06 March 2009

Alejandro Morales

Here is an English passage from the Spanish novel Reto en el Paraiso (1983), by Alejandro Morales, the American author who once wrote "Como autor chicano, espero que pronto llegue el día en que no me vea obligado a salir de mi proprio país para publicar una novela escrita en español" (Caras viejas y vino nuevo, published in Mexico, 1975):

"– I’m sorry, but I have an engagement.
– Fine. I understand. Too bad though, I would have liked to have been accompanied by a handsome man like you.
– Sure." (p. 104 of Bilingual Press edition)

We can see immediately the difference between mother-tongue writing and second-language writing. The very formal "I would have liked to have been accompanied by a handsome man like you," since it is in direct speech or a dialogue, would be an error had the author been a monolingual English writer. Because the passage appears in a predominantly Spanish text, however, readers make allowances for the quaint sentence construction. In fact, politically incorrect readers would find the English "exotic." The same Spanish-looking English has been observed in one of the top Philippine authors, Nick Joaquin, whose first language was Tagalog and whose second language was Spanish (English, in which he wrote his masterpieces, being only his third language).

This could lead to a tenet in multilingual criticism: in second-language texts, the author is not dead; the intentional fallacy does not hold; we have to know who the author is to appreciate what s/he is doing.

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