- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

Shakespeare and Cervantes may be stirring in their tombs as "The Sounds of Spanglish" trip off tongues in a four-credit course at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

Or maybe they are posthumously enjoying the coming together of their versions of the two languages, which, after all, were undergoing modifications and word inventions at the time the two literary giants were taking quill pen to paper.

Spanglish, in fact, is the coming language in the Americas and "as time goes by will solidify its status," according to Ilan Stavans, a professor of Spanish who is offering the course at the Massachusetts liberal arts college.

From San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and points in between, Spanglish has become a fact of radio, television, newsprint and pop culture life, much to the dismay of many of the hemisphere's intelligentsia.

Despite heavy criticism from both Spanish language and English language "purists," Mr. Stavans maintains that Spanglish is "the poetry of the people," and, as such, deserves a place in academia.

The first-of-its-kind course, given in English, is designed as a broad survey to explain "the clash, encounter or dialogue between these two languages and cultures," said Mr. Stavans, a Mexican of Jewish heritage who has a doctorate from Columbia University in New York.

A major criticism has come from those Spanish quarters, where the new form of expression is seen more as an invasion of Spanish by English, rather than the other way around, and as a prime example of U.S. cultural imperialism.

But Mr. Stavans says that Spanglish is rooted in the original invasion of the Americas by Spain and that Spanish was the imperial tool of that era.

Spanish never was simply transplanted to the Americas, but instead adapted to the new lands where it spread, taking words and expressions from the Indian people that were conquered along the way. The Spanish spoken in Latin America is an "acquired artifact," he said.

"Spanglish is not, as the media portrays it, a recent phenomenon," the professor said during a recent interview. "You can find Spanglish spoken and even written in the middle of the 19th century after the Louisiana Purchase and the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo, both of which paved the way for the U.S. absorption of Spanish-speaking populaces.

"Spanglish didn't just appear, rootless and out of the blue," he said.

Nor did the languages of Cervantes and Shakespeare. The first grammar of Castilian Spanish, for instance, was published in 1492, to cap efforts for a unified language that would help centralize political and social power in Spain. That was the same year Columbus was discovering the New World and Spain was "purifying" its culture by expelling its Muslims and Jews.

Castilian Spanish, said Mr. Stavans, absorbed the various dialects of the Iberian Peninsula, where vulgar Latin had been spoken over the centuries.

English scholars readily acknowledge all the outside influences that went into modern English: from the Angles, Jutes and Saxons, Old English, German, Scandinavian, Greek, Latin, French seemingly ad infinitum.

In fact, it has been noted that of the 17,677 words that Shakespeare used in his 37 plays, 154 sonnets and two narrative poems, he made up 1,700 or 10 percent of them. These include: accommodation, assassination, auspicious, baseless, castigate, countless, critic, dislocate, eventful, exposure, frugal, generous, hurry, impartial, lapse, lonely, majestic, obscene, pious, radiance, sanctimonious and submerge.

Spanglish, said Mr. Stavans, is not only spoken, sung and written in the United States, but also is alive and well in the Caribbean, Mexico, "all of South America," and even Spain.

There isn't just one Spanglish. "Each region and each country has its own Spanglishisms," he noted.

For Cuban-Americans in Miami, a "yuca" is more than just another root. It is also a Young Urban Cuban American. Among the more unforgiving Bay of Pigs exiles, a "kennedito" is a traitor, according to Mr. Stavans, who is compiling the first big Spanglish dictionary, set for publication next fall. In Madrid, an "antibaby" is a condom.

The New York Puerto Rican contributions to the language are legendary, from "Loisiada" (New York's Lower East Side) to "la hara," a pejorative for the police, derived from a particularly unpleasant cop by the name of O'Hara who patrolled the El Barrio section of Manhattan several decades ago.


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