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

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

7

A nobleman grabs the broom

Ortega y Gasset's verbal hygiene

Luis Gabriel-Stheeman

La gente habla muy mal, y cuando habla bien no se le entiende nada. 1

(José Luis Coll quoted in El País, 28 September 2000)


Ortega as a language maven

In 1910, a 27-year-old José Ortega y Gasset dedicated a short essay to the literary style of Spanish novelist Pío Baroja. Focusing specifically on the novel El árbol de la ciencia, Ortega began his analysis by pointing out that, no matter where one opened Baroja's book, it would not be long before at least two or three taunts sprang from the page:

llegándonos a la [página] 68 tenemos que "aquel petulante idiota…era un macaco cruel este tipo" y "Aracil no podía soportar la bestialidad de aquel idiota".

Pasemos a la 69: "'¡Canalla! ¡Idiota!'-exclamó Aracil, acercándose al médico con el puño levantado: 'Sí, me voy, por no patear las tripas a ese idiota miserable'".

En la página 87: "Julio le presentó a un sainetero, un hombre estúpido, fúnebre"…En la 89: "El amante de Pura, además de un acreditado imbécil, fabricante de chistes estúpidos…En fin, en la página 100: "Pero usted es un imbécil, una mala bestia". 2

(Ortega 1910:104)

According to Ortega, "words that express the greatest irritation are characteristic of Baroja's literature" (105). In order to understand an author's style, and see where they go in search of inspiration, stated Ortega, it is important to determine their preferred vocabulary. In Baroja's case, it was clear to Ortega that he descended "to the dregs of the dictionary."

Why?-Ortega asked himself-how could a writer show preference for words such as "wretch," "stupid," "imbecile" or "repugnant"-words with little or no specific meaning, yet at the same time so hard, so blunt, so excessive? Searching for an answer, Ortega proceeded to sketch a "theory of the insult" which could clarify the role such words play in language. He

-134-

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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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