27 feb. 2007

Phrases like "Latino/a studies" or "chicano/a literature" are kind of odd, linguistically speaking. They bring over into English something from the Spanish gender system, but a feature that is not there, in the same way at least, in the original Spanish!

For example, in Spanish, we would say "literatura chicana." That would mean literature written by "chicanos" and "chicanas." The adjective agrees with the noun, which happens to be feminine in this case. So you could have "poesía masculina," masculine poetry, but the adjective masculine is linguistically feminine. Or "El cuento femenino" to mean short-stories written by women.

Spanish makes the masculine the universal gender, so "los alumnos" technically means students of both genders, whereas "las alumnas" means female students. In construing the word "latino" as only masculine, not masculine + feminine, the native English speaker feels the need to add the "/a" or "/as" to show that women are not excluded; in fact, are actively included.

So if you translated a course description in Latino/a Studies into Spanish, you would have a more difficult time making it work, since the word "latino" would simply agree with whatever noun it had to agree with: "La cultura latina" or "los estudios latinos." I don't find the "slash a" aesthetically pleasing, but it seems to be ensconsed in the field and cannot be removed because the move to so would be perceived as a social exclusion of women. Even though I don't like the awkwardness of it, it does in fact show a linguistic hybridity that is, in fact, appropriate to the field itself. It shows (1) aspects of the Spanish gender system (2) an English-language misconstrual of said system, (3) a desire for "political correctness" in language with implications for both languages. That little "/a" turns out to be quite interesting.

The universal/masculine thing doesn't really work awfully well any more, so that we find ourselves saying things like "los lectores y las lectoras." Will people start saying "mi madre y mi padre" instead of "mis padres" [my parents]? It will be harder to change on the level of pronouns.

2 comentarios:

lindsayi dijo...

i like how in latin america they use the @ sign to avoid the gender problem as in "hola tod@s"

GJPW dijo...

Relatedly, the Venezuelan government has recently gotten into the "revolutionary" habit of referring to "las venezolanas y los venezolanos" & so forth in its efforts to appear innovative. Utterly ridiculous, since as you say "los venezolanos" already implies both sexes grammatically. Of course, what this does is highlight the regime's utter lack of understanding of the Spanish language. Grammar and language have never been central concerns for the military in Venezuela.

As for the slash o/a in Chicano and Latino studies, I sometimes feel it's a performative element that reflects a counterproductive obsession with alterity, at the expense of a wider dialogue. What's surprising to me is the amount of prominent U.S. Latino scholars whose command of Spanish is so poor, not to mention their unwillingness to engage with the Spanish-speaking world, in terms of new art & literature being produced today. I don't expect them to be fluent in Spanish, but they should at least try to be well-informed about recent Latin American writers like Roberto Bolaño who's work has things in common with the U.S. Latino experience.