Pero Like, Is Spanglish the Language of the Future?

As the share of U.S. Latinos who speak Spanish at home drops and those who speak English grows, could Spanglish one day overtake Spanish as the second-most spoken language in the U.S.?

You know a phenomenon has crossed cultural boundaries when it's used by everyone from pop icon Jennifer Lopez to animated Peter Griffin of "Family Guy." And while it would be easy to pigeonhole Spanglish, the fastest growing hybrid language in the world, as a mere pop culture creation, the reality couldn't be further from the truth.

And as prevalent as Spanglish is already, many believe that influence will only expand as generations of Latinx youth grow up, start families and enter the workforce. 

“Spanglish is a major phenomenon,” said Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latino and Latin American Culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

“[Spanglish] is the fastest growing hybrid language in the world. I would say it is the most important linguistic phenomenon in the Hispanic world, in the Spanish-speaking world, and in the English-speaking world,” he said. 

What is Spanglish?

Spanglish is the blend of Spanish and English that singer and rapper Pitbull is famous for, but it can also manifest as “calques.” Calques are words or phrases borrowed from another language. For example, the phrase, “Te llamo pa’ atrás” is a calque borrowed from the English language. Why? Because it’s a direct translation of “I will call you back,” a phrase not used in Spanish. 

“It's important to call attention to this fact that you can be engaging in Spanglish without using words in the other language simply because you are thinking in a language, but then kind of projecting the words in the other one,” Stavans said. 

That’s why some refer to Spanglish as “U.S. Spanish,” too. The blend of Spanish and English has given birth to new words and phrases, like “ahí te watcho" (see you later); “pero, like” (but, like); “airdropear” (airdrop); “parquear” (to park) and “lockear” (to lock). 

As the share of U.S. Latinos who speak Spanish at home drops and those who speak English grows, could Spanglish one day overtake Spanish as the second-most spoken language in the U.S.? (English is No. 1, by the way.)  

“I foresee Spanglish becoming more and more well established,” Stavans said. 

Here’s why Stavans believes that. Latinos currently make up 19% of the U.S. population, and they are expected to make up 28% of the country by 2060, according to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau. And as an increasing share of those Latinos are first-, second- and third-generation Americans, Stavans believes Spanglish will play a bigger role in their lives than it did for their parents. 

The Pew Research Center did a survey in 2009 and found that 70% of young Latinx people between 5 and 17 years old in the U.S. said they spoke Spanglish. A 2015 survey from Pew found 62% of U.S. Latinos say they speak English or are bilingual. 

Spanglish could be in for a period of growth, according to Stavans. 

“Young people who grew up with Spanglish and are happy and indeed committed to it — they are entering the workforce,” said Stavans. “They are entering media. They are entering politics. They are entering the world of business.” 

One of those people has built a music career off of what she calls her “pocha” Spanish and Inglewood, California, English. 

“I have dreams in Spanglish. I think in Spanglish. It’s a literal lifestyle,” singer, songwriter and actress Becky G told NBCLX. 

Becky G has successfully carved out a career in the "hyphen" between English and Spanish, with numerous chart-topping singles. One of them, “Sin Pijama,” became Vevo’s second-most viewed music video in the world in 2018.

In the song, Becky G says, “Espero tu call, vente dame el gol.” The singer is saying, "I'm waiting for your call, come give me the goal." Becky G uses the English word "call" instead of "llamada," presumably because it rhymes with "gol," but because it is also a widely-used English word Spanish-speakers will probably understand.

But it wasn’t always that way. Growing up, the singer said she was hesitant to speak Spanglish, especially around relatives who grew up in Mexico and were fluent in Spanglish. 

“It was very normal for me to have a conversation in Spanish and say, 'Cómo se dice?,’ and then say the English word,” she said. “And then be like, 'You get that right? Like you understood that?' I don’t speak Spanish like my primas who are from Mexico. Once I made up my own language, which a lot of us did and identified as Spanglish, I just felt more confident and more comfortable. I just felt more myself.” 

The 23-year-old nabbed starring roles in the movie adaptation of “Power Rangers” and hosts a podcast with Amazon Music called “En la Sala with Becky G,” in which she “code-switches,” or oscillates between Spanish and English. The episode titles fully embrace the dialect with names like “Healing la salud mental” and “Your Vote, Tu Voz with Kamala Harris and America Ferrera.” 

“I live by the saying, 'We are not doing the crossover. We are the crossover,'” Becky G said. “We are the generations that love our latinidad, our Latin roots, but also live in the other 100%, which is growing up here in the U.S. Nowadays, I feel like, we don’t have to choose.”