flaa equals flash, of course. It makes perfect sense now in retrospect, as Spanish-made Spanglish words are usually composed by omitting the end of an English one.

There are many differences between Castilian Spanish and Mexican Spanish. Almost 500 years of dissimilarities one could say, which is when the conquistadors arrived in Mexico. There, a guasa means a joke, so no wonder my husband was confused when a neighbour asked if we had guasa. The guy explained that it was on el internét and you had grupos de amigos and it finally dawned on my husband. “Do you mean WhatsApp?”, he asked. Hombre, que si! Guasa is WhatsApp. What else could it be?, our friend said, pronouncing both words as guasa. In fact guasa or WhatsApp is big here in Spain. Everybody has it, grandmothers who have never touched a computer in their life and construction workers who still talk into their cell phones like it was a Walkie-Talkie. So, we learned another Spanglish word.

There should be a preamble to this tale: We live in Andalucía, where people speak a language called Andaluz, which even for Spanish from other parts of the country is difficult to understand. The Andalu’ cut the ending of almost every word, making it much harder to learn than for instance Madrilleño Spanish. Mind you, at least we don’t lisp like they do in the capital here down in the south. There are also more Arab words mixed into the Andalucian language, as the Moorish settlements lasted longer here. If you learned Spanish aboard or on the Internet, it is a whole other matter when you come to Andalucía. The more remote you travel, the shorter and more gobbled are the words. Take the expression meaning any more, as in ‘I do not want any more’. In Spanish it is nada más, but here in Andalucía it is pronounced na ma, which sounds rather like a Sanskrit mantra to me… It is hard for the southern Spanish to pronounce consonants, especially when grouped together. It is almost impossible for them to say for instance worked, pronouncing both the ‘k’, and the ‘t’ sound of the ‘ed’ ending. It is all rather complicated.  Any word starting with an s is also tough for the Andalu’, who will usually pronounce Spain and Espain and school as eschool. My name is hard for people to spell and pronounce in any language, so it did not come as a surprise to me when I got a Christmas present one year with the name Escareto written on it, obviously the Spanglish version of Karethe…

Some well-established Andalu’ Spanglish words are easier to guess than others, such as fou’boo or fou’bol, which, you guessed right, means football. On the other hand, words that particularly may confuse Spanish-studying expats are technical words. Anything that has to do with Internet, social media, advertising, entertainment or fashion are generally Spanglish, as English is the universal language for these industries. I am sure Chinese have Chinglish word for Facebook, which the rural Spanish have given a Spaglish twist, calling it Fassebou.

English is everywhere, but the knowledge is not. You can just imagine how the names of American film stars and English musicians are pronounced here. I usually have no idea who they are talking about, unless I see the name in writing. International chains like Spanish Mango and Italian Calzedonia will use almost only English terms in their Spanish ads. I have seen shop windows advertising el look del otoño (the fall look), which of course rondeños will pronounce el lou. El Sale is another word they use on store windows here, though the word sale in Spanish, which is the present tense third person singular for salir, means to go out and would be pronounced saa-le. Any English word can be used, just ad the Spanish article el, for instance el fashion or el party. But things are not always that evident. When someone told me the other day that we would have a muy lai meal, it didn’t immediately dawn on me that they meant that we were doing a very light meal! So, you just gotta keep on guessing…

A good thing about the Spanish is that they love poking fun at almost anything, especially themselves. If there is a corruption case in the government or a major scandal involving the royal family, count on the Spanish to make jokes, sing songs or write a parody about it. Like any country, people from the south like making fun or the people up north and visa versa. Just normal human behaviour, if you ask me. And of course there is nobody that the Spanish like making fun of more than the Andalucians, other than the Galicians. I heard this joke the other day, which actually may be true. I should mention beforehand that the word cotizar usually means to give a quote (ie. for a job or a piece of art) in Spanish. In English, the joke goes like this:

“They did a survey in Cádiz, asking people the meaning of ‘cotizar’ and 85% of the respondents said that it was a Scotch whisky.”

The Spanish will holler at this joke, but I always need a bit more time before I get it. So, as a Spanglish detective and dissector, I first need to take the syllables apart. Cotizar = Co-tiz-ar. Next, I imagine how Spanish may have omitted letters or altered the word. The sound ar could mean art, arch or ark, or as it were Sark. Thus taking my clue from the respondents, I get my answer. Cutty Sark will be pronounced cotizar by most Spanish, certainly by those who haven’t been to Scotland and tried the real stuff. How the name of a Scotch whisky, named after a clipper, which was named after a short shirt, as mentioned in the famous Robert Burns poem, could become mixed up with a Spanish quote, is way beyond me, but at least another Spanglish mystery is solved.

My absolutely favourite Spanglish experience was when we brought a couple of friends to visit the amazing 2000-year-old Roman theatre just 20 minutes outside Ronda. The entrance is free, if you are lucky and the guy who works at the gate hasn’t left for breakfast, lunch or his siesta. This particular day the gate was thankfully open. Just inside sat a sturdy farmer’s wife on a rock, cleaning an armful of wild vegetables, which people here use in soups and stews. I always like to talk to locals, especially anyone sitting in the middle of nowhere, with only a couple of free-roaming horses, a mule and a dozen sheep (aka the lawn mowers on the archaeological site), as company. She wanted to know where our visitors came from and obviously thought that Canada was in the UK. (not that far from the truth…) This brought her onto a topic she really liked called roy ro. In fact she had always wanted a roy ro. She started speaking about technical things and even threw out the undecipherable name of the roy ro designer. Thinking that this would forever be a Spanglish mystery, I left her to her work. A while later, walking amongst the theatre ruins of Acinipo, I got it. The Spanish pronounce double ll as a y and Andalucians do not pronounce s (or any other consonant for that matter) at the end of words.

Of course, it made perfect sense. The vegetable-cleaning lady had a lofty dream. She wanted a Rolls Royce!



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