19 April 2009


"When an individual adapts to a new culture at the expense of his primary culture we speak of a process of deculturation," write Josiane F. Hamers and Michel Blanc in their Bilinguality and Bilingualism (2nd ed., 2000, pp. 205-206). "Deculturation," they add, "is associated with psychological distress. Extreme deculturation leads to assimilation, which may be accompanied by first-language loss. If no assimilation into the host culture occurs, deculturation leads to anomie, a complex psychological state implying feelings of alienation and isolation vis-à-vis the society one lives in. Acculturation models disagree, however, on the extent to which acculturation processes lead necessarily to a form of deculturation."

Psycholinguists studying bilinguality would benefit greatly from looking at second-language literature (especially since writers are stereotypically alienated anyway). When a work is in a second language, does alienation occur because of language? I am talking not about the writer (although psychologists obviously are more interested in human beings than words on the page), but about the text as it compares with texts by monolingual writers. Are Villa's poems, for example, powerful because he is writing in a second language? Could a monolingual poet have arranged the words this way in a line: "I clothed myself in fire"? (Clearly, unlike psychologists, I do not regard alienation as negative, since it leads to marvelous works of art, no matter what the personal cost is to the artist!)

1 comment:

  1. In response to the rhetorical question about a monolingual poet, would these three lines from Richard III suffice as an answer?
    And thus I clothed my naked villainy
    With odd old ends stol'n forth of holy writ,
    And seem a saint when most I play he devil.