You won’t hear much Spanglish in Mexico

Posted by on November 22, 2010

Mexican English month continues with a post by guest blogger Joseph D. Persico, an EFL teacher based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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If something sounds reasonable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. People sometimes assume that the Spanish spoken in Mexico, because of its proximity to the US, has more English words in it than, say, the Spanish of Spain or Argentina. My experience in Mexico, however, showed that this is not even remotely true.

One of my favorite anecdotes regarding Mexican Spanish has to do with the word used for cutter. In Mexico City, as it is here in Argentina, the English word cutter is used as regularly as its Spanish equivalent. However, I heard (and had confirmed, twice!) that in Mexicali (on the very border with the US), the English word is actually unknown and the Spanish word navaja is preferred. Of course, one example does not make a theory, but it does go to show you that you can’t really pigeonhole dialects.

I have not read any statistics about the percentage of angliscisms used in Mexican Spanish, but in Mexico City— where I lived for 3 years—there seemed to be a handful of colloquial English words that were in vogue, just as there were when I lived in Spain and just as there are here in Argentina.

Before anybody tells me I’m out of touch with reality and living in a “Tupperware” container, as they like to say in Argentina (speaking of anglicisms), please note that I am specifically referring to informal words that are in vogue, and not to terms adopted from the world of technology, business etc.; I can safely say that English words that are “in” in Mexican Spanish total about a baker’s dozen!

However, I have a theory (as usual!) as to why people from Spain or South America might think that Mexican Spanish is heavily influenced by the English language: this is because the sprinkling of colloquial English words used in Mexico is different from the sprinkling of colloquial English words used in Argentina, Spain (etc.), and, because foreign words usually jar on the ear, when speakers from these countries hear a Mexican use a colloquial English word in their speech, they probably think “Boy, there’s a lot of English in their Spanish!”.

Let’s have a look at some commonly used Mexican anglicisms (which I believe are not used in most other Spanish-speaking countries):

ride (dar ride or raite: to give a ride to somebody; in Spain they prefer the French auto-stop)
full (hasta el full: packed; a full is used in Argentina, but hasta el full is different enough that it stands out as an anglicism)
business (bisne: matter)
nice (nais: chic, elegant, classy)
hotdog (jotdog or jocho: hotdog)
bye (bai: bye; used in some other Spanish speaking countries, but still classifies as a regional use)
hippie (jipioso: hippie-ish)
lunch (lonche: lunch)
mall (mall, mol: mall, shopping mall, shopping center)
to check (checar; in other dialects of Spanish: chequear)
to rent (rentar; used in many Latin American countries)
happy (japi: buzzed, slightly drunk)

And, yes, while in Northern Mexico they talk about parking their trocas (as opposed to camionetas for truck), in Spain they prefer to aparcar (as opposed to estacionar for to park). But, I would bet that for all the angliscisms you hear being used in Mexico—even near the border with the US—you could think of just as many English words used in other dialects of Spanish. But what is most important to remember is that these foreign words that people make such a fuss about really only represent but a tiny fraction of the total words (20,000) that speakers actively use in their speech.

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Comments (4)
  • Good work, Joseph, very enjoyable entry. I have also wondered before whether Mexicans actually use more English words in their speech. Mexicans living in the U.S. definitely do for obvious reasons (e.g. “Te llamo pa’ ‘trás” meaning literally “I’ll call you back.”), but there are lots of anglicisms that speakers of other Spanish dialects use but which don’t exist in Mexican Spanish. “Flipar” (to flip out) in Peninsular Spanish is an example. It’d be interesting to know if there is a large enough corpus of spoken Spanish from the main regions (say, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Peru) that would show the occurrences of English words per, say, 1000 words in speech in order to come up with more reliable data.

    “Anglicism” would have to be better defined, though. Words like ‘escáner’ or ‘mouse’ wouldn’t have the same status as ‘baica’ (i.e. ‘bike’) or ‘guachar’ (i.e. to watch) because the latter aren’t accepted as standard lexical items due to the fact that they’re only used by Spanish speakers of particular social / regional backgrounds.

    Posted by Ramiro Padilla on 24th November, 2010
  • When I first went to Mexico, I was expecting it to be quite ‘Anglicized’, because of its proximity to America, but I actually found it to be a lot less so than, say, Lima (Peru), which is a lot further away.

    Posted by HulaGirl on 24th November, 2010
  • @HulaGirl: interesting; do you remember any that were widespead in Lime?

    @Ramiro: I’m glad you enjoyed it! I myself would like to see my theory backed up with a litle data. Re definimg Angliscisms, I was specifically referring to those that are regionalisms, not those which you’d hear in all/most all dialects of Spanish.

    Please let me know if you come across any statistics/data on Anglicisms.

    Posted by Joseph on 25th November, 2010
  • I agree with Ramon´s comment. “Shorts”, “lonch”, “un break”, “muy relax”, “basquetbol” and many other words are acceptable lexicon in Mexico and they are not used in Castellano.

    Posted by caitlin on 20th June, 2012
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