[lg policy] The South Ameerican Poet Embracing a Language of Maybes

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Jun 28 10:31:39 EDT 2018


 The South American Poet Embracing a Language of Maybes

By Nick Fouriezos <https://www.ozy.com/ozy-tribe/nick-fouriezos/65652> •
JUN 28 2018

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   native language of the Americas once considered
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Why you should care

Because Susy Delgado isn’t just writing great poetry but also preserving an
ancient language in the process.
[image: PY flag]
Paraguay <https://www.ozy.com/topic/paraguay>
-23.442503° S, -58.443832° W
view map <https://www.ozy.com/around-the-world>

   - 6,811,297Population
   - Guaraní, SpanishSpoken Language
   - $9,785GDP Per Capita
   - AsunciónCapital City

Susy Delgado’s voice rises in soft staccato bursts, fluttering then
falling, rolling quietly through question mark inflections in conversation
with herself. The push and pull fits a poem combining Spanish and Guarani,
the indigenous language of the rural and native Paraguayan
<https://www.ozy.com/flashback/the-modern-eras-most-destructive-war-took-place-in-paraguay/76683>
people. She reads the first lines of her bilingual tome — *Yvytu yma*,
or *Viento
viejo*, translated “old wind” — which won the country’s national literature
prize last year. Her words breeze through her own storied career, one that
has taken the 68-year-old from the then-rural farmlands of nearby San
Lorenzo to the concert halls of Buenos Aires and Madrid and London as a
professional dancer, and finally ending up here, where she serves as an
adviser to the minister of culture in the sweltering Paraguayan capital of
Asunción.

Critics heaped praise on Delgado’s collection, released on the three-decade
anniversary of her first published works. “The words of the poetic voice
depart and return, they come and go … and bring lived moments to the places
inhabited by them,” writes Lilibeth Zambrano, an expert in Paraguayan
literature at the University of Los Andes in Venezuela who describes
Delgado’s work as “the poetics of the silent.” The impact goes far beyond
mere aesthetic, though. It’s tempting to dismiss *Yvytu yma* as a
reflection on past innovations rather than innovative itself, the way
authors often become myopic with age while leaving their best work to the
past. Yet the collection remains transformative because it exemplifies the
cultural reclamation and renewal of Guarani, a language spoken by 12
million people from Paraguay to Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. “She is one
of the jewels for the Guarani language,” says Paraguayan author Javier
Viveros.
[image: img 8919]

         <?subject=The South American Poet Embracing a Language of
Maybes&body=Susy Delgado has helped reclaim Guarani, the best preserved
native language of the Americas once considered
dirty.%20https://www.ozy.com/rising-stars/the-south-american-poet-embracing-a-language-of-maybes/86779#img124714%0A%0ADon't
forget to Sign up for OZY emails (http://www.ozy.com/emailsignup) or Like
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Susy Delgado

Source:Nick Fouriezos <http://www.ozy.com/ozy-tribe/nick-fouriezos/65652>
/OZY

Her story is one of revival. Although one of the greatest Paraguayan poets
<https://www.ozy.com/good-sht/five-fierce-women-poets-to-inspire-the-resistance/76581>,
Emiliano R. Fernandez, wrote in Guarani, it was treated like a lower-caste
tongue under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989.
Teachers shamed schoolchildren for using it, while political leaders
disavowed it except to court the indigenous vote. At least four-fifths of
Paraguayans still understand it, making it the most enduring native
language in the Americas. But Guarani texts (typically religious) were
scarce, later written into lullabies or songs. Delgado was essentially
alone when she began writing Guarani literature in the ’80s. “The people
always considered it a meaner literature,” she says. That a book of Guarani
poetry could be awarded the *Premio Nacional de Literatura* speaks to the
success of the preservation process Delgado started so long ago. “It’s
fundamental. It’s vital. Not just because it is my mother tongue, but it is
one of the more vigorous, alive, strong languages,” she says.

Guarani has become more acceptable in recent years, with the help of
writers like Delgado. While the Paraguayan constitution in 1992 aimed to
put it on equal footing with Spanish
<https://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/why-these-mexican-writers-are-ditching-spanish-for-indigenous-languages/75743>,
it wasn’t until the formation of the Ministry of Language Policy in 2011
that the government encouraged a renaissance. Now Guarani pops up in
advertising, baby names and music lyrics. And other writers are writing in
the language that, while perhaps high-pitched and harsh verbally, conveys
strange and deep truths. “I can explain many things in less words. It’s
really concentrated,” says Viveros, who made his name writing Spanish
stories but switched to Guarani for a haiku collection. Guarani is
preoccupied with maybes, uncertainty, where the word for *tomorrow* is not
translated as “when the sun rises,” but rather, “*if * the sun rises.” And
it puts a name to many peculiars. For example, Guarani has a word for the
oldest, the middle and the youngest child. It is “a tongue of nuances,”
Delgado says.
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​

Delgado accidentally discovered her own proclivity for Guarani. Although
she grew up speaking it on her grandparents’ farm, she and her peers always
wrote in Spanish. Delgado pursued a dancing career through her early
twenties, training with a master in Buenos Aires from 1971 to 1976, then
heading overseas and ending up in Madrid to study sociology from 1978 to
1980. She returned to Paraguay, where she worked as a newspaper journalist
but earned international acclaim in 1985 after finishing as a finalist for
a Madrid-based Spanish poetry competition. An advertising agency in
Asunción asked her to create a script for a radio ad in Guarani. “It was
that day I discovered I could write in Guarani,” she says, which was
shocking because “everybody said it was very hard to write!”

Like the metaphors in her poetry, in which she compares the fleeting and
elusive nature of time with the wind, her memory of this period in her life
is unreliable. “It happened so long ago, it’s like a dream,” she admits.
But she does remember that she was reticent to publish at first. Her
friends in the literary community had to convince her, which led to the
creation of *Algún Extraviado Temblor * (*Some Lost Tremor*), published in
1986, and follow-up bilingual works including *Tesarái Mboyve* (*Before the
Forgetfulness*) and *Tataypípe* (*With the Fire*).

Even amid her accolades, her work remains controversial. Critics here, as
they do globally, grapple over whether authors should preserve language or
adopt more colloquial terms. Delgado doesn’t merely write in Spanish and
Guarani, but mixes in the local slang that combines the two, nicknamed
“Jopara.” Her decision isn’t always applauded. “The high teachers and
important writers of the Guarani language used to demonize the Jopara,” she
says. “But this is really the way people talk here.” In this moment, she
speaks forcefully in Spanish — leaving the ambiguity of Guarani behind.
[image: screen shot 2018 05 18 at 11.29.34 am]


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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