The Birth of a Language

Article excerpt

LATIN American writers have developed a complex about the lana in which they write because they have always felt that it was not their own. Many writers of metropolitan Spain, especially purists, have encouraged this feeling by assuming proprietary rights over the Spanish language and relegating Latin American literature to the status of a mere offshoot of Spanish literature. This attitude was summed up by the Spanish essayist and novelist Azorin (1874-1967), who frankly declared at the beginning of the century that "we are the souls of the language".

Philologists and linguists have tried to explain this phenomenon which simultaneously united and separated writers on each side of the Atlantic. There is a linguistic tem" which for obvious historical and political reasons is called Castillan or Spanish. This system has variants within Spain and, with much greater justification, in Latin America. The substrata of Amerindian languages, the influence, in regions such as the Caribbean, of African languages and of contribution by immigrants, as well as the language of creative writers, have profoundly marked the phonetic modulations, word-structures, syntax and vocabulary of Latin American Spanish. They have strongly influenced and impregnated this language which has been used for centuries, but they have not destroyed the unity of the system. It is the same Spanish language, variegated and enriched-why not?-by contributions which reflect the cultural and historical context of Latin America.

This situation is the result of a long, hard struggle, often waged in obscurity, to achieve and assert a cultural identity. The struggle finally bore fruit in the twentieth century. The theory of the Spanish linguistic system and its variants is the expression of a linguistic situation that clearly appeared at a specific moment in the history of Latin American literature-the moment when Latin American writers lost their inferiority complex vis-i-vis their Iberian colleagues and dared to assume their language. This turning point marked the emergence of a literature, initially poetic but later predominantly narrative, which asserted the continent's cultural identity through works of exceptional quality which testified to an original presence on the contemporary literary scene.

Language is not the only determining factor in the flowering of Latin American literature in recent decades. But in my opinion it is a decisive factor, if not the principal one, because the full assumption of one's own language shapes the balance of expression and the practice, without complexes or culpability, of letters.

The Archives Collection (see article page 18) is revealing this decisive stage in the evolution of twentleth-century Latin American literature, through its mission to represent the entire continent, and through its methodology which encourages the study of the original text and its variants. …