Livin’ La Vida Multilingüe

Yes, Ricky Martin is the hook for this posting. Aside from the fact that I’m a big RM fan, this is not at all a forced connection, as you’ll see. For the moment, this:

  (#1) See also #1 in this posting on RM, showing him in a performance of the song.

Back in June, I posted (here) about the retirement party for Stanford’s Eve Clark, prominently mentioning Herb Clark’s comments about the 2014 Festschrift for Eve edited by

Inbal Arnon, Marisa Casillas, Chigusa Kurumada, Bruno Estigarribia

There I said, of Eve and Herb, that

each of them read and critiqued almost everything the other wrote, and they talked about their research essentially on a daily basis. As Herb remarked yesterday, this made it incredibly difficult for him to write his contribution to the Festschrift … without tipping Eve off to the project; complex ruses were resorted to.

Herb also reflected on the diversity of the editors’ names, each from a different language — Bruno’s, from Basque, being the most exotic of the four. They are all multilingual (and multicultural), Bruno pretty spectacularly so. And, being linguists, they all know at least a bit about a huge number of languages (and the cultures and societies those languages are part of).

Such experiences, I think, incline linguists to a certain liberality of spirit: openness to new ideas, appreciation of social, cultural, and individual variety, and resistance to prejudice. Characteristics to be seen in Eve and all four of the editors. And, arrived at by a somewhat different route, in Ricky Martin.

RM grew up in Puerto Rico, speaking English as well as Spanish, and is also fluent in French, Portuguese and Spanish (yes, all Indo-European languages, and except for English, all Romance, but still it’s a cosmopolitan linguistic background). Traveling with Menudo as a teen took him to a wide range of places; he’s big in Mexico and in both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking America, and has fan clubs in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, and Spain, plus Brazil, Italy, and Australia.

Then from Wikipedia:

Martin, in an interview with Vanity Fair, described his [ethnic] origins as Spanish, with Basque ancestry from his great-grandparents, plus some Corsican [Corsica is a Mediterranean island near Italy that is part of metropolitan France] through his paternal grandmother.

Again the Basque connection.

So now we’re back to Bruno. From his faculty sketch at UNC Chapel Hill (obviously written by Bruno himself):


Bruno Estigarribia is a Hispanic linguist who specializes in the structure of Spanish (in particular Argentinian Spanish), and in the contact of Spanish with other languages (in particular Guaraní), in multilingual/post-colonial situations. He was born in Argentina to a Paraguayan father (bilingual speaker of Spanish and Guarani) and an Italian mother (bilingual speaker of Spanish and Calabrian). This background sparked in him an early fascination with language.

His higher education was at l’Université Paris V, René Descartes (often known as “Paris Descarte University” or “Paris V”); and Stanford (with a dissertation on children’s acquisition of the syntax of English questions).

Estigarribia is a surname of Basque origin, found primarily in Paraguay. Bruno wrote me recently to say:

my name actually means ‘the ford of/by the maple’… or Mapleford, which will be my pseudonym whenever I get around to writing my first mystery novel.

On from Basque to Guarani. From the site for Guarani Linguistics in the 21st Century (Brill, 2017), ed. by Bruno and Justin Pinta (Ohio State):

In Guarani Linguistics in the 21st Century Bruno Estigarribia and Justin Pinta bring together a series of state-of-the-art linguistic studies of the Guarani language. Guarani is the only indigenous language of the Americas that is spoken by a non-indigenous majority. In 1992, it achieved official status in Paraguay, on a par with Spanish. Current language planning efforts focus on its standardization for use in education, administration, science, and technology. In this context, it is of paramount importance to have a solid understanding of Guarani that is well-grounded in modern linguistic theory. This volume aims to fulfil that role and spur further research of this important South American language.

More on the language, from Wikipedia:

Guarani, specifically the primary variety known as Paraguayan Guarani, is an indigenous language of South America that belongs to the Tupi–Guarani family of the Tupian languages. It is one of the official languages of Paraguay (along with Spanish), where it is spoken by the majority of the population, and where half of the rural population is monolingual. It is spoken by communities in neighboring countries, including parts of northeastern Argentina, southeastern Bolivia and southwestern Brazil, and is a second official language of the Argentine province of Corrientes since 2004; it is also an official language of Mercosur [the trade bloc composed of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay].

It should be obvious from even this brief description that Guarani is a language of consderable political and cultural significance, something that’s hard for most Americans to appreciate in a native American language. From the Native Languages of the Americas site, the top 5 in number of speakers (with very rough estimates of these numbers):

1 Quechua (in the Andes), 8 million; 2 Mayan languages (in Mexico and Guatemala, a set of languages recklessly lunped together); 3 Guarani (mostly in Paraguay), 5 million; 4 Aymara (Peru and Brazil), 2.5 million; 5 Nahuatl (Mexico), 2 million

Two comparisons. First, in numbers, Guarani is about the same as Norwegian; a bit under Danish, Finnish, Slovene, Catalan, and Albanian; and quite a lot more than Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian. Second, in comparison to native American languages north of Mexico: with Navaho in the southwestern US at 150,000 as the most numerous in speakers; with Cree in Canada at 70,000; and with the Inuit languages taken together at 65,000. Tiny numbers here up north.

The experience of languages, cultures, and societies. Bruno, with his fluency in Spanish, Italian, French, English, and Guarani (and formal education in three of them), is roughly comparable to Ricky Martin, except for the strikingly non-IE language Guarani (the other editors of the Eve Cark Festschrift are also experienced in non-IE languages).

But in addition Bruno knows a bit about lots of other languages (and their cultures and societies). This is what linguists get from advising students on their work, from fieldwork (brief or extended), from collecting illustrative data for teaching courses, from reading journal articles and hearing scholarly papers, and from analyzing phenomena in specific languages in order to investigate theoretical proposals, psychological processes, the course of language acquisition and adult language learning, mechanisms of linguistic change, the social content of linguistic variables, the nature of writing systems, and much more. We hoover up data from many languages for our purposes, and we have to be intellectually limber and culturally sensitive as well as analytically sharp and technically savvy. And we become embedded to varying degrees in the worlds of the people whose languages, cultures, and social organizations we study.

(Ricky Martin has had the experience of living in different languages and cultures, but not much of the rest of this.)

All this will, I think, incline us to what I called above a liberality of spirit.

To illustrate what might bring a linguist to this point, I offer a small piece of my own experience, by listing some of the languages that I’ve engaged with in my career so far:

in work by students: varieties of English, French, German, and Spanish, plus ASL, Guarani, Yucatec Maya, Tongan, Cajun French, Hawaiian Creole, Portuguese, Jamaican Creole, Telugu, Siane, Bisaya / Visayan / Cebuano, Yiddish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Greenlandic Eskimo, Japanese, Arabic (several varieties), Swedish, Turkish, Danish, Italian, Finnish, Korean, Swiss German, Palauan, Dutch, Catalan, Romanian, Israeli Hebrew, Modern Greek, Hindi, Latvian, Welsh, Persian / Farsi, Armenian, Kikuyu, Hausa, Igbo, Estonian, Bulgarian

plus, in my own work: again, many varieties of English; and Sanskrit, Somali, Warlpiri, Hungarian, Menomini, Quechua, Cape York Creole, Mohawk, Malagasy, Tagalog / Filipino, Classical Greek, Latin, Nez Perce, Hidatsa, Pashto, Swahili, Tok Pisin, Georgian, Hua, Jacaltec, Maninka, Papago / Tohono O’odham, Haitian Creole, Cameroonian Pidgin

And then some gigantic number of language varieties I’ve seen discussed in print, in seminars and talks, in shop talk with other linguists, on-line, and so on (often with significant detail about the sociocultural context of these varieties).

It can make you open to the world.

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