It is the first sentence of Don Quixote of La Mancha, part one, chapter 1, by Miguel de Cervantes, in my own rendition into Spanglish. It is the famous Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the story that begins “ Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to. Web Extra: Ilan Stavans discusses why he included a Spanglish translation of ‘ Don Quixote’ in his book. Hear him read an excerpt.

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In the past couple of years, I have been writing a history of the Spanish language. My device is decidedly whimsical: I am reducing a millennium to five sentences, all of them taken from literary documents. The first sentence is from a jarchaa poem written during the Arab domination of the Iberian Peninsula.


In contrast, the last one, which serves as engine to this essay, is, I confess, self-made, or maybe I should say self-modeled: It is the first sentence of Don Quixote of La Manchapart one, chapter 1, by Miguel de Cervantes, in my own rendition into Spanglish. It was published, along with the translation of the entire first chapter of the novel, in Barcelona, in Before I go any further, let me offer a definition of Spanglish.

My own take—and I speak not only as a linguist but as a cultural commentator—is that it is the child of the marriage, or else the divorce, of two standard languages, Spanish and English.

I will go even further: Spanglish harks back at least years, if not more. In Buenos Aires, it is used in marketing and among the Americanized elite. In Cuba, it is the parlance of baseball. In Mexico, it is the result of the ubiquitous U. Purists, as is clear by now, see Spanglish as an abundance of barbarisms, uneducated expressions used by those without proper verbal training. What does verbal training mean? The capacity to articulate qiujote clearly and coherently wuijote a standard language.

And a broken tongue connotes broken thoughts. This, of course, is baloney. It denotes a dismissive approach to language evolution.

Languages are never in a state of purity. Instead, they are always changing. War and immigration change environments. Let me discuss the two. The winner usually imposes on the loser a set of rules. Those roles amount to domination, including the forcing of cultural modes today, and in previous centuries, the imposition of language as a means of control.

The spread of Latin on the colonies of the Roman Empire was a tool of control. But it was also a way for the Romance languages Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese to take root. The other essential tool in the transformation of environment is immigration. The flux of individuals from one landscape to another is as old as humankind. Immigrants move for similar reasons: Throughout the 20 th century, the map of the Americas was upended by war as well as by immigration.

As a result of dictatorship and armed struggle, people moved constantly across borders, from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, from Peru to Argentina, from Guatemala to Mexico, from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

These upheavals carried linguistic consequences as varieties of Spanish came in contact with each other on a daily basis. Arguably, nowhere is this contact more fecund than in the United States, where Hispanics—commonly referred to as Latinos—were, at the close of the century, close to 15 percent of the overall population. The United States, a nation of immigrants, received millions of these Hispanic newcomers. Theirs was the fate since the arrival of the Protestant pilgrims on board of the Mayflower in The Statue of Liberty, a present from France to the United States at the end of the 19 th century, is strategically placed between two shores as a symbol of welcome to immigrants arriving by boat.


That is because each national group has not only its own Spanish but also its own history of immigration. The United States, then, is a safe-haven: Each of them comes with an immigrant language: Language has a limited lifespan, for what makes this a country is the fact that through assimilation, immigrants lose their distinct foreign qualities, if not themselves then their offspring.

They become Americans in the way they dress, they eat, they think, and, yes, they speak. Through public education, by the second generation immigrant families give up their immigrant tongue in favor of English, which becomes a conduit for the adoption of less subtle, all-encompassing cultural qualities. In any case, Spanish is and is not an immigrant language. It has been a presence for centuries, even before the nation became such through its independence from England in Florida and the Southwestern states were first colonized by Iberian soldiers, explorers, and missionaries.

The language was commonly used in those territories until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in With the stroke of a pen, the inhabitants in those territories went from being part of Mexico to becoming U. As such, English was now their language of education and commerce. Still, it is an immigrant language in that, from the late 19 th century, when refugees of the Spanish-American War of sought shelter in these shores, to the early 20 th century, when the Mexican Revolution forced millions of people to cross the border, to various federal plans such as the Bracero Program during World War II, the influx of Spanish-language speakers has not only defined the American Mosaic but, uncharacteristically, has kept an immigrant language intensely alive, to the degree that by the beginning of the 21 st century it was the second most frequently used in the country after English.

Never in uncontaminated form, though. Through its contact with English, Spanish exists in a state of permanent reformulation. Varieties of Spanish are spoken nowadays in different parts of the country.

A second way to organize these varieties is by place of national origin: Another way is by date of arrival to the United States, for example in the s, in the s, in the s. And a fourth category is class status. None of these categories is bulletproof. A recent working-class immigrant from El Salvador in Corpus Christi speaks a different Spanish than an educated Venezuelan executive in Tallahassee. The intertwining of English and Spanish is complex. Likewise, English words abound in the Spanish lexicon: To its critics, Spanglish is a thicket of barbarisms, not of loanwords, but rather tasteless, polluted neologisms.

Spanglish is alive and well in the Southwest, as I mentioned. And there is also Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island with a foggy, ambiguous legal status, known in English as a commonwealth albeit a peculiar one, since Massachusetts and Virginia are also commonwealths yet are recognized as full-fledged members of the Union, whereas Puerto Rico is not and in Spanish though the laughable Estado Libre Asociadoa free, associated state.


With the exception of the U.


The same categories I suggested before to distinguish between types of Spanish apply to Spanglish. That is because each national group has not only its own Spanish, but also its own history of immigration. Beyond these categories, there are age groups: Add to it a crucial type: Spanglishh type is arguably the most prevalent, the one projecting the spread of Spanglish beyond regional borders.

It is connected with the variety of Spanglish used in the media, which, like the translation I made of Don Quixoteis a hodgepodge of types.

In order not to alienate anyone, news and variety shows, authentic matches, and, significantly, commercials, employ a middle-ground form of Spanglish. I return now to the story of how I translated the first chapter of Don Quixote into Spanglish. A student of mine, a junior I thoroughly admired, was about to drop out of Amherst College, the institution where I teach. She had come to my office to break the news to me. Not that her parlance was alien to me.

She and I and other students often conversed in the hallways in that hybrid tongue. However, I always somehow managed to make it clear that the classroom was protected from such barbarity. Not this time, though. As I heard her say goodbye, I was immediately struck by her fluid, malleable parlance, her free style.

Perhaps my reaction should have been to stop her unequivocally, to set the limits. Instead, I felt empathy, even envy. She was originally from Texas. At some point in her early life, she had been active in a gang.

Spanglish, A New American Language : NPR

Even after three years, the small Liberal Arts College in New England felt alien, unwelcoming to her. I wanted her to stay for her senior year, a small sacrifice when compared to what she already had ahead of her. If I asked her to recant, to stay for her senior year, I would be inviting her to prolong the discomfort she felt. I would spangllish to do it in English, a language that emphasized quijjote alienation she felt.

But if I spoke to her in Spanglish, my turf as teacher would become shaky; I would be endorsing the fact that the way of communication at Amherst, in and of itself, was an obstacle spanglissh her happiness in it. Honestly, it was easy to decide. The conversation we had was memorable. I understood her dilemma; she understood mine. I tried—unsuccessfully—to convince her to say. A year later, I taught such a course. The number of students registered was large.


As time has gone by, my passion for this border language has grown exponentially. I had been born a Jew in Mexico. One of my two first languages was Yiddish the other was Spanish, of course. I had always felt anachronistic when using di mame loshas Yiddish is known.

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