When two languages meet, do they create a “language sandwich”? Or do they result in one or both languages being changed irrevocably?
Linguists from The Australian National University and Pennsylvania State University may have found the answer.
“It’s generally assumed that if you have a community speaking more than one language, you will end up with some kind of mix—a Spanglish, Chinglish or Franglais, for example” says Professor Catherine Travis
“But when you examine what is actually going on, this is not a foregone conclusion.”
They looked at northern New Mexico, where Spanish and English have been spoken for over 150 years. What they found was that the bilinguals there were adept at keeping their two languages separate, even while switching between them.
“People can incorporate words from the other language, and switch back and forth between languages, but it need not impact on their grammars at all – it doesn’t necessarily change either language.”
Instead, they speak what one of the New Mexican bilinguals described as a “language sandwich”.
“That’s where ingredients from both languages are combined, but they are not blended — rather, they are stacked on top of each other, each internally intact,” Professor Travis says.
She adds: “People have worried about the shape of Spanish because of borrowings from English.”
“But English has masses of borrowings and that hasn’t affected the integrity of English. We’ve seen the same here for Spanish, and this has been demonstrated for other languages too.”