22 July 2009

Principles 3

This is the third principle of multilingual literary criticism:

(3) A work in a mother tongue should not be assumed to be monolingual.

This seems counterintuitive, but in fact, since many (all?) languages are made up of older languages, these earlier languages should be taken into account when reading a work, particularly if the writer is such a good writer (someone like James Joyce) that s/he has taken pains to research on these earlier languages. In fact, if we use the late lamented New Criticism, we have to say that a word contains within itself all the meanings ever attributed to that word, including the meanings in the language of origin. Within New Criticism, it is not necessary (nor is it even required) that the writer was/is aware of the origins of the word in the earlier languages; the word itself contains its own history.

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