Spanglish as Literacy Tool: Toward an Understanding of the
Potential Role of Spanish-English Code-Switching in the
Development of Academic Literacy
This article reports findings from a qualitative study of Spanish-English code-switching—or
Spanglish—among bilingual Latina/Latino sixth graders at a middle school in East Los Angeles.
Analysis of the data revealed significant parallels between the skills embedded in students’ everyday
use of Spanglish and the skills that they were expected to master according to California’s sixthgrade
English language arts standards. In particular, students displayed an impressive adeptness
at (1) shifting voices for different audiences, and (2) communicating subtle shades of meaning. It
is argued that this skillful use of Spanglish could potentially be leveraged as a resource for helping
students to further cultivate related academic literacy skills. The article concludes with a discussion
of specific implications for how teachers might begin to leverage Spanglish as a pedagogical
resource by helping students to recognize, draw on, and extend the skills already embedded in
their everyday use of language.
Zulema: Page what?
Zulema: Twenty-something, no?
Caroline: Wait. This one? ¿Como ésta?
Zulema: Sí, circle. ¿Cuál es?
Caroline: Como ésta, mira. Como ésta. Esta está bien bonita.
Zulema: Sí, pero ¿qué page?
Caroline: A ver, ¿qué page? Twenty-one.1
The interaction above took place in a sixth-grade English language arts classroom
at a middle school in East Los Angeles. Students in this classroom often mixed
Spanish and English in conversation, engaging in a hybrid language practice that
many of them called Spanglish, and that most linguists refer to as Spanish-English
code-switching. During the 2007–2008 academic year, I conducted a qualitative
study in this classroom, exploring students’ everyday use of Spanglish, as well as
their attitudes and beliefs about this language practice. Students overwhelmingly
Martínez Spanglish as Literacy Tool 125
invoked what I call deficit rationales (Martínez, 2009) to explain their engagement
in Spanglish, essentially attributing their code-switching to a lack of proficiency
in one of the two languages. In stark contrast to these deficit rationales, I found
that these students used Spanglish in creative, skillful, and intelligent ways to make
meaning in social interaction.
I have discussed elsewhere the ways in which these students used Spanglish as
a semiotic tool, identifying seven key conversational uses—or functions—of this
everyday language practice (Martínez, 2009). In this article, I focus on a subset
of these conversational functions in order to explore two potentially generative
connections to academic literacy learning. Specifically, I discuss how students used
Spanglish to (1) shift voices for different audiences, and (2) communicate subtle
nuances of meaning, noting that these two uses of Spanglish overlap in important
ways with specific literacy skills emphasized in the English Language Arts Content
Standards for California Public Schools (California Department of Education,
1998). Using Lee’s (2007) cultural modeling framework, I argue that Spanglish is a
dynamic and creative language practice that has tremendous untapped potential
as a tool for literacy teaching and learning. Leveraging Spanglish as a resource, I
argue, could have a transformative impact on these students’ academic literacy
development by helping them to recognize, draw on, and extend the skills already
embedded in their everyday use of language.
What Is Spanglish ?
Interactions such as the one above are common in schools throughout the Los
Angeles Unified School District, where bilingual and emergent bilingual 2 Latina/
Latino students constitute a majority of the student population.3 Such interactions
are also becoming increasingly common in school districts nationwide, as demographic
shifts and changing immigration patterns continue to significantly reshape
the nation’s linguistic landscape (Gándara & Hopkins, 2010). Every day, bilingual
and emergent bilingual Latina/Latino students, such as Zulema and Caroline, successfully
communicate their thoughts and ideas using a combination of Spanish
and English, often referring to this hybrid language practice as Spanglish. Linguists
and other scholars refer to this practice as Spanish-English code-switching, noting
that it is an extremely common language contact phenomenon in bilingual communities
worldwide (Auer, 1998; Milroy & Muysken, 1995). In this article, I use the
terms Spanglish and Spanish-English code-switching interchangeably, recognizing
that neither sufficiently captures the complexity involved in this dynamic hybrid
language practice. I employ the latter when discussing relevant research literature,
so as to be consistent with the use of the term in most scholarship. More often than
not, however, I use the former because it is the preferred term among most of the
people that I know who engage in this language practice, including more than half
of the students with whom I have worked over the past 14 years.4
126 Research in the Teaching of English Volume 45 November 2010
Code-switching has been defined as “the juxtaposition within the same speech
exchange of passages of speech belonging to two different grammatical systems
or subsystems” (Gumperz, 1982, p. 59). Since the late 1960s, scholarship on codeswitching
has debunked popular perceptions that it is a deficient or haphazard
language practice. Blom and Gumperz (1972), for example, refuted the notion
that code-switching is not rule-governed, showing that it occurs in systematically
predictable ways. Subsequent research has extended this assertion by emphasizing
that grammatical constraints actually serve to govern the use of code-switching
(Joshi, 1985; Lipski, 1978; Poplack, 1980). Poplack (1980), for example, argued that
“code-switches will tend to occur at points in discourse where juxtaposition of L1
(primary language) and L2 (second language) elements does not violate a syntactic
rule of either language” (p. 586). Other researchers have since challenged Poplack’s
assertion, providing counter-examples and proposing their own explanations of
the factors that constrain code-switching (Joshi, 1985; Mahootian & Santorini,
1995). Although these scholars disagree as to the specific nature of grammatical
constraints, they come to a consensus on the issue of bilingual speaker competence.
The overwhelming majority of researchers agree that code-switching is not caused
by insufficient competence in one of the two languages, but rather reflects, at the
very least, the same level of grammatical competence as that reflected in the speech
of monolinguals (Lance, 1975; MacSwan, 1999; Poplack, 1981).
Related to this body of research is the observation that bilingual speakers sometimes
switch between two languages in order to sustain interaction when they are “at
a loss for words.” Zentella (1997) referred to this type of code-switching as crutching
or crutch-like switching because, like someone who relies on a crutch to walk, “a
bilingual who is stumped in one language can keep on speaking by depending on
a translated synonym as a stand-in” (p. 98). Crutching has long been the default
motivation for code-switching in the popular imagination. Indeed, laypeople’s
assumptions about Spanglish have historically attributed this language practice
to gaps in vocabulary, lack of education, improper control of language, and/or an
overall lack of proficiency in one or both of the languages in question (Gumperz,
1982; Lance, 1969; Romaine, 1995). As Zentella (1997) has shown, however, this
is not necessarily the primary motivating factor for most code-switching among
bilinguals. In her long-term ethnographic work in a bilingual New York Puerto
Rican speech community, for example, she observed that crutch-like switches constituted
only 25% of the total number of strategic switches that she documented
(Zentella, 1997). Zentella argued that code-switching is “more than a convenient
way to handle linguistic gaps” (1997, p. 99), explaining that it constitutes an active
and creative style of bilingual communication that often functions to establish
social identity and reaffirm ties with one’s community. Indeed, research across
multiple speech communities has demonstrated that code-switching is a valuable
linguistic resource that bilingual speakers utilize for various communicative
purposes (Milroy & Muysken, 1995).
Martínez Spanglish as Literacy Tool 127
Leveraging Diverse Students’ Cultural and Linguistic Resources
The current study builds on a substantial body of educational research that frames
linguistic and cultural diversity as a resource for teaching and learning (García,
2005; McKay & Wong, 1988; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992; Valdés, 2001).
Much of this scholarship informs and/or is informed by a related tradition of
ethnographic research on the everyday language practices of students of color
from working-class communities. Over the past three decades, ethnographers have
debunked deficit notions about these nondominant 5 students by demonstrating the
skill and intelligence embedded in their everyday language practices (Alim, 2004;
Goodwin, 1990; Heath, 1983; Orellana, 2001; Zentella, 1997). Taken together, this
ethnographic work has reframed nondominant students as competent and literate
learners. Educational researchers influenced by this tradition argue that, in order to
meet the educational needs of the nation’s increasingly diverse student population,
schools should promote what García (2005) referred to as a responsive approach
to curriculum and instruction. According to García, this approach requires that
educators acknowledge nondominant students as competent learners and respond
to the cultural and linguistic contexts surrounding their learning and development.
Within this broader body of scholarship, sociocultural researchers have recognized
the multiple resources and contributions that nondominant students bring
to schools, suggesting ways that these assets might be effectively leveraged for
academic learning (Lee, 2000; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Orellana &
Reynolds, 2008). In their groundbreaking work, Moll, Amanti, Neff, and González
(1992) demonstrated that many of the everyday social and cultural practices in
which Latina/Latino households engaged as part of familial and extended social
networks could be utilized as funds of knowledge—resources for academic learning
in school. Other scholars have focused on how students
Are you busy and do not have time to handle your assignment? Are you scared that your paper will not make the grade? Do you have responsibilities that may hinder you from turning in your assignment on time? Are you tired and can barely handle your assignment? Are your grades inconsistent?
Whichever your reason is, it is valid! You can get professional academic help from our service at affordable rates. We have a team of professional academic writers who can handle all your assignments.
Students barely have time to read. We got you! Have your literature essay or book review written without having the hassle of reading the book. You can get your literature paper custom-written for you by our literature specialists.
Do you struggle with finance? No need to torture yourself if finance is not your cup of tea. You can order your finance paper from our academic writing service and get 100% original work from competent finance experts.
While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.
Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.
In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.
Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.
We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!
We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.
Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.
We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.
Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.
There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.
Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.
We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.
You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.
We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.
You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.
Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.
You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.
The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.
Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.
You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.Read more
Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.Read more
Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.Read more
Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.Read more
By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.Read more