21 March 2009
One of the dangers of macaronic texts (and even of monolingual works in second languages) is that of not really understanding the words in the non-mother tongues. After all, as all writers know, dictionaries do not really contain all the meanings of a word; at most, dictionaries point you towards the strictly literal meaning, but do not give you the reverberations, the music, the feel, the shape, the taste of a word (which is what poets look for). Umberto Eco, in his Il nome della rosa (1980), translated into English as The Name of the Rose (1983), satirizes the lunatic fringe of multilingual writing, with the character of Salvatore, who "spoke not one, but all languages, none correctly, taking words sometimes from one and sometimes from another." As the old logicians used to say, however, abusus rei usum non tollit [the abuse of something does not mean that we should not use it]. Of course, there are multilingual texts that don't quite make literary standards, but if language is really central to the craft of writing, then surely the use of more than one language has to be an asset rather than a drawback. Everything else being equal (and admittedly they never are), a work using more than one language should be considered superior to a work using only one.