Borders are inherently interesting, as places where two different cultures meet and, usually, blend together. Of course this is often especially true of languages, as can be seen in areas where nations with two different languages share a border. Take Catalan, for example. It’s much more similar to French than Castilian Spanish is, due to Catalonia’s proximity to France, and history of cultural exchange.
English, being so widely-spoken, has picked up many words from other languages, both from indigenous languages of English-speaking countries, and the languages of immigrants. I could spend hours writing about that, but what the prompt made me realise is that the United States is the only English-speaking country to share a border with a country with another first language (and there is also of course the Vermont-Quebec border in the north).
When I was a child, I didn’t understand when watching TV, why some places in America had Spanish names. But as soon as I was old enough to have a proper look at a globe and become aware of the different native languages of different countries, it all made sense. Which is why close to the Mexican border you’ll find widespread use of Chicano English, a dialect of English spoken mainly by Mexican Americans, but also by others of different descent. Apart from the obvious usage of Spanish words, the language is also characterised by a rhythm much closer to Spanish than English.
It’s quite interesting actually that even though the South is often stereotyped as being conservative, racist and behind-the-times, it is in fact quite culturally diverse, in linguistic terms. There are other less common dialects with a strong Latin-American influence, different varieties of African-American English, the French-influenced Cajun English of Louisiana, as well as the Creole language of the same state, which mixes English, French, Native American, and African languages. That’s quite an impressive level of diversity, and in many ways represents many of the positive idealisations of the United States, as a nation where different ethnic groups can all come together as equals and share their cultures, whatever about the historical reality of that at times (which I won’t get into here because there are many more qualified to do so. Suffice it to say, it’s not always been perfect).
The history of the word border itself is also quite revealing about how we use it now. It comes from the old Germanic borte, which could also be used to refer to trimming or a ribbon. As people talk more and more about border control in Europe, and a particular person has a vision of a yuge wall between the United States and Mexico, I think it’s useful to remind ourselves that borders were envisioned simply as lines delineating the edge of an area, and not necessarily as barriers between countries. We should remember that borders are trimmings which we can still look over and, if not necessarily (and practically) always completely open, at least flexible.