spanish English

Had enough anglicisms?

In October, we return to Europe and we’ll be exploring English in Spain! To kick off the Spanish English campaign, we start with a guest blog by Joseph Persico about the impact of English on Spanish and vice versa. Joseph D. Persico is currently compiling what could be the largest bilingual dictionary ever dedicated to a single dialect of Spanish. He teaches a seminar on spoken English for teachers and translators, as well as E.F.L. courses for adult learners in Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Over 15 years I have lived in three Spanish-speaking countries. I know that people can get very sensitive about accepting English words into their language but I’m going to open this post by declaring that, outside of the United States, there is no need to worry about the influence of English on the Spanish language.

People are not forced to use dictionaries, of course, and most Spanish or English speakers don’t go around consulting the dictionary every time they hear something they think may not be “an official word”; they simply go about their daily lives, doing their daily business, and, in the process, incorporate new words into their language.

Most Spanish speakers are familiar with the dictionary published by the Real Academia Española (RAE). Some people pay attention to the Academy’s recommendations, but at the end of the day, most speakers use the words they want and don’t worry about whether the RAE has approved of an anglicism (= an English word used in Spanish) or not.

So, who, then, is it that really accepts new words into a language?

YOU! Because of the nature of language, it is “we the people” who accept or reject foreign words into our mother tongue.

So, what exactly is the problem with (what appear to be) so many anglicismos in Spanish? Well, I say nothing! The issue is that many people don’t know just how common and natural it is for words to travel across languages, and they worry that their language is being invaded by foreign words.

Some English speakers have this same concern. There are people who think that English should lose words and expressions that aren’t of Anglo-Saxon origin. But this is not going to happen anytime soon (unfortunately for them). To give you an idea of how heterogeneous the English lexicon is, take a look at these facts:

Did you know that: there are more than 120 languages that make up the English lexicon? This means that English is one of the least pure languages you’ll find on Earth.

What if I told you that: the percentage of English words that comes from the French is estimated at around 40? This helps explain why English may have more words than any other language, and why there are so many cognates between English and Spanish.

There’s more! According to Bill Bryson, thanks to early Spanish settlers in the United States, 500 words entered English from Spanish. And, according to the Oxford English Dictionary,1,650 words have entered English directly from the Spanish. Interestingly, many foreign words in Spanish have also reached the English language.

For example, of 4,000 Arabic words that exist in the Spanish lexicon, many are also used in English (often after going through another language first!). Examples include:

alchemy, alcohol, alfalfa, algebra, algorithm, amber, apricot [> Spanish: albaricoque], assassin, caliber, checkmate, chemistry, coffee, cotton [ >Middle English cotoun, > Old French coton, > Old Italian cotone, > Arabic quṭn, quṭun, which is actually where the Spanish word algodón comes from]

There are also Amerindian words which found a second home in Spanish and a third home in English. Canoa was the first word from the Americas to make it back to Spain, and from there it passed into English as canoe, in 1555!

From Mexico, English gets many words, for example:

avocado [> Nahuatl ahuacatl, which in the Spanish of many Latin American countries became aguacate], chili, chocolate, cocoa, coyote, tequila, tomato

From Arawak: hurricane, iguana, tobacco etc.

From the Carib: barbecue, cayman, canoe, guava, maize, papaya, etc.

From Mayan: cigar, and more.

From Quechua come: alpaca, coca, condor, gaucho, guanaco (which I had never heard in English, but is common in Argentine slang), jerky, lagniappe (which in South America became yapa), llama, mate (the tealike beverage drunk in Argentina, Bolivia, southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), pampa, puma, etc.

From Taino: hammock, potato (from patata, the word that is used for potato in Spain), etc.

From Tupi: buccaneer, cannibal, cashew, cougar, jacaranda, maraca, petunia, piranha, tapioca, etc.

So, now what do you think about the influence of English on Spanish?

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Joseph D. Persico


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