28 June 2010

Brenda Cardenas

Brenda Cárdenas prefers the word "interlingual" to "multilingual" or "translingual":

"Listening to Brenda Cárdenas is, on its own, an exercise in crossing borders. She has adapted ideas from interdisciplinary arts into a philosophy for interlingual literature. It's very important to distinguish interlingual versus bilingual texts. The difference between bilingualism and interlingualism is the same as the difference between 'either' and 'both.' Bilingualism is using either of two languages in turn, but sticking to one discrete language or the other for an entire expression. Cárdenas, on the other hand, is an advocate of interlingualism, which is blending or mixing two languages in-line, within sentences, as they're used organically and naturally by people who speak both languages fluently. The American slang for this Spanish and English mix is called 'Spanglish.' And indeed, a lot of people in the United States speak a fluid blend of both tongues, both in Mexico and in the United States. It's a linguistic fact of life.

"Sometimes when languages blend, and stay mixed in certain ways, they create whole new ways for people to express themselves. Grammars change rules. Fresh words appear that carry tell-tale signs of their parent languages. Old words pick up new meanings. Artists often want to rush into these circumstances to take advantage of the fresh creative opportunities that a still-forming language permits. However, critics and historians often resist this situation, and insist that serious literature is written in well-defined languages such as English or Spanish, but not a blend of both. So there's always a battle among the people who describe language as-is, versus the people who prescribe language as it should be, when interlingualism is in effect.

"But even once such a blended language is established, it continues to carry much heritage and creativity. There is precedent for this in Europe. The Yiddish language was a blend of German, Hebrew, Slavic, and a smattering of other central European tongues. It was spoken by many Jewish immigrants who came to the USA in the 1890s through the 1910s. While it wasn't specific to any one European nation, it was once a common language among millions people from Europe in over a dozen different countries. Even today, the wit and storytelling in Yiddish is hard to beat, and its influence is still felt in American popular culture from Broadway to Hollywood.

"Today, the United States may be experiencing a similar language-morphing phenomenon right at home, within the borders. The ingredients have just arrived here: a mobile society drawn from several countries; a vital culture with diverse roots connecting back to common heritages, centuries ago; and enterprising merchants, scholars, laypeople, and writers interested in communicating with each other, with the 'old' country, and the greater community surrounding them. But this time the mix is between English and Spanish, and the mix is only beginning to get rolling. The delicious ironies, warm blends, and pointed contrasts of commingled languages are Brenda Cárdenas' incentive to keep crossing frontiers. Listen to her poetry, songs, and stories, and cross the frontiers of the Américas."

While the article is correct in what it wants to say, it is, of course, incomplete in that it is not only Spanglish that is used as a literary language in the United States.  A number of languages mix with English to create literary languages for many American multilingual authors.  Citing Yiddish is also not enough historical evidence of the vitality of interlingual texts (to use her word); English itself is interlingual, as all languages probably are.

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