The Battle over Spanish between 1800 and 2000: Language Ideologies and Hispanic Intellectuals

By José Del Valle; Luis Gabriel-Stheeman | Go to book overview

4

Historical linguistics and cultural history

The polemic between Rufino José Cuervo and Juan Valera

José del Valle

Toda ciencia o facultad ha tenido y tiene sus orates; pero una de las más peligrosas para los que poseen un cerebro poco firme y un juicio poco sólido y sentado es esta ciencia de la lingüística. 1

(Valera 1869:1103)

Linguistics as an autonomous academic discipline emerged in the nineteenth century and since then, linguists-always enthusiastically committed to the scientific character of their work-have faithfully relied on positivist epistemology and the classificatory methods of the natural sciences. If the precursors of modern linguistics (e.g. Humboldt) acknowledged in their works the complexity of language-as both a collective and individual phenomenon and as simultaneously autonomous and heteronomous from human mental activity-the later protagonists of the historical development of the discipline (e.g. Schleicher, Saussure, Chomsky) gave priority to definitions of language that emphasized its conceptualization as a formal system. Linguists' historical predilection for formalism, the premise of objectivity, and the empirical base on which this discipline necessarily rests tend to eclipse the cultural, political and social grounding of language science and, conversely, the impact that it has had and continues to have in other areas of cultural and intellectual life in the West.

In this chapter, I will present and discuss a most transparent episode in the battle over Spanish that this book is analyzing: the famous polemic between Colombian philologist Rufino José Cuervo (1844-1911) and Spanish writer and diplomat Juan Valera (1824-1905). This famous controversy coincided with two turning points in the modern political and intellectual history of Hispanic nations: it began in 1899, the year after Spain lost its remaining overseas colonies, and it ended in 1903, the year before Ramón Menéndez Pidal published his emblematic Manual de gramática histórica española. The skirmish between Cuervo and Valera neatly underscores the value that linguistics acquired as a source of legitimacy in cultural and political debates-in particular, in the debate over the nature of Hispanic identity during the early years of the twentieth century.

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The Battle over Spanish between 1800 and 2000: Language Ideologies and Hispanic Intellectuals
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Biographical Notes ix
  • Preface xii
  • Acknowledgments xiv
  • 1 - Nationalism, Hispanismo, and Monoglossic Culture 1
  • 2 - Linguistic Anti-Academicism and Hispanic Community 14
  • 3 - The Ideological Construction of an Empirical Base 42
  • 4 - Historical Linguistics and Cultural History 64
  • 5 - Menéndez Pidal, National Regeneration and the Linguistic Utopia 78
  • 6 - "For Their Own Good" 106
  • 7 - A Nobleman Grabs the Broom 134
  • 8 - José María Arguedas 167
  • 9 - "Codo Con Codo" 193
  • References 217
  • Index 231
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