25 July 2009

Syntactic and lexical competence

The Statement on Second-Language Writing and Writers of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) has implications for multilingual literary criticism:

"Second-language writers include international visa students, refugees, and permanent residents as well as naturalized and native-born citizens of the United States and Canada. Many of them have grown up speaking languages other than English at home, in their communities, and in schools; others began to acquire English at a very young age and have used it alongside their native language. To many, English may be the third, fourth or fifth language. Many second-language writers are highly literate in their first language, while others have never learned to write in their mother tongue. Some are even native speakers of languages without a written form."

Here is what CCCC says about these second-language writers: "Most second-language writers are still in the process of acquiring syntactic and lexical competence — a process that will take a lifetime."

Does this apply to second-language literary writers? Is it possible that the "peculiarities" we find in second-language literary texts are due to syntactic and lexical incompetence? That would be indeed a disturbing possibility.

1 comment:

  1. The question of competence reminds me of formalist critics who once faulted Hamlet's
    "to take arms against a sea of troubles." Historicists justified the line as example of hendiadys, a now-forgotten Elizabethan figure of speech. What is my point? Mastering a literary language is a lifelong task.