Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Radical Code-Switching in the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Radical Code-Switching in the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Article excerpt


This paper examines the use of Spanish in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) by Junot Diaz in the context of Torres' (2007) analysis of code-switching strate- gies by Hispanic authors. First, I consider the nature of the Spanish words that Diaz borrows from Spanish, which are not italicized or translated, and most of which would not be transparent to anglophones. Second, I examine his use of code- switching and point out how Diaz creates powerful bilingual images by flouting well-known constraints on intrasentential code-switching. Finally, using Muysken's (2000) typology of code-switching, I show that in contrast to other texts, which are characterized by sustained alternation, and which Torres (2007) calls 'Radical bilingualism', the main mechanisms used here are insertion and congruent lexical- ization, which result in a text where, rather than alternating with English, Spanish becomes part of English. I call this strategy 'radical hybridism'.


Este trabajo examina el uso de la alternancia de lenguas en el texto de Junot Díaz The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) desde la perspectiva del análisis propuesto por Torres (2007). En primer lugar se considera la naturaleza de las palabras que Díaz toma prestadas del español. La mayoría de estas palabras no pertenecen al vocabulario común de hablantes monolingües de inglés y aparecen sin traducción y sin ninguna marca tipográfica. En segundo lugar, se analiza el uso de la alternancia de lenguas y se muestra cómo Díaz crea poderosas imágenes bilingües desafiando algunas de las conocidas restricciones sobre el uso del cambio de código dentro de una oración. Finalmente, usando la tipología de la alternancia de lenguas de Muysken (2000) se propone una distinción entre 'bilingüismo radical' e 'hibridismo radical'.

In an interview quoted in Ch'ien (2004), Junot Díaz says:

For me allowing the Spanish to exist in my text without the benefit of italics or quotations marks a very important political move. Spanish is not a minority language. Not in this hemisphere, not in the United States, not in the world inside my head. So why treat it like one? Why 'other' it? Why de-normalize it? By keeping Spanish as normative in a predominantly English text, I wanted to remind readers of the mutability of languages. And to mark how steadily English is transforming Spanish and Spanish is transforming English. (Ch'ien 2004: 204)

This article considers the specific ways in which Diaz transforms English by focusing on his use of Spanish in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) in the context of Torres' (2007) study of code-switching strategies by Hispanic authors in the United States.

Torres (2007) analyses different strategies for the inclusion of Spanish in Latino/Latina literary texts written between 1990 and 2004, which result in diffe- rent levels of accessibility.1

The first strategy, which she describes as 'Easily accessed, transparent or cushioned Spanish', has an English monolingual reader in mind and uses Spanish infrequently and transparently. That is, the texts that use this strategy tend to include Spanish words whose meaning is obvious from the context, such as culturally recognizable items like food (taco, tortilla), places (casa, rancho, campo), familiar common nouns (mamá, hermano, hijo), etc. If the meaning of the words is not obvious, the Spanish words are followed by an English language translation and marked as foreign by the use of italics. According to Torres, although this strategy can make the text exotic, 'a reader does not have to leave the comfortable realm of his/her own complacent monolingualism. The monolingual is catered to and the bilingual reader must endure redundant references' (Torres 2007: 78). In (1) below, we have an example of this type of transparent or cushioned Spanish:

(1) Midday was the time when folks went home, showered, ate an abundant almuerzo and then took a long siesta. …

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