06 April 2009
Varieties within languages
When multicultural criticism becomes more advanced, we can start to analyze texts where two or more varieties of a language are used. Playwrights have been working with dialects for a long time, but only recently have playwrights been using varieties. (For those not familiar with the distinction between dialect and variety: Bronx English and Texas English are dialects of American English; American English and British English are varieties of English.) How helpful it would be to, for example, Filipino-Australian playwright and novelist Merlinda Bobis, if there were a critic that could speak Bicolano (her first language), Filipino (her second language), and English (her third language, in which she has won a major European prize), and could also understand the differences between Philippine English (the variety spoken in Manila, where Bobis used to live) and Australian English. I can't speak Bicolano and really wish I could fully appreciate Bobis' short stories. Here is a sentence from one of them: "Gingered chicken in green papayas, smothered with coconut milk, never fails to keep the tongue moist long after the meal is over." It is not just the biculturality that attracts here, but also the mixture of two varieties of English, not to mention the Bicolano or Filipino substructure.