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Review of  The Battle Over Spanish: Language Ideologies and Hispanic Intellectuals

Reviewer: Angela Bartens
Book Title: The Battle Over Spanish: Language Ideologies and Hispanic Intellectuals
Book Author: Luis Gabriel-Stheeman Jose Del Valle
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 14.2878

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Del Valle, Jose and Luis Gabriel Stheeman (eds.) (2002): The Battle
over Spanish between 1800 and 2000: Language Ideologies and Hispanic
Intellectuals, Routledge.

Announced at

Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki.


As the title reveals, the volume under survey discusses the language
ideologies of Hispanic intellectuals during the 19th and 20th
centuries. More accurately, the relatively great continuity in
Hispanic language ideology is portrayed through detailed case studies
of the writings of those Hispanic intellectuals who most actively have
participated in the language debate over the past 200 years.


In the introductory chapter, ''Nationalism, hispanismo, and
monoglossic culture'' [pp. 1-13], the editors Jose del Valle and Luis
Gabriel-Stheeman present the historical frame for the following
discussions: The independence of the Latin American Republics in the
1820es sets the scene for different initiatives of cultural diplomacy.
At the time, the romantic Volksgeist is embodied by language. In the
Spanish-speaking world, this leads to the genesis of the idea of a
(pan-)hispanismo, a monoglossic ideology with an inbuilt hierarchy
which places Spain in the leading position. A new phase sets in during
the 1880es when nationalism acquires more strongly ethnic and
linguistic connotations. Above all the Desastre of 1898 (loss of the
last Spanish colonies) transforms the language issue into a language
battle: the political empire lost is to be rebuilt on cultural terms.

In ''Linguistic anti-academism and Hispanic community: Sarmiento and
Unamuno'' [pp. 14-41], Barry L. Velleman shows how quite similar basic
assumptions have been interpreted in different ways by the Hispanic
intellectuals who have participated in the language ideology debate.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was an Argentinean educator whose main
linguistic activity dates from the early 1840es in Chile (from
1868-1874, he was President of Argentina) while Miguel de Unamuno was
a Spanish poet, novelist and essayist who became involved in the
language debate half a century later. Not only did Unamuno call
Sarmiento his favorite Spanish [sic] writer of the 19th century
[p. 25], these spiritual twins, as Velleman calls them [p. 25], both
believed that social regeneration and linguistic revolution go hand in
hand and were critical of the Spanish Royal Academy
(RAE). Nevertheless, while Sarmiento considered that Spanish was the
language of a decadent culture not suitable for the modern American
nations -- this led him inter alia to propose an orthography in 1842
- Unamuno believed in the existence of a spiritual basis among the
Spanish-speaking nations which would help preserve the uniformity of
the language.

In his contribution, Belford More tackles ''The ideological
construction of an empirical base: Selection and elaboration in
Andrès Bello's grammar''[pp. 42-63]. Bello wrote his famous
Gramática de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos
(1847) in order to preserve and to produce unity. As More
demonstrates, this milestone of Spanish language planning was
nevertheless an undertaking with a strictly personal dimension -- as
any grammar inevitably is [p. 60]. Considering that ''... one of the
main objectives of language policy [is] the preservation of certain
identifying cultural patterns, whose survival is considered essential
for the cultural and historical survival of the community'' [p. 58],
Bello opts for the creation of historical unity by including
historical texts in a grammar which essentially aims at reflecting the
current use of the educated, more precisely, the current use of
educated Spaniards. As More points out, the hierarchical character of
the hispanismo is maintained (even) by Bello.

In ''Historical linguistics and cultural history: The polemic between
Rufino Jose Cuervo and Juan Valera'' [pp. 64-77], Jose del Valle
traces the history of the polemic between the Colombian philologist
and the Spanish politician and man of letters which started when
Cuervo wrote a preface to Francisco Soto y Calvo's narrative poem
Nastasio in 1899 and which lasted until 1903. It is important to bear
in mind that Cuervo had reached the second pahse of his linguistic
thought. While his writings of the time have been accused of senility,
a fear of the fragmentation of the Spanish language is present
throughout his oeuvre. However, a loss of faith in the desire of the
Spanish-speaking nations to reach and maintain a consensus over an
educated norm made him consider linguistic fragmentation an
inevitability during the second phase of his linguistic
oeuvre. Valera, a founding member of the hispanismo movement, held
quite a different notion of hispanindad in which language, thought,
and nation are equalled, however with a latent hierarchical order
biased towards Spain. By consequence, he strongly believed in the
purity and the indivisibility of the Spanish language.

In ''Menendez Pidal, national regeneration and the linguistic utopia''
[pp. 78-105], the same author shows that Pidal's entire philological
and linguistic oeuvre can be read as a response to the crisis of 1898,
its main goal being defined as ''constructing a modern Hispanic
community in which Spain's leadership would be recognized''
[p. 79]. Here, too, language is equalled with culture and
nation. Again, the linguistic elite of Castile plays the key part:
''the inherently superior qualities of the dialect of Castile
explained its projection not only in time but also in space'' [p. 99].

Unamuno constitutes the topic of a second article by Joan Ramon
Resina: ''For their own good: The Spanish identity and its Great
Inquisitor, Miguel de Unamuno'' [pp. 106-133]. Since the contribution
is devoted exclusively to Unamuno, the author draws a very detailed
portrait of this man whose ''Castilianization ... made him a zealot''
[p. 112]. It is probably not very widely known or diffused that this
Spanish writer who turned Spanish nationalism into a religion [p. 115]
as a young man not only supported some kind of autonomy for the Basque
people but that he unsuccessfully vied for a position in Basque
linguistics (or language?) at a high school, something which may have
contributed to his militant position against the other languages of
Spain. Unamuno was particularly explicit about the idea that at least
some of the losses of the political empire should be retrieved through
symbolic self-assertion through language by means of the founding of a
language empire. For him, language constituted the continuation of war
by other means [pp. 121-122].

Luis Gabriel-Stheeman has noted the parallelism in the terminologies
used by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset and present-day
linguist Deborah Cameron: ''A nobleman grabs the broom: Ortega y
Gasset's verbal hygiene'' [134-166]. Ortega y Gasset placed the
safeguarding of the Spanish language, a patriotic mission according to
him, in the hands of the Spanish educated elite, thus perpetuating
hierarchical thinking within the hispanismo movement.

John C. Landreau introduces us to a less well known Hispic
intellectual who participated in the language debate: ''Jose Maria
Arguedas: Peruvian Spanish as subversive assimilation''
[pp. 167-192]. This is a most welcome addition to the figures
previously discussed. Although Arguedas saw Spanish as a means of
promoting the Indian majority of Peru, he argued for the
legitimization of an autochthonous, mainly Quechua-influenced, hybrid
variety of Spanish which would constitute a language of modernity,
progress, and equality for all Peruvians inter alia by retaining the
mythological power the Quechua language is believed to have and by
expressing Andean cultural values and concepts. In short, his
conception of Peruvian Spanish is ''an enactment in miniature of the
ideal national community that he envisions'' [p. 185]. - It would have
been interesting to learn about the reception of his ideas outside

In the concluding chapter, ''Codo con codo: Hispanic Community and the
language spectacle'' [pp. 193-216], the editors of the volume tie the
threads together: During the past 200 years, different kinds of
community building projects (first the national independences, most
recently the construction of a supranational Hispanic community) have
always been intertwined with language ideologies which show surprising
consistency over the whole time period considered. It has been pointed
out above that sometimes quite different conclusions were reached by
Hispanic intellectuals formulating language ideology in spite of
highly similar basic assumptions, nevertheless, ''They all assumed
that peaceful coexistence within communities is possible inasmuch as
they possess a stable and minimally variable system, and that this
system must be known and accepted by those who belong or wish to
belong.'' [p. 193]. Since Valera, Unamuno, Pidal and Ortega, there is
also a tradition of language conflict and of condemning nationalists'
demands for the promotion of their regional languages as destructive
[p. 194, 195]. The third point these intellectuals seem to agree on is
that the leading role in the standardization of the Spanish language
has to be assumed by the Spanish (intellectual) elites. Leading
philologists of the present day and recent past such as Manuel Alvar
and Rafael Lapesa have advocated this stance, cf.

México sabía mejor que nadie el valor de tener una lengua que
unifique y que libere de la miseria y del atraso a las comunidades
indígenas. ... Salvar al indio, redimir al indio, incorporaciòn del
indio, como entonces gritaban, no es otra cosa que deindianizar al
indio. Incorporarlo a la idea de un estado moderno, para su
utilizaciòn en unas empresas de solidaridad nacional y para que
reciba los beneficios de esa misma sociedad. ... El camino hacia la
libertad transita por la hispanizaciòn. (Alvar 1991:17-18 quoted on
pp. 207-208)

The authors demonstrate that at present, such entities as the RAE and
the Instituto Cervantes, backed by the Spanish Crown and the Spanish
Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as multinational corporations wage
the language war above all on three fronts: in the World Wide Web, in
the United States, and in Brazil. Dissident voices such as Gabriel
García Marquez' orthography proposal and defenders of so-called
Spanglish - or the use of English loanwords per se (cf., e.g., Varela
2000) - are discredited in public while the 1999 orthography of the
RAE was celebrated as a milestone of linguistic integration in the
Hispanic world while virtually nothing was changed vis-a-vis the
previous edition of the orthography. The authors are convinced that it
is all about big money and the economic reconquista of Latin America.

Besides the articles discussed above, the volume contains a table of
contents [pp. v-vii], a list of the contributors [p. viii],
biographical notes on the intellectuals discussed in the contributions
[pp. ix-xi], a short preface [pp. xii-xiii], acknowledgements
[p. xiv], references [pp. 217-230], and an index [pp. 231-237].


The point made by the authors is certainly valid. Since Nebrija we
know that ''Siempre la lengua fue compañera del imperio.''. Depicting
the construction of a language ideology such as the monoglossic and
(Pan-)Hispanic one is an important descriptive task of the
Historiography of Linguistics. But are the Spanish entities mentioned
so much worse than, e.g., the French language planning institutions?
Is there anything new under the sun, anyway? Doesn't it seem
interesting that all of the contributors but one are affiliated to
universities located in the U.S.? And: Does calling the director of
the RAE, Victor Garcia de la Concha, ''don Victor'' [e.g., p. 211],
whatever the degree of language imperialism contained in his public
statements, lend more credibility to the cause of the present volume?

This does by no means imply that I do not applaud the publication of
the volume under survey. Rather, I cannot help but agree with the
editors in their synopsis of the contributions which shed light in a
significant way on the intellectuals involved in the Hispanic language
debate and their specific stances. The hierarchical thinking of the
formulators of Hispanic language ideology has been adopted by speakers
all over the Hispanic world, not just by purist langauge
teachers. This is yet another reason for wanting to take a look at the
emergence of the ideology in question. I will most certainly make my
students of an on-going course on American Spanish I managed to baffle
a few weeks ago with the very quote del Valle and Gabriel-Stheeman
take from Alvar 1991 (see above) read this book. You should urge your
students to do so, too, or, if you are not teaching any related
course, read it yourself -- last but not least for the sake of general


Alvar, Manuel (ed., 1991): Manual de dialectología hispánica. El
espaíol de América. Barcelona: Ariel.

Varela, Beatriz (2000): ''El español cubanoamericano''. In: Ana Roca
(ed.) Research on Spanish in the United States: linguistic issues and
challenges. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, pp. 173-176.


Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Acting chair of Iberoromance Philology at
the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include language
contact including pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and applied
sociolinguistics including language policy and language planning.

Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Acting chair of Iberoromance Philology at the
University of Helsinki. Her research interests include language contact
including pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and applied
sociolinguistics including language policy and language planning.