The respected Pew Hispanic Center in Washington recently released an exhaustive report on Hispanic media. Fine report, great data. The conclusion: “Hispanic media” are doing well – better than English language media in terms of revenues, circulation and number of media companies.
However, in describing Spanish language media, the authors refer to Spanish as a “foreign” language. In sharing the report with a bilingual Cuban-American communications professional I said I took issue with that. A series of emails ensued, my friend challenging me at every turn.
Spanish, I said, is not “foreign” because it is part of American society – omnipresent, palpable, visible, felt daily in countless ways. I add here that the term “foreign language” is a vestige from decades past when anything not distinctly “American” was regarded as foreign.
About 40 million people in the United States, excluding Puerto Rico, speak Spanish, making it not a “foreign” language but, yes, our “second language.” Imagine! The report calls “foreign” a language used in television newscasts that beat the ratings of news broadcasts in English in several markets.
My friend argued that English is the language of corporate boardrooms, courts and government. “True, but no matter,” I countered. Corporations use Spanish outside the boardroom, courts provide Spanish language interpretation, and even the General Services Administration (GSA) has an office charged with the correct use of Spanish in federal agencies.
In fact, I added, the North American Academy of the Spanish Language (Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española, ANLE) has an agreement with the GSA´s GobiernoUSA, the Spanish language portal of the Federal Government, wherein GSA recognizes ANLE as the authority on Spanish language usage in the United States. GobiernoUSA helps federal agencies assure correct use of Spanish in their communications. Those agencies, moreover, have websites in Spanish, and most have call centers to handle inquiries from Spanish-speakers.
ANLE also has a project to identify and describe what it calls “estadounidismos,” or “United States-isms,” terms used here that have become part of the Spanish of the United States. I highlight “of” because ANLE maintains that Spanish as spoken and written in the United States has its own norms, usage and meanings.
The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language in Madrid (Real Academia de la Lengua Española, RAE) accepts “Chileanisms,” “Mexicanisms” or “Colombianisms.” So why not accept “estadounidismos (derived from estadounidense, the Spanish language term for Americans?”
In 1979, I gave a speech titled “The Latino-ization of the United States.” I forecast that demographic, geopolitical and economic realities would make us a more Latino society. My prediction was prescient. English is a minority language in this hemisphere. Today, the Federal Government recognizes today´s realities. Corporate America, steadily increasing its advertising in Spanish, also recognizes these realities.
Spanish, a foreign language? No way, José! The authors of the Pew report should get with the program. Spanish is undeniably the second language of the United States, around us all the time – everywhere. It permeates our society. Puh-leeze! It is not foreign at all!
Frank Gómez, a retired career Foreign Service Officer, corporate executive and professor of translation, is a member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language.