Preserving valuable records for almost 50 years
Yenia Silva Correa
Since the early 1960’s, the Cuban government has shown interest in supporting a center to investigate the Spanish language variant spoken on the island. In May of 1965, the José Antonio Portuondo Valdor Institute of Literature and Linguistics (ILL) was founded, and began working with a group of experts trained in the former Soviet Republics.
The Institute currently houses valuable records and carries out important research projects. Its director, Dr. Nuria Gregori, recalls the center’s early days, saying, “We linguists were making our way as we went along, as the poet Antonio Machado would say. Linguistics was not studied in Cuba. The first of us came from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Germany… Later the university began to train the graduates we take in.
“We received help from the former socialist camp through covenants with specialists in those countries. We worked and investigated different studies on lexicon, phonetics and morphology. These are the projects we did in close collaboration with other institutions across the country.”
How many have been done over almost 50 years?
Some, but many more remain to be done, including the training of new specialists and continuing this work. In 2013, we finished the Atlas Lingüístico de Cuba. We were fortunate to have a specialist who developed software to digitalize it and are taking the final steps to provide access to it, on the Institute’s page, which we are preparing.
This is going to be very important, to not only make known the different lexical and grammatical variants, but to teach the language as well. We have also worked on indigenous languages, the African ones, and how they have influenced Spanish in Cuba. There are no better, or worse, languages, all are equal. They are social constructions which we use to communicate. It’s important to know them to better understand each other and communicate with each other.
Is this book part of the Institute’s efforts to validate Cuban Spanish?
Of course, along with the studies we do. I have made a proposal for a linguistic policy, which I am currently reviewing. I have the support of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) and Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro.
At times, radio and TV announcers, the press are criticized, but there is awareness within the leadership of UPEC, and the country, about the importance of this knowledge, and that writing in our press and mass media must be correct, since it is seen everywhere.
We also did the Historia de la Literatura Cubana, in three volumes, beginning with the Colonial era, then the Republic through 1958, and the Socialist Republic (1959-1988).
What sorts of archives are stored in the ILL library?
We have 152 files which have been brought to us, by different individuals, for us to take care of, and so that others may consult them. The first archives to come to the Institute were brought by their author, Nicolás Guillén. Someone else who bequeathed his archives was Fernando Ortiz. We are publishing everything he left unpublished.
We have the only copies in the world of the science and technology magazine La América, which José Martí edited in New York, 1882-1885. We now have them digitalized. The complete Henríquez Ureña family archives are here. We have works of Ángel Augier, José Antonio Portuondo, José María Chacón y Calvo; a special collection on the Spanish Civil War and one of Galician publications which – according to Galicians – is one of the most important outside of Galicia. We also have a beautiful letter by [Federico García] Lorca.
The Institute includes the Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda faculty, which will hold an international event commemorating the bicentenary of the poetess, next November. To date, we have confirmed the participation of some 160 important individuals.
Next year, we will have a grand event for our 50th anniversary. We will present all the activities undertaken by the center during this time, everything: literature, linguistics, scientific-technical information.
The Institute would like to propose that the Nicolás Guillén archives, those of Fernando Ortiz and the Friends of the Country Economic Society, be registered as part of UNESCO’s World Memory. This is an important recognition and we want to make these [documents] available to humanity.