09 January 2009

Is language crucial to literariness?

One question always raised by writers in second languages is this: if I can read Homer in a language other than Greek and get all the "literary" qualities of his epics, why can't I write in a language other than mine and still keep all the "literary" qualities of the works I write in my own language? Is language really that crucial to literariness? Does literariness reside in other things, such as plot, character, theme, etc.? For the New Critics (admittedly now unfashionable), literature is a particular use of language, which means that the moment you shift language, you shift literariness. For one thing (if you follow the New Critics, which is not necessarily a bad thing), the sound of the word, especially in poetry, has much to do with the sense of the word. That relationship between sound and sense is lost when the sound is different, as happens with a second language.

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