After discussing the issue of language as a mode of communication, we will look more analytically at diction, syntax, imagery, and connotation as elements of language that establish a writer's style (artistic voice) and the rhetorical purpose (political voice). Diction is important, as the choice of words (for all writers in general, but poets in particular) is deliberate; precise words are chosen because of the meanings they convey. The patterns of images that are used are critical as they contribute to thematic development and character development (particularly in the case of fiction and non-fiction). Similarly the connotations of the words and images, the socio-cultural and personal associations, needs to be considered. While there may be numerous words that have similar denotations, the individual words may convey very different attitudes or emotional resonance. In addition, syntax must be examined as an element of the argument. The structure of phrases, clauses, and sentences is part of a writer's overall strategy in building meaning. What words are given prominence? Is parallelism used to reinforce any ideas? Is there a pattern of complex and simple sentences orchestrated to achieve a specific effect? All these elements must be looked at.
At this point we will discuss the issue of "code-switching," the use of what appears to be an indiscriminate and uncontrolled alternation between Spanish and English. This is a crucial issue, as it addresses what Juan Flores calls "an inscrutable paradox": is bilingual poetry American or Puerto Rican?(1) We will find that it is neither and both, that the use of both intermittently is instinctual as a mode of social communication and deliberate as an element of artistic communication.
Since the Puerto Rican dialect has traditionally "been viewed as inferior and associated with deviance and ignorance," it has been looked down upon as a technique of artistic discourse.(2) We also need to consider that the acquired form of English may also be an "inferior" variant, "sharing much with Black dialects."(3) The blending of the two has come to be known derogatorily as "Spanglish," which is seen as the collapse of the integrity of both languages. However, as Flores points out, "sentences that used both Spanish and English were found to be grammatical in both languages; switching only occurs where the structures of both are congruent."(4) Thus, not only does the language have integrity, it also allows for a wider range of potential for discourse and expression - it adds depth and breadth to the artist's voice.
As Rosaura Sanchez notes, "code-switching is ... characteristic of bilingual populations in the midst of social change."(5) And while this overlapping of linguistic functions is usually a transition that leads one into adoption of the dominant language, Puerto Ricans have a different experience than other ethnic groups. Puerto Ricans have traditionally resisted being "mainstreamed" into the dominant U.S. culture and completely losing their native tongue; unlike other ethnic groups that have migrated to the United States, they have managed to maintain their birth language. Part of the nature of this difference is the fact that they have migrated from a neighboring island and move back and forth freely from the island to the mainland United States unlike other "immigrant" groups. As such, Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are never far removed from a significant number of speakers of the Puerto Rican variant of Spanish. The barrios have not only kept the Spanish alive, but, as language is a living, growing entity, the language of mainland Puerto Ricans has evolved along with the community. So, for most social conversation in which code-switching takes place, it is a function of their status as a subordinate group in an English-dominant society, developing their own identity.
The conscious use of code-switching is in itself a political act. As Flores pointed out in
, the history of Puerto Rico is one of colonialism and subordination. The native people of the island were first subjugated by the Spanish, then at the turn of the twentieth century by the United States. Flores contends that the use of code-switching by modern writers is a direct result of historical subordination by another culture. The subordination of Spanish is to be seen as a part of the domination of Puerto Rico by U.S. culture and politics; preserving the Spanish dialect is only secondarily a linguistic issue - the primary concern is one of justice. It is a conscious attempt to keep from being swallowed up by the Anglo culture that sees total assimilation as necessary to belonging to American society and reaping the economic benefits to be gained from "joining the club."
The introduction of this material may be done in different fashions. One method is to use this as an occasion for individual or small group research. This would serve several purposes, including developing independent research skills. (Note: Since instruction in the effective use of technology is at the vanguard of education today, I would recommend LatinoLink as an excellent electronic resource) Another manner of introducing these ideas would be through a lecture and discussion format. While this is not generally a favored mode, it is an expeditious way of disseminating the information to the students and can be used if done judiciously. A lecture and note-taking session can be used so that more time could be spent having the students apply the ideas to their analysis of the literary pieces. Obviously, this is up to discretion of the individual teacher, but again, a lecture format should only be used sparingly.
We will then discuss the use of code-switching and "Spanglish" by the Nuyorican poets, artists from the El Barrio section of New York's East Harlem. We will read and discuss the works of Pedro Pietri, Tato Lavíera, and Sandra Maria Esteves that are included in
The Latino Reader
(Houghton Mifflin, 1997). Students will participate in whole-group, individual, and small-group analysis of the poems as works of art and political commentary. We will identify patterns of imagery and use of figurative language; we will also examine the use of English, Spanish, and the blending of the two into "Spanglish." We will identify what parts of American culture the individual artists celebrate and criticize in their quest to define themselves as members of both cultures. While there are other poets that could be considered in this section, these have been chosen by the editors of
The Latino Reader
as representative samples and will suit our purposes well.
The students will begin with Pedro Pietri's poem "Puerto Rican Obituary (1973);" Flores considers it to be a particularly important work of the Nuyorican mode. The poem deals with the individual experiences of several latinos and latinas, the hopes and dreams they held, the shattering of those dreams, and the death (literal and spiritual) they suffer. Through the individuals, common elements of the Puerto Rican experience in New York city are portrayed. The tone is strident and, since tone is an important element of communication in general, we will use tone as a focus of our analysis of this poem. Also, since Pietri discusses the necessity of possessing English skills for social and economic advancement, and the cruel withholding of this advancement that is perpetuated in the U.S. by those with political and economic power, this and the switching over to Spanish in the poem's conclusion must be examined. This poem also lends itself to a discussion of grammatical parallelism; analysis of its use in "Puerto Rican Obituary" is included in the sample lesson plan. Reference to the use of parallelism in "Child of the Americas" should be made. This helps to show that it is a device used by many writers and underscores the need for readers to be aware of how writers use grammar for their own effects.