11 May 2009

Contini and Philippine writing

Is multilingual literary criticism new? No. We can trace it to at least as early as the Italian Renaissance. In the last century, one big name in multilingual literary criticism was the Italian critic Gianfranco Contini, who analyzed the way Italian writers used other languages.

A recent article on Contini, "The Modern Macaronic" by Albert Sbragia, in The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies, yields an insight that could very well apply to the Philippines, as well as to other multilingual countries:

"To understand the linguistic peculiarities of the Italian literary tradition, it is necessary to recur to the plurilinguistic anomaly of the Italian peninsula. This plurilingualism is largely the consequence of the precocious unification of a national literary language contrasted by the comparatively late social and political unification of the Italian nation."

Substitute Tagalog for Italian and you get a clue to the extremely complex linguistic situation in the Philippines, and why writings by Filipinos in English or Tagalog (or any other language) are very difficult to analyze, unless the critic is multilingual.

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