By Roy Bragg, August 5, 2012
God bless the USA and God bless mangled languages and heavily accented speech.
I occasionally encounter people who correct my mispronunciation of Spanish words. I figure they’re either anal retentive or they’re trying to preserve the language’s integrity. I respect the latter, although I will goof on the former by mispronouncing intentionally.
And then there are people who have difficulty pronouncing English words such as “sandwich,” “yes,” and “shoes.” Again, speaking for myself, I use “sangwish” exclusively because I happen to think it’s cool. And I want to fit in.
The English-only people would have none of this. They want to make English the official language. They lost that fight in Texas years ago, but they’re still pushing it on the national level. Mauro E. Mujica, chairman of a group called U.S. English, testified before Congress last month in support of “The English Language Unity Act.”
Unity? Please. Even native English speakers can’t speak the same language. There are regional quirks and colloquialisms that make it impossible to standardize the language. I’m looking at you, Louisiana and New England.
We get quirks here, too. I once worked with a woman who swore that Saspamco — a rural Bexar County community named after the now-defunct San Antonio Sewer Pipe Manufacturing Co. factory — was pronounced “Sauce-pom-co.” I told her it was an acronym of English words, but she would have none of it. We argued about it a bit, then we dropped the subject and went out for a sangwish with co-workers.
Native English speakers use lots of Spanish, such as “nada,” “adios,” “hola,” “mi casa es su casa,” etc. And then there’s the variant of a Spanish obscenity used by legions of English-first people as a substitute for “widget.” Good luck weeding that one out of our language.
And you’ve got to love Splangish, full of Mex-ized variations of English words, such as “honrun” for “home run,” and “la troca” for “pickup truck.” I saw a blurb on the Web that claims in Nicaragua, manhole covers are called “man-hole-less.” That’s outstanding.
The point is that cross-breeding — among people, cultures and languages — is good because it destroys stereotypes. When you do that, you get Latino families who don’t speak Spanish and Anglo families enrolling their kids in schools with bilingual curriculums. You get quinceañeras with Anglo and black girls among the court of honor and piñatas at the birthday parties of English-first kids.
I’ve just described San Antonio. No place is perfect, but San Antonio does a better job at getting along than any other major city. Lots of cities talk a big game, but there’s an NPR crowd in every town. People actually embrace each other’s cultures — and more important, each other — here. And this is true all over the city.
And mangled English and botched Spanish is proof of that. We still have plenty of economic hurdles to confront, but when it comes to face-to-face interactions with each other, we’re hitting a honrun. As long as we’re screwing up each other’s languages because we’re trying to speak with each other, we’re heading in the right direction.
It’s a lesson that the rest of the state and the rest of the country should learn. If they did, they wouldn’t discuss people as if they were cattle that need to be herded up and moved out. Or fenced.
If we’re doing it right, we will continue to see ourselves in others. And at that point, we’ll understand that we’re all walking in the same choos.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Bragg’s blog at http://blog.mysanantonio.com/atlarge. Follow @roybragg on Twitter