No Se Mancha staff writer Jesse Rogers on a developing language
“Mis amigos back home dicen que hablo en reggaeton,” proclaims a confident, young Paraguayan transplant at the start of AT&T’s new TV spot, Between Two Worlds.
It’s hardly the first time advertisers have turned to Spanglish – a spontaneous, acrobatic mix of Spanish and English – to appeal to young, culture conscious Latinos.
Yet it may be the first to capture that magical moment in which an English word – perhaps by replacing V’s with B’s or adding the suffix ando (Spanish for ing) – is catapulted into the lush, vivid lexicon of Spanglish.
Often thought of as a lesser lingo, a sort of pidgin Spanish spoken by first and second generation immigrants, Latino millennials are reclaiming Spanglish as a progressive form of expression full of inventiveness and spunk.
And brand managers, conscious of their growing buying power, are starting to take note.
In Vive Sin Compromisos, the 30-second version of AT&T’s campaign, young, hip Latinos of diverse backgrounds effortlessly weave between English and Spanish as they discuss what living without obligations – in Spanish, vivir in compromisos – means to them.
But is Spanglish its own language, requiring, as the commercial seems to suggest, a deft mastery of both English and Spanish?
For renowned linguist Cecilia Alcalá, today’s Spanglish is an example of “code switching” – the practice of alternating between two languages in the context of a single conversation, sentence, or phrase.
A precondition for Spanglish, she argues, is that speakers be “very proficient” in the two original languages.
But Alcalá would be among the first to acknowledge that views toward Spanglish are not always positive, especially in the Latino community.
For many Latinos, Spanglish can mean insufficient integration into American culture, on the one hand. It can also reflect a certain irreverence towards the Spanish language and Hispanic culture on the other.
The stigma of Spanglish is no greater felt, perhaps, than among the ranks of Hispanic advertising and media executives, the gatekeepers of Latino culture and identity in the age of social media and mass communication.
“(TV) ads have to be directed at both the first and second generation of Hispanic families in this country,” Willy Villarreal, vice president of multicultural communications for the public relations firm Edelman told me, in an interview for El Diario La Prensa.
“That being said, I think the only time you can go wrong is if you fail to do your homework and don’t understand the sensitivities and cultural richness of your audience,” he added.
This, more than anywhere else, is where AT&T got it right. Instead of aiming for a single, typecast Hispanic or Latino market, the spot captures the diversity of cultures, colors, accents and above all, personalities, of those now calling Spanglish their own.
Jesse Rogers is an energy analyst focusing on natural gas markets in Latin America. He previously worked as a finance and politics reporter for Impremedia and as a research assistant for Mexico City’s Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE).