The Evolving Language of Second Generation Immigrants

Thanks to the hit 2004 Adam Sandler film, Spanglish, most people are familiar with the term and concept of “Spanglish,” meaning a fusion of two languages that includes elements of both Spanish and English. Linguists are seeing an interesting phenomenon in second generation immigrants, which is especially prevalent in urban ethnic communities.

This “evolution of language” is often observed in second generation immigrants altering the sentence structure of their new community’s language to mimic the language structure of their native tongue. For “Spanglish”, grammatic rules within the family’s native Spanish language are applied to their usage of English. And this is observed not just in immigrants to the United States, but all over the world.

For example, in Germany, if you wanted to mention that you were going to the movies tomorrow, you could say, “Ich gehe morgen ins Kino,” which directly translates to “I go tomorrow to the cinema.” But children of urban immigrants will more commonly say “Morgen ich geh Kino”, which translates literally to “tomorrow I go cinema.” Interestingly, this variation in language follows its own grammatical rules that can make it easier to learn. 

Just as “Spanglish” has created a hybrid, evolved language, other languages, like the German example, are seeing this same evolution. Combining words from two languages or altering sentence structure to mimic another language are just two examples of how language is evolving with second generation immigrants.

Evolving Dialects 

This same phenomenon can be witnessed in other parts of the world.  Kiezdeutch is a dialect among urban children of Arab, Somali or Turkish descent in Germany. These children tend to use a different form of spoken German than the official language.  Similar dialects have emerged in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands as an ever-increasing number of people immigrate from the Middle East and Africa to Europe.

In Senegal, the Wolof language is somewhat complex in that it uses eight genders for nouns. But non-native Wolof-speakers, have developed a new simplified language which uses only one gender marker. Another example of this the lingua franca of Indonesia. Indonesian is a language used by speakers of hundreds of other languages as a second language. As a result, the children of these non-native speakers have developed numerous dialects throughout Indonesian-speaking regions as well many other parts of the world.

This type of language variation is a result of a streamlining of the language in such a way that the new version is more “user friendly”.

Students of History and Language predict that these hybrid languages will impact more traditionally spoken languages, which is a phenomenon that as been observed for centuries. These changes will ultimately effect translation and interpreting, as professional translators and interpreters must be aware of any variations in language use, and incorporate them depending on their target audience.