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Spanglish, Don Quixote, and Translation
Thread poster: A Hayes
A Hayes
Local time: 19:07
Apr 12, 2006

[I’ve had great difficulty trying to classify this topic. So I hope the ProZ team will excuse me if this is not the most appropriate space for it]

Having recently attended a forum with Dr Edith Grossman at the National Library in Canberra, where she spoke about literary translation in general and her experiences translating Don Quixote in particular, I feel inspired and would like to share the following article with you.

In response to a question about the Spanglish version of Don Quixote, Dr Grossman said she would rather not comment on it. But she expressed her views on the term Spanglish and this reminded me of a radio program I heard on the ABC a while back (Robert Dessaix is a well-known Australian writer, broadcaster, and translator).

Spanglish: a new American language or a mishmash?

Robert Dessaix: [...] Nevertheless, as the author of a new book on the subject put it, 'Se habla el espangles everywhere these days', particularly, one suspects, by people who've never heard of Octavio Paz, or the Royal Academy.

If Ilan Stavans, the Mexican-American author of Spanglish: the making of a new American language is to be believed, it's spoken at home, at school, in the streets, on television, on the radio—right across the social spectrum, he says, from Senators to illiterate housemaids. But he admits that it's favoured by people who, and I quote him word for word, 'neither speak English nor Spanish properly'. So is this a clever new way to double your vocabulary and still sound uneducated?

Stavans, a professor at Amherst College who thinks he's striking a blow for liberty and equality against Spain and against the American middle classes, would find that last remark of mine ungenerous. He not only quotes from several literary works written in Spanglish but has, himself, had a go at translating Cervantes into it. Here are a few lines from Don Quixote in his Spanglish translation. They're actually the very first lines, from First Parte, Chapter Uno. (The accent, I'm afraid, will be Austranglish).

In un placete de La Mancha of which nobre no quero remembrearme, vivia, not so long ago, uno de esos gentlemen who always tienen una lanza in the rack, una buckler antigua, a skinny caballo, y un greyhound para el chase. A cazuela with max beef than muton, carne choppeada para la dinner, un omelet pa los Sabados, lentil pa los Viernes, y algun pigeon como delicacy especial pa los Domingos, consumian tres cuarers de su income ...

Livin with el eran una housekeeper en sus forties, una sobrina not yet twenty y un ladino del field ...

Well, I'm sure you get the picture, my accent notwithstanding. Spanglish—which comes by the way, in a number of dialects; east Los Angeles, New York, Cuban and so on—Spanglish is obviamente a mishmash of more or less standard English, and more or less standard Spanish, peppered with English vocabulary that's been given a Spanish twist. English 'remember' in the example I've just quoted, has become 'eremembrane', the sort of thing to make a Spanish Academician's hair stand on end, Spanish already having a perfectly good word for 'remembering'.

Ilan Stavans admits that Spanglish is a mishmash. It's his word, a word that he mistakenly thinks comes from Hebrew. But as an enthusiastic speaker of this form of Spanish (even his children in Massachusetts speak it, apparently, in preference to the Royal Academy version) Stavans seems convinced that what we are witnessing in the Hispanic community in America is the birth of a new language, the first language, in the near future, of America's 40-million Latinos and perhaps, who knows? One day, given a little cross-fertilisation, the language of the whole of the Unaited Estaits as the Estados Unidos are called in Spanglish. It's not so far-fetched an idea, Stavans would say, after all, isn't standard English (the dialect I'm now speaking) a mishmash of the languages of Anglo-Saxon Britain, the Norse invaders and finally, of the French-speaking Normans? Un mix, as he would say, resulting from a bit of mobilidad social, if you get my minin.

Well, no, it's not, actually; it's Old English (a fusion of Germanic dialects) with the admixture of masses of vocabulary items from French and other languages.


On the whole though, it seems to be mostly Spanish dotted with expressions in English: it has two genders and plurals formed in the standard Spanish fashion, its verbs, even if they have English roots, like 'employar' (to employ in Spanglish, although not in Spanish), conjugate like any well-behaved Spanish verb back home in Madrid, and everything's pronounced more or less according to Spanish phonological rules. 'Me regala un klinex, plis?' (Can you give me a kleenex, please?) may not the way they'd ask for a tissue in Madrid, but it's still Spanish, with a couple of anglicisms dropped in. It's the sort of thing any of us might say while speaking English in a foreign country 'Pass the baguette', we might say in Paris. 'And I might have a spot of fromage to go with it. Merci.' It spices up our speech, it anchors us to where we are, but we don't imagine that we're creating a new language.


English has another advantage, apart from being the American lingua franca: it's a highly analytical language, much more evolved in an analytical direction than Spanish. That is to say, it's structured like a string of building blocks that can be moved about with minimum reshaping of the blocks: I ate cake, the dog ate cake, the pink dog ate cake, the dog ate pink cake, its snout was caked with cake.

This means that English can take a foreign word and drop it into the flow, with little fuss, as a noun, a verb or an adjective. No other European language can compete with the ability of the English language to absorb foreign elements, yet stay completely itself.

For the hodgepodge of present-day Spanglish to become a new language, in the way that Old English gradually became modern English, I believe you'd need, first of all, a far more geographically, socially and linguistically cohesive community than America's 40-million Hispanic provide, something more akin to the situation in Quebec in Canada, where Quebecois is not just the language of the street, but of public institutions, education, the law, the media, and every written sign from New England practically to Greenland.


I could be wrong about all this, but somehow I can't imagine the president giving his inaugural address in Spanglish any time soon. In English and Spanish possibly. For Spanglish I think we'll have to 'waitear' a very long 'tiempo' indeed.

I'm Robert Dessaix. Babay for now, which is Spanglish for 'Ciao'.

Saturday 28/01/2006

[Edited at 2006-04-12 13:37]

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Spanglish, Don Quixote, and Translation

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