Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Wondrous Lexicon of Oscar Wao

Tyree and I are reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. This is not a book review, but I will say it's a great book.

As a language-nerd, the most fascinating element of the book is the use of language or languages. It's more than just Spanglish, it's Dominican, it's urban and tropical, it's American, it's references to Lord of the Rings and the Classics.Wao is Wilde with a Spanish accent - as in Oscar Wilde. It's
J.Lo and Anacaona, it's Mordor and Trujillo. It's invented words - smashing dominicanismos and hip-hop and 20th century Latin American history all together.

Even as a Spanish-speaker, there were a lot of words I did not know. Some of them were new to me because they are specifically Dominican, some of the words aren't even Spanish but Japanese or Hindi.

So, I decided to make a list of the Spanish words that were nueva or interesante to me. I'm not listing Spanish 1 vocab like abuela and guapa and all that. This list might not actually be useful to anyone but me. There are so many lists one could make: references to sci-fi, references to incidents in Latin American history, hip-hop vocab, dirty names
Díaz calls Trujillo. I'm only going to focus on the Spanish, the Caribbean and the Dominican.

BUT, if you were looking for such lists, or annotations to help you get through this complex and layered novel, I suggest this great website: The Annotated Oscar Wao. It intends to explain every sci-fi reference and word that your average gavacho or gavachita might not catch the first time around. It's comprehensive and very helpful.

La Introducción

Capítulo Uno

Capítulo Dos

Capítulo Tres

Capítulo Cuatro

Introduction Part II

Capítulo Cinco

Capítulo Seis

Capítulos Siete y Ocho


Anonymous said...

i don't know how to use the internet well, despite the fact that i'm in my twenties, so i don't know how to leave a comment on your blog. hence, i'm emailing. i came across your blog doing research for my thesis- i almost ended up at tulane when i decided to go back to college, but ended up in california instead. anyway, i like your commentary about oscar wao. i'm writing my thesis on language's many functions/uses/forms in diaz's book. let me know if you've found any other useful sites/info on the book if you don't mind sharing. just wanted to say hey... hope all is well in new orleans

Anonymous said...

Dear Heather,

Just a few words to thank you for your posts with respect to "La breve y maravillosa vida de Oscar Wao." As a Spanish teacher in an urban high school where the demagraphics very much reflect Dominican immigrants, I truly appreciate the work you are saving me!

In truth, I am in the middle of Diaz's book and I've been compiling a list of "Dominicanisms." I just returned from DR with a colleague who so graciously invited me into her home. Although I speak Spanish "without and accent and like a native"--a debatable assertion by my students and Dominican colleagues--I find myself digging deeper and deeper into the linguistic nuances of colloquialisms and regional dialects.

In any event, while searching for one of the many terms that I could not decipher from the translated version of the text (which has super annotations, by the way), I stumbled across your blog and glossary of terms. I was able to cut and post the things I needed instead of googling each term. Even the best on-line dictionary cannot offer such explanations.

So, I thank you yet again for sharing your findings with those of us out here who share your desire to keep learning. You are truly appreciated!

Thanks again,

PS: I also appreciate your honesty and candor! Whenever you are not sure of a word, you state that openly and offer a contextual guess...