Friday, August 1, 2014

Post-Pre-Colonial Theory; or, Going for Tongue

I'm still reading Tim William Machan's Language Anxiety, and it's full of goodies.  Like this one from pages 72-3, where he quotes a New York Times op-ed by a Hispanic writer denouncing Spanglish:
… for Roberto González Echevarría, ‘Spanglish, the composite language of Spanish and English that has crossed over from the street to Hispanic talk shows and advertising campaigns, poses a grave danger to Hispanic culture and to the advancement of Hispanics in mainstream America.  Those who condone and even promote it as a harmless commingling to do not realize that this is hardly a relationship based on equality. Spanglish is an invasion of Spanish by English.’
Machan is nicer in discussing this rant than I intend to be: it's nonsense.  I wonder if Echevarría knew that he was in accord with Anglophone racists who see the presence of brown-skinned Hispanics as an invasion of American by Meskins, despite the fact that contemporary American English contains quite a few Spanish words that it acquired from contact between the US and Mexicans.

But more than that, he overlooks the fact that modern European Spanish could analogously be called Sparabic, since it contains borrowings from Arabic courtesy of the Moorish invasion and occupation of Iberia a millennium ago, hardly a relationship based on equality.  Western-Hemisphere Spanish has been infiltrated by indigenous languages, though more to the point here is the effect that Spanish had on indigenous language and peoples, which was a literal invasion of the Americas by Spaniards and by Spanish.  That was hardly a relationship based on equality either.  None of this excuses or is meant to ignore the malign influence of the United States on Latin America, but I always want to jeer and make rude noises when Latino creoles try to cast themselves as indigenes victimized by yanqui imperialism.  Now that the real American indigenes are rising up against the Hispanic colonizers all over Latin America, this sort of talk should be on the way out.  A lot has changed since Echevarría wrote this piece in 1997, though I still encounter the same tropes in the writings of self-styled post-colonial theorists.

Machan points out that English has been the subject or beneficiary of such invasions itself:
For English, the third person singular indicative verbal inflection –s as well as the third person plural pronouns they, them, and their are not native Anglo-Saxon forms but derive directly from Old Norse, the language spoken by the descendants of Viking raiders and colonizers in the Midlands and northern parts of England; a kind of Norslish gave rise to them, as surely as Franglais has qu’est-ce que tu veux pour lunch [73].
And in America:  
In the colonial era of North America, the principles of North America, the principles of grammatical and pragmatic regularity motivated the production of pidgins not only between Europeans and Native Americans but among the Europeans themselves.  In the Middle Ages England’s linguistic repertoire similarly came to include entire linguistic codes structured like Spanglish or Denglish [German-English, btw] in the forms of a Latin-English macaronic variety utilized in sermons and a French-English-Latin interlanguage employed in late-medieval business, alongside of which Latin, French, and English each continued to exist.  At that time, code-switching among Latin, French, and English could also achieve significant rhetorical effects, much like the style-switching effected by modern novelists.  This is the case in William Langland’s fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman, where switches from English to Latin both help foreground moments of thematic importance and portend, perhaps overly optimistically, the eventual emergence as England’s dominant language in all domains of business, education, and government [74].
This reminds me of immigrants in America: each wave of immigrants comes to regard itself as native, and then attacks the next wave as a bunch of dirty invaders who will destroy civilization.  Machan's study focuses on English, but he makes it clear that most if not all languages are hybrids, mongrels, victims of invasion by dirty foreign tongues, though contemporary speakers are of course unaware that what they regard as proper English (or whatever) is what their grandparents would have regarded as corrupt, degenerate gibberish.