16 June 2009

Cuban-Americans working with English

Cubans born in Cuba and now working and writing in the United States have a keen sense of the interaction of mother tongue with second language. Here is an excerpt from the introduction to One Island, Many Voices: Conversations with Cuban-American Writers, by Eduardo R. del Rio:

"A sense of duality regarding the English language is another trait of Cuban-American literature that is prominent in the works of these twelve writers. For some of them, Spanish may be a mere memory or something experienced sporadically through familial bonds. Others, however, are more at home in the Spanish language, and English thus represents a direct confrontation with a new and confusing tongue. For all of these writers, however, their linguistic consciousness includes a sense of both languages. Because of this duality, the body of Cuban-American writers' works is written primarily in English, as they seek to express this conflict in the language that is the embodiment of it."

I like the way Del Rio notices that the English language itself is "the embodiment" of the linguistic problem. English (or as literary critics like to put it, english with the small letter e) is a language made up of many other languages. Even the old British English vs. American English issue was already a sign that the English language in itself has problems of identity. Why is American English (or British English) considered standard? Why not Cuban English? Or Singlish? Or Inglish? Or, in fact, why not Philippine English? Indeed, why is the economic imperialism of the 20th century still being played out in the 21st century in the realm of language? Multilinguistic literary criticism may hold the key to the answer to this question. By focusing on texts written in a second or foreign language, we might be able to grasp the nuances of the issue more manageably.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Can you tell me whether one of the Cuban-American writers write in two languages and whether they translate their own books? Thank you very much.