In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Multilingualism in Latino Literature

  • Introduction
  • Multilingualism: General Overview
  • Multilingualism in Literature: Overviews
  • Multilingualism in Latino Literature
  • Spanglish
  • Translation and Self-Translation

Latino Studies Multilingualism in Latino Literature
Gustavo Pérez Firmat
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0274


Multilingualism is the term for the cultural and linguistic practices among those whose linguistic repertoire contains two or more languages. Latino pan-ethnicity, which embodies diversity of origins and paths of migration, effects of colonialism, race, color, class and Indigenous linguistic survivals make multilingualism a fundamental part of the Latino experience. In addition to Spanish and English, Latino writers utilize multiple varieties of both languages, as well as dialects and vernaculars. The linguistic hybrid called Spanglish is a major factor in Latino literature, with writers and readers seeing the combination of Spanish and English as emblematic of their dual identities. According to Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa, her writing includes standard English, slang, standard Spanish, Mexican Spanish, and pachuco or caló (Chicano urban slang). Miguel Algarín, a founding member of the Nuyorican Poet’s group, spoke of the oral and aural mix of syllable and stress in the mix of Caribbean Spanish and African American English that one hears in New York City. In addition, Latino writers embrace strategies of translation and self-translation. Many speak of the difficulties in attempting to render in a second language incidents and feelings originally experienced in their first language. Self-translators often describe the two versions of their texts as interconnected in ways that move beyond the established concepts of original and translation.

Multilingualism: General Overview

Multilingualism is defined as the use of more than one language, either by an individual speaker or by a group of speakers. Coulmas 2018 offers an introduction to multilingualism in a changing world; Grosjean 1982 provides a classic introduction to bilingualism; Lacorte 2015 provides an expansive introduction to the field of Spanish linguistics in North American contexts; Maher 2017 discusses multilingualism as an expression and tool of human pluralities; Pavlenko 2014 provides a review of the scientific investigation of the relationship between language and cognition; and Romaine 2001 examines forms of multilingualism as situational acts of identity.

  • Coulmas, Florian. An Introduction to Multilingualism: Language in a Changing World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    An introduction to the many facets of multilingualism in a changing world, beginning with a survey of the multiplicity of human languages and their geographic distribution, moving on to the key question of what multilingualism actually is, and systematically exploring multilingualism with respect to the cyberspace, nations, cities, institutions, and the individual.

  • Grosjean, François. Life with Two Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

    A classic general introduction to bilingualism in which Grosjean engages with bilingualism in several ways. Emphasizing the naturalness of the bilingual’s use of two languages, he studies the psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of bilingualism, including code-switching, and language interference.

  • Lacorte, Manel, ed. The Routledge Handbook of Hispanic Applied Linguistics. New York: Routledge, 2015.

    A pioneering compendium that provides a comprehensive overview of the discipline. Of particular interest is Part 5, which discusses the social and political aspects of Spanish in North American contexts.

  • Maher, John C. Multilingualism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780198724995.001.0001

    Multilingualism as an expression of human plurality—focuses on the shifting views on the structure and value of language and the part it plays in national and cultural identities.

  • Pavlenko, Aneta. The Bilingual Mind and What It Tells Us About Language and Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139021456

    Provides a critical review of the scientific investigations of the relationship between language and cognition. After discussing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ cognition, Pavlenko argues that the subsequent studies of R.W. Brown and E.H. Lenneberg have led to the elimination of one of its central tenets, namely that the acquisition of a second language provides a means of transcending the boundaries of the first language.

  • Romaine, Suzanne. “Multilingualism.” In The Handbook of Linguistics. Edited by Mark Aronoff and Janie Rees-Miller, 513–532. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Study of language use in situational acts of identity within multilingual communities as well as analyses of code switching and diglossia (the use of different languages in specific contexts or for specific purposes).

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