27 March 2009

Linguistic relativism 2

One reason it is difficult for critics to judge monolingual against multilingual works is that the critics themselves have to be multilingual or at least bilingual. A Western critic faced with the challenge of determining which of Oedipus Rex or Hamlet is a better play has to be able to read both Greek (even if learned only in school) and English (not our contemporary one, but that of Shakespeare). There are, of course, such critics, especially those that took classics in Oxford or similar universities. Reading Oedipus Rex in another language (which is what most critics do) will fail to catch some if not many of the crucial literary qualities of the work (the rhymes, the length of the syllables, the homophones, and so on, what structuralists would call the signifiers). That is, even if English speakers do not always acknowledge it, also the case with Shakespeare (I once heard a British actor read Shakespeare the way Shakespeare would have recited the lines, and no one in the English-speaking audience understood a word!). With macaronic poetry, a reader can at least catch the sounds and glimpse the rhyme scheme, but a literary critic has to go beyond merely glimpses. The literary critic has to be able to explain the relationship of sound to sense, and that is very hard (but not impossible, as in the case of Filipino critics that read English or in the case of many European critics that grew up with languages other than their own). Just like the multilingual writer, the multilingual critic has a distinct advantage over monolingual critics.

1 comment:

  1. Is the advocacy behind multilingual literature an attempt to skirt the issue of a global language?

    If we can't succeed in adopting or creating a dominant language for social and cultural development, might it not be politically easier to interlace languages to unify the human's worldview?

    Esperanto did not prosper. French and Spanish were sine qua nons only in their Imperial heydays. Latin died with the dying of the Imperial Church. English as a dominant global medium of communication might still find its current efficacy marred by the economic downturn in most of the Western countries where English is used?

    Would a multilingual literature not be creating a neo-Babel? It appears quixotic at this point to practise multilingualism.

    The whole gamut of literary theory and linguistics would have to be turned upside- down, inside-out, to re-invent this wheel.

    Multilingual lexicons, semantics, sound systems, syntax, ad infinitum would have to be codified. How much time does man have before he re-invents a new Dark Ages -- since the globalisation of culture will have to depend on a super-power to redirect geopolitics that will foster a political will to adopt one, unified, hegemonized culture and civilization (unigovernments, universities, blended-multi-cultural-diversities etc.)?

    How many world wars should be waged to slay the ogres of nationalism, territorial terrorism, and economic protectionism in order to humour our multilingual writers and critics?

    Is this all a pipe dream? But the dream of retrieving a Paradise Lost from the cacophony of chattering-babbling-unlistening massmen remains to be that -- a dream devoutly to be wished. --ALBERT B.CASUGA