The death of a language is frequently accompanied by a litany of regrets. Progress runs too fast, it is said, and people are oblivious to change. For instance, there were probably close to 2,000 aboriginal languages in what is known today as Latin America, of which around 600 still remain. Their disappearance is no doubt a tragedy. In contrast, the birth of a new language, ironically, is often greeted with animosity and discomfort, not to say mistrust. For all intents and purposes, Spanglish is not yet a language. It doesn’t yet have a standardized grammar. And spelling is unstable. Yet this hybrid tongue is spoken by millions across the Americas, more assiduously in the United States, which includes the second-largest concentration of Hispanics in the globe. There are dozens of varieties, not exclusively defined by national background (Chicano, Nuyorican, Cubonics, Dominicanish, etc.). They are also shaped by the age, race, and education of the user, as well as by the arrival at the time of immigration. The base of Spanglish is often, though not always, Spanish. The three most salient characteristics in a fluent speaker are code-switching (a back-and-forth from Spanish to English), simultaneous translation, and the coining of neologisms. (See my book Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language ). This translation of Le Petit Prince exemplifies the way Spanglish has been “normalized” in the new millennium. It uses a neutral form that results from the convergence of multiple varieties and is commonly used in the media (print, radio, TV, and the Internet). Translation, it goes without saying, is appropriation. At its “official” birth in the mid-seventies, Spanglish was derided as “a language of dogs.” In time it has been upgraded to the ignoramus. Yet the new millennium have come along novels, children’s stories, poetry, political speeches, even liturgy in it, allowing it to transition from the oral to the written spheres. Clearly the ignoramus have a soul. Unlike previous renditions into Spanglish of classics I have done—Don Quixote and Hamlet, for instance—the source text by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is relatively modern (it was released in 1943), thus requiring a different strategy than those needed for book several centuries old. It is neither about bringing a piece from the past to the present, nor the reader to the past. Rather, it is about making a beloved contemporary classic available to a new and different group of readers that deserve it in their own tongue.
About the Author
Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Studies at Amherst College and the publisher of Restless Books. The recipient of numerous international awards, his books, translated into twenty languages, have been adapted to the screen, TV, radio, and theater.