17 March 2010

1984 debate

Here’s an early account of the beginnings of Utah-based Chicano mixed-language literature, from Jerry Johnston of Deseret News (4 May 1984):

“Writers such as former Utahn Ricardo Sanchez write in a mixed idiom, meshing English with a kind of spicey barrio vernacular, where a truck is a ‘troca,’ a buddy is a ‘cuate’ and a dime’s called a ‘dime’ (pronounced DEE-may).

“It is the mixed language that throws a kink in a lot of critics. Spanish critic and poet Angel Gonzalez feels mixing the languages not only cuts down on the people who can appreciate the literature (you need to be bilingual) but it furthers a type of speaking that may never be accepted.

“Chicano writers and scholars hotly disagree. [Gary] Soto is quick to defend writers who used a mixed style and Frausto Ibarra says, ‘The mixed idiom style of writing can be a very provocative stance. Our Chicano writers here in the United States use it to great effect. We’re not talking about an either-or situation with languages, but creative people who have a linguistic repertoire.'

“Many Chicano writers from Utah have used it. Abelardo Delgado, who taught at the University for a while, spiced his poetry with Spanish words, so do many of the young Hispanic writers in Salt Lake City today.

“Is it legitimate?

“Scholar Francisco Lomeli remembers the first time he heard Alurista, the poet, read poetry written in a mixture of Spanish and English. He said it was wonderful, it gave credence and beauty to the type of language he was raised speaking in his home.

“It upsets some, entices some. Love it or not, however, we readers better get used to it. According to Tomas Frausto Ibarra, Soto, [Genaro] Padilla and dozens of other members of the Chicano literati, we’re going to be seeing a lot more good literary works written in ‘Pocho’ in the years to come.”

These are writers who consciously use two languages. They represent one end of the literary spectrum that multilingual criticism discusses. The other end is represented by texts that, whether the writers were conscious or not that they were doing it, are actually in more than one language, though they look on the surface like they are monolingual. This second end is harder to unlock; that is the reason we need to sharpen our critical tools first on texts in the first end (or texts that quite obviously use more than one language) before we tackle the really hard task of showing how hidden languages add to the meaning of manifest languages.

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