14 December 2008

Writing vs. Literature

I appreciate and certainly welcome all the theoretical and pedagogical discussions going on in the area of second language writing, such as those in the Journal of Second Language Writing. Much, if not all of the discussion, however, focuses on what I would call lower-level writing skills, the kind that allows one to communicate effectively in the second language. Very little, if any (and I would be very glad to be corrected) thought is being given to literature, which to me is a higher-level writing skill (in fact, it is not even a skill anymore, but an art). Much of the work done on Philippine literature in English, for example, does not even bother to acknowledge that the authors are thinking in a vernacular, non-Indo-European language, and translating or rethinking their thoughts in the second language (English, in the case of Tagalogs) or the third language (in the case of non-Tagalogs, Tagalog is the second language and English is only the third, both languages being learned in school rather than in the home). This point is very important in the case of poetry, where Tagalogs routinely pronounce English words differently from the British or the Americans, leading to quite different meters and rhymes.

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