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The Spanish Language in Latin America during the Colonial Period  

Ilan Stavans

Language was an essential tool in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Starting in 1492, a series of Iberian fleets arrived in the so-called New World with horses, gunpowder, and the printed word in their possession. These artifacts served a major role in the submission of the native population, not only physical but intellectual and spiritual. To appreciate the spread of el español in the newly found territories, it is important to look at how Spanish was perceived by medieval philologists such as Antonio de Nebrija, author of Gramática de la lengua española; to appreciate the registers in Christopher Columbus’s journals (as edited by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas); to analyze the status of native tongues like Nahuatl, Quechua, and scores of others, as well as the selection Spanish missionaries made of a few of those languages—called lenguas generales—for pedagogical instruction; to look at translators like La Malinche, Melchorejo, and Julianillo; to consider the role the printing press and translations of the Bible played in indoctrinating the indigenous population; to listen to the parlance of African slaves brought from the early 16th century onward; and finally to appreciate the verbal and aesthetic evolution of Spanish in the pens of Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz and many other important Spanish-language colonial authors.

Article

The Spanish Language in Latin America since Independence  

Ilan Stavans

The Spanish language arrived in Latin America as a tool of Iberian colonization. Indigenous languages struggled to survive under the implacable presence of an imperial tongue serving not only to make all subjects part of the Spanish Empire but also, and primarily, as a mechanism to evangelize a population considered by the conquistadors, soldiers, missionaries, and entrepreneurs as barbaric. During the age of independence (1810–1910), defined by bloody armed movements, the emerging republics in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean Basin declared their autonomy by seceding politically, economically, and legally from Spain while pushing for a vigorous nationalist agenda that shaped them as nations. Spanish was an agglutinating force toward a new collective identity, regionally and locally. Important figures like Venezuelan philologist, lexicographer, and diplomat Andrés Bello established an agenda that helped define the cultural parameters of the young republics in terms of grammar, syntax, and morphology. Followers include Rufino José Cuervo. Various aesthetic movements, such as modernismo, led by figures like Rubén Darío and José Martí, helped consolidate a transnational sense of linguistic unity. During the 20th century, the nationalist fever spread throughout Latin America, encouraging educators to establish pedagogical patterns that emphasized the uniqueness of the language within the country’s context. The effort was supported by ethnographers, anthropologists, and sociolinguists like the Cuban Fernando Ortiz and Venezuelan Ángel Rosenblat intent on finding what was local in the language. Simultaneously, each nation developed its own idiosyncratic media, which, again, allowed for verbal peculiarities to be included while also driving toward a standardized form. In this atmosphere, the Spanish language has been used as an organ of control by the state. It is also an invaluable tool through which to understand regional, national, and cultural differences. By the end of the millennium, a new phenomenon emerged, not in Latin America per se yet intimately linked to it: Spanglish. It is a hybrid tongue used by millions of immigrants in the United States, whose power is increasing as time goes by. Spanglish has the potential of reconfiguring the way the Spanish language is understood in the future.

Article

The Spanish Language in Latin America in the 20th Century  

Ilan Stavans

The Spanish language is the second largest in the world. While most of its syntactical patterns are the same, many of its speakers—around 450 million of them (the majority of whom live in Latin America)—use it in diverse, heterogeneous ways, to the point that it might be convenient to talk not of one español but of several. Its modernization began before the Spanish-American War, at the end of the 19th century, with the various drives toward national independence. Mass media (radio, TV, movies, and the internet) has also played a crucial role, along with immigration into and out of the region, tourism, language contact with indigenous tongues, English, and of code-switching strategies, tourism, and the emergence of working-class dialects like cantinflismo. The centripetal role played by Madrid’s Real Academia Española and its branches throughout Latin America can help to explain the tension between unity and plurality.

Article

Scribal Culture, Indigenous Modes, and Nahuatl-Language Sources from the 16th to 18th Centuries  

Celso Mendoza

While several indigenous languages from the Americas have been alphabetized and written, no Native American language has such an extensive corpus of historical texts as Nahuatl, the language of the Nahuas or Aztecs of central Mexico. Writing in Nahuatl but using Latin letters, colonial Nahua scribes or tlahcuilohqueh produced an unparalleled outpouring of texts throughout the colonial period. Prior to the Conquest, the Nahuas recorded information in codices, which consisted of pictographic glyphs painted on sheets of bark paper, analogous to European books. They thus readily perceived the parallels between their pictographic codices and European alphabetic texts and quickly saw the utility and potential of the new technology. All that was needed was an introduction to European writing techniques. For the most part, this came in the form of friars, some of whom established schools for elite Nahuas, such as the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in the latter part of the 1530s. Some Nahuas likely also learned writing from professional Spanish scribes as well. These students of the friars and lay Spaniards would soon teach other Nahuas to write, such that only a few years after the opening of the Colegio, Nahua scribes, working entirely on their own, were producing written texts. These scribes then taught others, and by the 1550s Nahuatl alphabetic writing became a self-sustaining, independent tradition that touched nearly every corner of the Nahua world. Alphabetic writing overtook indigenous glyphs, and by the 17th century most Nahuatl texts were entirely alphabetic. Last wills and testaments made up the bulk of scribal output, along with other “mundane” Nahuatl documents of financial, legal, or governmental matters, which have proven highly illuminating to historians. There were also annals; local histories stretching back to preconquest times; and plays, songs, and speeches (huehuehtlahtolli). Nahua scribal culture thrived until the 19th century, when opposition to it from both the Spanish Crown and, later, the independent Mexican nation made Nahuatl texts obsolete and superfluous.

Article

Digital Resources: Tulane University’s Collection of Cuban American Radionovelas, 1963–1970  

Christine Hernández

The Latin American Library (LAL) at Tulane University is the repository for the Louis J. Boeri and Minín Bujones Boeri Collection of Cuban American Radionovelas (hereafter, Radionovelas Collection). The physical collection contains 8,934 individual reel-to-reel tapes containing audio recordings produced by Boeri’s Miami-based America’s Production Inc. (API). Boeri founded API in 1961 to create and license radio programming to serve an expanding commercial market of Spanish-language audiences across Latin America, Europe, and the United States. Boeri employed some of the best writing, acting, musical, and technical talent in the business, most of whom were recent emigres from Cuba, the wider Caribbean, and Mexico. API’s radio soap operas went silent after the company closed in 1970 and as the listening public and commercial sponsors increasingly turned to television for serialized entertainment. The LAL began a multiphase initiative in 2015 to digitize its aged audio tapes. With generous support from the Latin American Research Resources Project (LARRP) of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), the LAL converted one third of the collection’s audio recordings to digital. Beginning in 2020, forty-one of API’s “soaps,” most in their entirety, are accessible via a digital collection in the Tulane University Digital Library (TUDL). Available in the digital collection are programs that span multiple genres with titles like Agente Secreto 009 [Secret Agent 009]; La Hora de Misterio [Mystery Hour]; and Amarga Espera [Bitter Awaiting]. API print materials including advertising, program catalogs, and company photographs will also appear in digital. The Radionovelas Collection offers new perspectives and insights into the use of media for Cold War political and cultural propaganda by Cuba and the United States. It also provides a public resource to engage with and research the history of popular culture, sonic literature, and mass media among Spanish-speaking audiences all over the world.

Article

The Colonial Mosaic of Indigenous New Spain, 1519–1821  

Susan Kellogg

From a geographically, environmentally, linguistically, and ethnically highly variable Mesoamerica, Spain created a core region within her American territories. But for New Spain’s indigenous inhabitants (Mexica or Nahua, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Maya), despite experiencing demographic catastrophe, political and religious subjugation, and labor exploitation during and after conquest, native cultural patterns and agency influenced the reshaping of governance and community (the latter into pueblos de indios), economy, and spiritual and social life during the period of colonial rule. Because environments, indigenous languages, patterns of political, economic, and spiritual organization, ways of structuring family life, varieties of cultural expression, and forms of interrelationships with Spaniards varied so much, indigenous people did not experience a single New Spain. Instead, a multiplicity of New Spains emerged. These indigenous New Spains would play different roles during the independence period, which led to a protracted struggle, further impoverishment, and growing isolation in the new nations of Mesoamerica but cultural survival as well.