08 February 2009

Speaking well does not mean writing well

Ako Essien, studying Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, The Interpreters by Wole Soyinka, and The Last Imam by Ibrahim Tahir in "Communicative Competence and Dialogue in Bilingual Novels: Three Nigerian Novels as Case Study," in the book Goatskin Bags and Wisdom: New Critical Perspectives on African Literature, edited by Ernest N. Emenyonu (Africa World Press, 2000, pages 183-184), writes: "In an L2 situation, where most of the users (even the highly competent ones) are exposed to only the written form of the language, their communicative competence is likely to be lopsided. This could account for the reason why some Nigerian novelists – Nwapa, Aluko, and Akpan, for instance – are castigated for the stilted conversation their characters engage in (see Lindfors 1971, Osundare 1979, etc.). But a good command of language does not automatically provide the writer with the ability to use language appropriately in character differentiation, even if he/she has been exposed to several varieties."

That reminds me of a famous remark of the late Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC (who was both a literature and a language expert), that "Filipinos speak the way they write." Of course, Filipino writers in English are exposed not only to the written form of the language (because they read quite a number of literary texts in English or in English translation), but to the spoken form (at least of Philippine English [which is the variety used every day in schools and business places], if not of American English [since many Filipino writers in English have studied in the United States]). Nevertheless, like that of Nigerian novelists, the communicative competence of Filipino novelists is also likely to be lopsided. Gonzalez gave evidence of this in various lectures.


  1. "A spin on lopsidedness. Talking has one trajectory, its moment of utterance. Good writing is re-writing. Hemingway supposedly re-wrote the ending of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" 35 times. And his interviews do not at all read like his novelistic prose."

  2. I guess this is one more reason to encourage Pinoy writers to write more in Filipino or in whatever regional tongue they most competent in...o",)