Spanish Morphs on the Net

You hear it in the subway, ''Hey Carmen, dame un token!'' In the West Village, ''Mira la drag queen, que fierce!'' But Spanglish in cyberspace?''ÁSi!'' say a growing number of Latinos who are reshaping Spanish on the Net by appropriating as much English jargon into Spanish as Silicon Valley can dish out. For the sake of efficiency, linguistically correct terms like dar un golpecito are dismissed in favor of clickear. This hybridization is not limited to Spanish-Russian, French, Japanese, and countless other languages are also coping with this latest form of American imperialism. Yet Latinos, perhaps because so many live close to the U.S., have been in the vanguard of making American technospeak their own.Cyber-Spanglish could be confused with the Nuyorican Spanglish heard in East Harlem-but where the latter is sometimes denounced as the language of the poor and of immigrants, cyber-Spanglish has class cachet. Its users are mostly native Spanish speakers outside the U.S. who have high levels of education and speak two or more languages. These demographics reflect trends all over the world, where people with advanced technical skills, most of whom understand English, are the first to acquire Internet access. When there are no quick translations of U.S. technical terms, these people are the best positioned to adapt.Even when American companies consider foreign sensitivities to the hegemony of English by proposing translations, confusion and disagreements abound. ''Microsoft and Apple can't agree on how to translate terms like file menu, and brand loyalties are so severe that the English term becomes a neutral option,'' says Mark Tobler of the Berlitz Interactive Group, who supervises translations of new media for American corporate clients. Such is the case with cyber-Spanglish, which spread because of regional variations in vocabulary among Spanish-speaking nations. Given the lexical differences, the incorporation of English was often the most expedient choice.Even cyber-Spanglish needs to be codified, and there is now a burgeoning number of listservs and glossaries designed to translate and standardize terminology for Spanish speakers. The CyberSpanglish Web page, founded by Yolanda Rivas, a Ph.D. candidate in communication technology and policy at the University of Texas at Austin, is the definitive starting point. ''Latinos are very carefree when it comes to adopting new terms,'' says Rivas, who has compiled a 350-word cyber-Spanglish dictionary matching Spanglish terms with their traditional Spanish and English translations.Rivas says she receives almost entirely positive feedback, but arguments over the terms found in her list rage elsewhere in cyberspace. A typical example is a recent topic on a Spanglish listserv concerning the translation of FAQ (frequently asked questions). Avelino Lopez-Garcia of Spain proposes P+F (preguntas mas frecuentes), which elicits an impassioned objection from Patrick O'Callaghan of Venezuela, who denounces gratuitous translations of Internet acronyms. Although O'Callaghan expresses dismay over his fellow Venezuelans' use of Spanglish-isms like printer and file instead of impresora and archivo, he believes acronyms stand apart and translating them only leads to more confusion.Such passions are not unusual when the subject is English's incursion into other tongues. ''It's an example of the humiliation of the Russian language,'' says Eddie Golovatch, the director of Eastern European translations at Globe Language Services in New York. Golovatch explains that most computer users in the former Soviet bloc are engineers, not linguistics majors, so Russian and Polish have witnessed the wholesale, untranslated adoption of complex English terminology. Language institutes are addressing the issue, but Golovatch is pessimistic. ''The entire technology industry in Russia is oriented to the U.S. I don't think it will change.''Similar efforts to translate English into native terms have produced varying strategies around the world. In January France enacted anti-English broadcast legislation that may eventually extend to the Internet. In sharp contrast, the Japanese have never bothered with translating foreign terms-they have a foreign-word alphabet, katakana, and give every borrowed term a Japanese pronunciation.Other organizations are ambivalent. The New York-based Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Espanola, whose mission is ''the unity and defense of Spanish,'' is open-minded about cyber-Spanglish. ''Borrowing has always been a normal phenomenon in Spanish,'' says Odon Betanzos, the Academia's director. ''It only bothers me if it's a consequence of a writer's laziness.''Adds Rivas: ''If technology is advancing so fast that our languages can't catch up, what are we supposed to do? We can't talk about cutting-edge technology with a backwards linguistic mentality.''Corruption of language issues aside, Latinos on either side of the cyber-Spanglish divide can take solace in recalling the medieval Arab colonization of the Iberian peninsula, which lasted over 600 years in some regions. Rather than suffer eradication, Spanish simply absorbed all the Arabic words it needed and went on to become one of the world's most widely spoken languages. With this historical perspective, it's no wonder cyber-Spanglish speakers have no qualms about ''surfeando el Web.''Related Spanish/Spanglish SitesCyberSpanglish Web site: Norteamericana de la Lengua Espanola: de Internet en Espanol: del Listserv Spanglish: Problems With Franglish: Basico de Internet: de Internet en Espanol: Spanish Dictionary: de Informaticas (some interesting definitions and Spanglish pitfalls):


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