In exploring the formation of Spanglish, award-winning essayist Ilan Stavans reflects on, andalso codifies, the most transforming linguisticphenomena in America in the last one hundredyears -- one that may predict our future as a nation and that of our entire hemisphere.
No tool is more useful in understanding the changes inculture than language. In today's America, communicationis built around inclusion and efficiency, and this is no more apparent than in the blending of the two most spoken languages in the United States: English and Spanish.
Spanish, the nation's unofficial second language, isimmediately obvious and audible on airwaves and mediascreens, streets and classrooms, from one coast to the other. But el español has not spread on this side of the Atlantic in its unadulterated Iberian form. Instead it is metastasizing into something altogether new: an astonishingly creative code of communication known as Spanglish, which in large part is the result of sweeping demographic changes, globalization, and the newly emergent "Latin Fever" that is sweeping the country. It is used predominantly by people of Hispanic descent but is also embraced by others in the United States, the Americas as a whole, and even Spain.
Naturally controversial, Spanglish outrages English-language-only proponents, who seek to ban all languages other than English north of the Rio Grande. Equal in their outrage are Spanish-language purists and the supporters of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language in Madrid, as they deem Spanglish a cancer to their precious and centuries-old tongue. With elegance and erudition, Ilan Stavans reflects on the verbal rift that has given birth to Spanglish. He fascinatingly shows the historical tensions between the British and Spanish Empires, and how in 1588, with the sinking of the grand Spanish Armada, the rivalry between the two empires was solidified, and to this day, the differences in religion and culture continue their fight linguistically.
He ponders major historical events, such as the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty of 1848 and the Spanish-American War fifty years later, as agents of radical linguistic change, although, as he rightly states, it is in the second half of the twentieth century that Spanglish sped into our daily reality.
Stavans also points out the similarities and differencesSpanglish has with Yiddish, so thoroughly blending intothe American vocabulary, and the much-debated Ebonics, which made headlines in the early 1990s as a uniquelyAfrican American blend of proper English and urban slang.Ultimately, Stavans deftly proves that the manner in whicha language stays alive is through mutation and that itssurvival doesn't depend on academies but on the averageperson's need for expression. This explains why it is increasingly used not only in kitchens and school but in music, TV, film, and literature, all expressions of the American collective soul.
Coupled with Stavans's insights is a substantial lexicon that shows the breadth and ingenuity of this growing vocabulary -- at times, semantically obvious, then also surprisingly inventive. An ingenious translation into Spanglish of the first chapter of Don Quixote de La Mancha comes as a bonus. The added impact proves that Spanglish is more than a language -- it is the perfect metaphor for an America that is a hybrid, a sum of parts.
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Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture and Five College–40th Anniversary Professor at Amherst College.
Ilán Stavans nació en México, en 1961. Cursó estudios de posgrado en la Universidad de Columbia, y ahora tiene la cátedra Lewis-Sebring de cultura latina y latinoamericana en Amherst College.From Publishers Weekly:
With this vivid socio-linguistic study and dictionary, Stavans brings Spanglish out of el barrio and into the academy, where he has been "livin' la jerga loca" since he first taught a much-hyped course called "The Sounds of Spanglish" in the late '90s. Professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, Stavans has made it his project to codify, analyze and celebrate the slang he defines as the "encounter between cultures that is also a record of abundant past transactions." The result is this pan-Hispanic reference work, which includes a lively introduction and a lexicon of 4,500 words. In his introduction, Stavans, a Jewish Mexican immigrant, details how he fell in love with the rich, complex language. He compares Spanglish to jazz, Ebonics and Yiddish, peppering his analysis with anecdotes and slang as he considers the jargon's significance in terms of class and Latino identity. Stavans's introductory essay examines the historical context of Spanglish, tracing it to the U.S. annexation of Mexican territories in the early to mid-19th century. (The essay also offers a brief history of Spanish in the New World and of Spanish-language lexicography.) As for the debate over this evolving language (critics say it indicates a "broken frame of mind," hinders successful assimilation, and desecrates a noble language, while celebrants view Spanglish as "a positive manifestation of the Hispanic spirit") Stavans emphatically lands in the latter camp. From abajar (to descend) to zumear (to zoom), the entries in the dictionary include pronunciation, part of speech, gender, translation, Spanish or English root, and the occasional illustrative sentence. Stavans also includes his controversial Spanglish translation of the first chapter of Don Quixote. This volume should prompt spirited discussion among students of linguistics and Latin American studies.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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