Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Spanglish - Book review

Listen and learn, of lovers of language. Elan Stavans is a most unstuffy professor/writer who loves languages and does not place them on a pedestal but rather revels in the richness and protean qualities of living languages. No language stays the same. That's why we need footnotes or a glossary to read Shakespeare. The "pure language" has never and will never exist and this book finely illustrates that as seen through the lens of Spanglish - ie. Spanish that has adopted English words into its vocabulary and grammar.

The book is in 3 parts: the first is a 54 page memoir on the author's first exposure to Spanglish in New York City in the 1980's and his musings on Spanglish as compared to Ebonics (African American "lingo" or "idiom") or Yiddish (Hebrew mixed with many Eastern European languages). He is careful enough to note where he can see similarities but he does not go overboard and falsely impose similarities to fit a preconceived argument. There are many wonderful examples of Spanglish that just make you smile. My favorite, "Entre, entre y tome un asiento" The intended meaning is "Enter, enter and take a seat."but connventional Spanish would translate it as, "Between, between and drink a chair." This stuff is wonderful.

The second part is 185 pages and is I what believe to be just the beginning of a dictionary of Spanglish. It translates the word and tells you what English word it evolved from. It cites in what city it is most frequently heard and the national group that uses this word. Of course, since it was published 3 years ago it is probably changing as people move around the country. That's OK since it is more proof of language being a living thing.

The last part of the book is a translation into Spanglish of the first chapter of Don Quijote. I have to say that it makes my head spin to read it but this is mostly a good thing. It is an experience that I can only compare to reading A Clockwork Orange. In that book Anthony Burgess invents a slang mixture of Russian and English. Those of you who are non-Spanish speakers but have a general interest is languages will probably enjoy the first part but have no use for the second and third parts of this book. (borrow it from the library - oops, sorry Amazon!) For those who speak and/or study Spanish it is well worth buying this book. (Don't just sit there - click on the above link!)

To hear more of Ilan Stavans thoughts I recommend listening to this podcast that was recorded back in September. Another keeper and free!


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