29 September 2009

Les Podervyansky

Les Podervyansky (Ukrainian Олександр [Лесь] Сергійович Подерв’янський) writes plays in Surzhyk (Ukrainian суржик), a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian. The language serves him so well that he has become a household name in Ukraine. In what insensitive non-Ukrainians would doubtless call tortured English, a Ukrainian article describes him this way:

"It’s not necessary to present Les Poderviansky. His plays are in all before eyes, his pictures obtained the proper place in private collections and museums, his publicists lunges are sharp, unexpected and controversies, and movement by sinful land from a cleanly mechanical act, often outgrows in an artistic action. About his defiled it was possible to make a three-hour elite movie... So the not complete list of reasons through which it would cost to talk with him looks far, especially at the beginning of year."

Not knowing how to read Ukrainian, I should not really say anything about Les Podervyansky, but I suspect that his mixing of languages has a lot to do with his famous humor. In fact, the critical comment that he is heavily influenced by Samuel Beckett would point towards the direction of the central role of mixed languages in his own work.

27 September 2009

Principles 5

In translation classes, we teach our students to translate into their own mother tongue, not only because it is faster (since they are more fluent in that language than in the other one), but also because they know their mother tongue much better than the foreign one (they instinctively know the connotations and contexts of words they use in the translation). If we apply this to multilingual criticism, we come up with a practical insight. Since we do not have world and time enough to study all the literary works in the world, we can do literature a service if we focus on works written by those whose mother tongue is the same as ours. We can then much faster and more easily catch the nuances of the mother tongue that are behind the language of the text. Using the phrase "writing in a first language using words in a second language," we can say that the critic, like the author of a text, can read in the first language what appears on paper as a work in the second language.

Let me offer that as the fifth principle of multilingual literary criticism:

(5) The best critic of a multilingual text is one whose mother tongue is the same as that of the author of the text.

In practice, this means that, for example, multilingual Filipino critics should focus on works written by Filipinos in English or Spanish, multilingual Chinese critics should focus on works written by Chinese writers in other languages, multilingual Spanish or Latin-American critics should focus on works written by their compatriots in other languages, and so on. Monolingual critics can read whatever they want, but their ability to read will be limited by their language deficiencies. Only multilingual critics can unlock the hidden or submerged meanings in a multilingual text.

25 September 2009

The scene in Germany

Klaus Hübner gave an account of what was happening in Germany in the area of multilingual literature three years ago in an article entitled "He Alder, hassu Ei-Pott bei?” (2006; translated into English by Jonathan Uhlaner):

"Younger authors like Yadé Kara (Selam Berlin, 2003) have definitively achieved for ‘Kanakisch,’ which is often used with parodic intention (as, for instance, in Süleyman and Sauter in the book Hürriyet Love Express by Imran Ayata, 2005), the status of literature. Artists like Wladimir Kaminer (Russendisko, i.e., Russians’ Disco, 2000) have done something similar for ‘German-Russian,’ which emerged after 1990 in train of the increasing immigration of Russians of German origin and is sometimes also called ‘Quelia’ and written in a mixed Latin-Cyrillic alphabet. Altogether, the extremely heterogeneous immigrant literature in German is a rich source of examples for contemporary ‘mixed languages.’"

It is not only countries that may be called melting pots, but literary texts themselves.

24 September 2009

More on the Oresteiaka riots

Here's more background on the Oresteiaká riots of 1903 (my blog entry of 14 May 2009):

“Throughout the nineteenth century, the campaign for a ‘mixed language’ (μίχτή) envisaged a fusion of simplified Katharevousa and Demotic, removed from its natural morphology and syntax. The mixed language was associated with the journal Panathinaia, edited by Kimon Mikhailidis, whereas the Athens University professor A. Skiás battled against the mixed language, calling it a ‘linguistic monstrosity.’ Th. Frangopoulos observed (1983) that the language question still affected the way novels were written between 1830 and 1930, and only after 1920 was the Demotic really approved over Katharevousa for prose, the way it had been for poetry since 1820.

“Writers were naturally among the first to look to the Demotic as a vehicle of expression (see Vilarás). It began to be accepted as the linguistic form in which new texts could be published.”

“Historically, the dispute has even led to tragedy: the ‘Oresteia riots’ (Oresteiaká) of 8 November 1903 were the consequence of an attempt to stage Aeschylus in a mixed rather than classicizing idiom. Three demonstrators were killed and seven wounded.” ("The Language Question" in Encyclopedia of Modern Greek Literature, by Bruce Merry, 2004, p. 245)

In every period in every country, there are always those that oppose any kind of mixing of languages in writing. These are, to use their very own words against them, linguistic monsters, because they try to put a limit to creativity. Similarly, in the field of literary criticism, there are those that oppose even thinking that a writer might be self-translating from a mother tongue or from an idiolect into what on the surface appears to be her or his main language; these, too, pardon me, should also be regarded as linguistic monsters, or perhaps more precisely, critical monsters.

23 September 2009


My mini-open cholecystectomy (a medical procedure different from the traditional open cholecystectomy and the fashionable laparoscopic cholecystectomy) was successful. The operation took forty minutes, and I left St. Luke's Medical Center less than 48 hours later. I now am a gall bladder less. Recovery is supposed to take about twenty days at home, but since I can work at my computer at home anyway, I haven't really lost much time (although I do have to lie down every so often). I am advised to slow down, so I will most likely not be able to blog every day, but should be able to post something at least three or four times a week. Thank you to all that wished me well.

22 September 2009

Intralingual translation

Translating from one language to another is not necessarily harder than translating within one language, as shown by this blog post:

"I’ve begun translating a book, only to realize that a good portion of it is written in dialect from 1937 trying to pretend to be medieval. Here’s what I have so far… have fun laughing.

"Der Ackermann aus Böhmen – Johannes von Tepl

"The Farmer from Bohemia – Johannes von Tepl

"The First Chapter

"Grim extinguisher of everyone, baneful real of all (werlte), free murder of all men, his death, be it cursed! God, (ewer tirmer), hates you, (vnselden) increase lives with us, unlucky house commits violence to you…

"Yeah, I think I’m missing something. I think I better do some more research into old German before attempting this some more. Mostly because von Tepl is making up the spelling of words, and I’m trying to figure out what on Earth he’s even trying to put into German, plus he’s not capitalizing all nouns, which I never realized was so helpful.

"I hop youe hade a goodely Gigl ovr mye forrey into Older Gerrman."

17 September 2009

Be back soon

My 64-year-old body will undergo an unexpected and undesired cholecystectomy and my mind will have to take a rest from thinking through Wikcriticism or interlingual criticism or language or literature or anything else. My cardiologist swears that I am a low cardiac risk, so I am not supposed to worry. Fortunately, I have a little bit of Spanish blood running in my veins, so I can say with all interlingual conviction, "Que será será" though I know that that is not Spanish at all (since the grammar is terribly wrong!), but a Hollywood corruption of "che sarà, sarà," the motto of the Duke of Bedford. The phrase appears in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (1594):

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and
there's no truth in us. Why, then, belike we must sin, and so
consequently die:
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this, Che sera, sera,
What will be, shall be? Divinity, adieu!

The phrase may be interlingual (Spanish, French, Italian, whatever), but I'm not sure I like Marlowe's context! In any case, I shall be back online in a week or so, God willing.

16 September 2009

Brenda Cardenas

Here's a portion of an article about poet Brenda Cardenas:

"Listening to Brenda Cárdenas is, on its own, an exercise in crossing borders. She has adapted ideas from interdisciplinary arts into a philosophy for interlingual literature. It's very important to distinguish interlingual versus bilingual texts. The difference between bilingualism and interlingualism is the same as the difference between 'either' and 'both.' Biligualism is using either of two languages in turn, but sticking to one discrete language or the other for an entire expression. Cárdenas, on the other hand, is an advocate of interlingualism, which is blending or mixing two languages in-line, within sentences, as they're used organically and naturally by people who speak both languages fluently. ...

"Sometimes when languages blend, and stay mixed in certain ways, they create whole new ways for people to express themselves. Grammars change rules. Fresh words appear that carry tell-tale signs of their parent languages. Old words pick up new meanings. Artists often want to rush into these circumstances to take advantage of the fresh creative opportunities that a still-forming language permits. However, critics and historians often resist this situation, and insist that serious literature is written in well-defined languages such as English or Spanish, but not a blend of both. So there's always a battle among the people who describe language as-is, versus the people who prescribe language as it should be, when interlingualism is in effect. ...

"The delicious ironies, warm blends, and pointed contrasts of commingled languages are Brenda Cárdenas' incentive to keep crossing frontiers. Listen to her poetry, songs, and stories, and cross the frontiers of the Américas." (I placed in bold letters what I want to emphasize.)

This is as good a description as any of the resistance most literary critics have towards taking the mother tongue into account when reading a work done in a second or foreign language. Perhaps I should change my word Wikcriticism to interlingual criticism, as suggested by a follower, if only to take advantage of the long history of the 17th-century term (though, of course, qualifying it by expanding it to include our concerns). "Interlingual" is used quite often in different contexts in various disciplines (including computer science, would you believe?). There might be a need, though, to have a catchphrase (similar to Russian Formalism's defamiliarization and Derrida's deconstruction), if we want to spread the gospel of interlinguality. Let me think about that a bit more.

15 September 2009

Not "interlingual criticism"

One reason I prefer "Wikcriticism" to "interlingual criticism" is that the latter has been used by comparatists (i.e., experts in Comparative Literature) to refer to studies of translation. While translation (particularly self-translation) is clearly a major area of study in Wikcriticism, interlingual criticism does not cover either mixed-language texts or texts in one language but actually being in another. An example of the use of the term "interlingual criticism" is that of James Liu, whose The Interlingual Critic: Interpreting Chinese Poetry (1982) was a real eye-opener for many scholars that could not read Chinese. I use James Liu a lot in my Critical Theory classes, because he opened my eyes to the truth that literary theory started in China and not in Greece, but his interlingual criticism is just a part, not the whole, of Wikcriticism.

14 September 2009

Daniel Gagnon

Sherry Simon, in “Translating and Interlingual Creation in the Contact Zone: Border Writing in Quebec” (in Post-Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice, edited by Susan Bassnett, 1999), writes about Daniel Gagnon:

“Daniel Gagnon’s short, lyrical texts are idiosyncratic and difficult to categorize. Gagnon writes on the frontier between languages, producing double versions of texts which are written in a hybrid idiom, ‘my so bad English.’” (p. 61)

It is in the French text, however, where hybridity or interlinguality appears more obvious. Continues Simon: “La Fille à marier cannot be separated from The Marriageable Daughter, a translation done by Gagnon himself and published in 1989. The first text to be published was the French version; the English text is presented as a translation of that book. But Gagnon himself has said that in fact he wrote the English text first. And there are many clues in the text which confirm this, associations of words and images which manifestly make more sense in English than in French.” (p. 68)

Here is fertile ground for a Wikcritic competent in French and English, as Simon is. But it is not only trying to figure out which came first that should be of interest, but how the English actually enriches the French (and vice-versa).

13 September 2009

Interlingual poetry and music

Sergio Viaggio has an interesting analogy that has to do with interlinguality. Studying translation from a linguistic perspective, he says:

"The great men of letters who have self-translated have chosen (as far as I know, without exception) to speak in the second language not so much from the LPIo as from the LP1 tout court, renouncing the initial amalgam of the noetic plate and a formal plate in language o in order to try and amalgamate the abstract noetic plate with a formal plate in language i – a bit like the transcriptions for other instruments that great musicians have done of their own compositions. (And since I find it hard to let go of music, let me remind you yet again of a particularly telling case: Beethoven’s piano transcription of his violin concerto, which takes advantage, of course, of the vast harmonic possibilities of the new instrument, and neutralises its infinitely less warm sound.)" (A General Theory of Interlingual Mediation, 2006, p. 370)

We could say that, in an interlingual poem, the bulk of the words are notes from one instrument and the foreign words are notes from another instrument. The poet needs the other instrument/s to make the music beautiful. The notes or sounds from the other instrument/s are not there to jar the listener or reader, but to form part of the musical design.

Viaggio also writes, “What presents the often insurmountable problem of the structural differences between languages is the ‘transcription’ of the emotive harmonics that form makes vibrate – because it is simply impossible. In translation, those harmonics (which will always be a function of a language’s idiosyncrasy, the translator’s sensitivity and prowess, and, ultimately, the readers’ hermeneutic sensitivity and ability), can but be recreated.”

He writes about translation (which basically deals with languages used in sequence or one at a time), but what he says can apply mutatis mutandi to interlingual writing (or languages being used at the same time).

12 September 2009

Chicano Movement

Interlingual literature has existed since macaronic poetry (if we take the weak version of Wikcriticism, which deals primarily with texts in two or more languages) or even earlier (if we take the strong version of Wikcriticism, which says that all writing is interlingual). In the 20th century, one high point of interlingual literature, in the sense that it gave rise to a conscious effort by literary critics to deal with it, had to be the so-called Chicano Movement of the 1960s in the United States of America. Wilson Neate, in Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature (1997), describes the place of interlingual literature in the movement: “Literature derived from this politically-charged time was generally marked by its alignment with and articulation, at some level, of Movement ideology. Poetry in an innovative, interlingual format provided a popular vehicle for representations of a marginalized socio-cultural and historical experience with the aim of raising consciousness and encouraging self-empowerment. … Since the mid-1970s, poetry has moved away from the interlingual and the overtly political to become more introspective, displaying an increasing formal sophistication and a diversification of thematic concerns.” For literary criticism, we could say that we have to shift from the weak to the strong version of Wikcriticism as the literature moves from the clearly multilingual to the apparently monolingual.

11 September 2009

Azade Seyhan

Azade Seyhan writes in Writing Outside the Nation (2000):

"Chicano/a literary and cultural criticism has cast its critical vision on a diverse spectrum of theoretical and imaginative writings from Latin America and from other ethnic and minority cultures in the United States. By situating their literature in a more international and intercultural context, Chicano/a literary theorists subtly state their dissatisfaction with the relatively minor critical attention paid to their cultural production in mainstream academic criticism. Angie Chabram Dernersesian has been a leading advocate of reassessing Chicano/a writing in the context of new critical frameworks and of forging transnational linkages with underrepresented and/or emergent literary traditions. Castillo conceptualizes the new poetics of Xicanisma in a manner analogous to the reconfiguration of cultural legacies in contemporary ethnic and immigrant literatures. ‘We are looking at what has been handed down to us by previous generations of poets,’ she writes, ‘and, in effect, rejecting, reshaping, restructuring, reconstructing that legacy and making language and structure ours, suitable to our moment in history.”

I join Seyhan's advocacy of what I have called Wikcriticism, but I disagree on one major point. I hate the use of the words minor and underrepresented (and even the word emergent, which I am forced to use occasionally, being an admirer of Raymond Williams). We need to decolonize our minds (as the African writers put it). I think that multilingual or interlingual literature is the mainstream, but the so-called mainstream writers and critics just don't know it. In fact, in theory, all literary texts are dialogic or made up of two or more languages (we all learned that from Mikhail Bakhtin!). In the case of monolingual writers, the other language is what linguists would call the idiolect (or the unique kind of language that only one individual speaks or writes); it is the idiolect that interacts with the common or shared language. Again, I use the analogy of physics: the equations of relativity can be applied to everything, but in ordinary events, where we are far from approaching the speed of light, we just ignore the almost infinitesimal quantities involved, but almost infinitesimal does not mean zero. Many critics ignore the idiolect when reading monolingual texts, but the theoretical reality is still there: a writer writes in one language using words from another language. In a multilingual or interlingual text, the reality hits us straight in the face.

10 September 2009

The word "interlingual"

Interlingual is not a new word. It was used as early as 1854 to mean merely "of, relating to, or existing between two or more languages." The ordinary meaning of the word, however, assumes that meanings do not change when they move from one language to another, as in the definition of the phrase "interlingual rendition" ["A written communication in a second language having the same meaning as the written communication in a first language"]. Wikcritics know that meanings change when expressed in different languages. There is no such thing as an exact translation of anything. That is why, when a poet uses a word from another language in a work using mainly one language, new nuances are introduced that are not present in the main language. When wikcritics use the word interlingual, they refer to a negotiation between two or more languages, rather than just a relation between them.

09 September 2009

Multilingual children's poetry

An emergent subgenre of children's literature is interlingual children's poetry. Here, for example, is the first stanza of "Sun Song," a poem for children in Confetti: Poems for Children (1999), by Pat Mora:

Birds in the branches hear the sun’s first song.
Ranitas in the rocks hear the sun’s first song.
Bees in the bushes hear the sun’s first song.
Wind in the willows hears the sun’s first song.

Nancy L. Hadaway and Terrell A. Young, in their "Language Diversity in the United States and Issues of Linguistic Identity in a Global Society," call this kind of writing “global literature.” (Breaking Boundaries with Global Literature: Celebrating Diversity in K-12 Classrooms [2007])

08 September 2009

Heteroglot interzone

Jesse Alemán begins his article entitled "Chicano Novelistic Discourse: Dialogizing the Corrido Critical Paradigm" (1998) with this paragraph:

"The dialogic nature of language Mikhail Bakhtin describes in 'Discourse in the Novel' is nothing new to Chicano literary production, especially considering the 'interlingualism' that distinguishes it from North American literature in English and Mexican literature in Spanish. Numerous critics have already pointed out how Chicano literature straddles the borderlines of two national languages as it incorporates and combines each to create a hybrid discourse that registers the liminal cultural position Chicanos occupy between both linguistic world views. Examining Juan Felipe Herrera's poetry, for instance, Alfred Arteaga explains, 'Two nations are imagined in English and in Spanish and differentiate themselves at a common border, yet Chicano border space is a heteroglot interzone, a hybrid overlapping of the two,' and most critics agree that the interlingual peculiarity of Chicano literature arises from this 'heteroglot interzone.' So, as with Bakhtin's notion of language in general, Chicano literary discourse in particular is said to originate from a border space."

It is striking that what is being said here of Chicano literature can be said also of Philippine literature, which inhabits a similar "heteroglot interzone," except that with Filipinos, there are more than two languages to worry about. A novelist whose mother tongue is Bicolano, for example, but who lives in a Tagalog-speaking region and writes in English, negotiates three linguistic worlds, making life extremely difficult for the literary critic who wants to explore all the levels of meaning found in a work. Unlike the New Critics who had to spend a tremendous amount of time tracking down the Latin and Greek roots of English words in a 17th century British text, however, Wikcritics have only to be familiar with three or more modern languages (admittedly, already a formidable task) to catch at least the most basic interplay among discourses. Just as it is with other kinds of literary criticism, the critic has to do consciously what the creative writer does subconsciously or instinctively.

07 September 2009

Helping out linguists

Linguists have a tough time coming to terms with interlingualism. See, for example, the succinct state-of-the-art summary by Mark Fettes in Language in the Twenty-First Century: Selected Papers of the Millenial Conferences of the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, edited by Humphrey Tonkin and Timothy G. Reagan (2003), where he identifies five key areas of linguistic investigation, namely, World English, Esperantism, Language Brokers, Plurilingualism, and Technologism. Here is an area where literary critics should be of help. Where linguists have to deal with the entire world (they even call their current studies "world-centric"), literary critics have to deal only with a limited number of words on a page (or on a website). But as William Blake so memorably put it, we can see the world in a grain of sand or, in our context, we can understand how language works by studying how a single literary text uses one or more languages. Just as Albert Einstein figured out how the whole universe works just by staring at a clock while he was on a train, we can solve the problems of interlingualism just by reading a multilingual poem.

06 September 2009

Wikcrit in the 1980s

Wikcrit (though not called such) is not new. Here, for example, is an excellent example of what was going on in the 1980s in literary criticism. The passage is about Chicana/o poets:

“In the attempt to identify the audiences, a major factor is language choice. These poets may have the option of writing in Spanish, in English, or in a combination of the two languages, the choice usually depending upon such factors as family background, area of origin, and educational opportunities. They may have had to learn English, Spanish, or even both languages. To some Chicana and Chicano authors only one option may be available; to others, perhaps all three.

“Nevertheless, these languages, whose mixing is a central stylistic feature of this poetry, are combined in at least two ways. First, Chicano authors may write bilingually, using Spanish for one poem and English for another. Tino Villanueva, Bernice Zamora, and Carmen Tafolla all fall into this group. Second, Chicano writers may also intermix the two languages within the same poem, as Alurista, Tafolla, Zamora, Xelina, and José Montoya have done in varying degrees. The cultural and literary phenomenon of using two languages interlinearly has been referred to as ‘interlingualism,’ a term coined to distinguish the mixture of language within one poem from ‘bilingualism,’ the use of English and Spanish in different poems. The difference lies in how the movement takes place. In a bilingual experience, the reader must mentally juxtapose poems in English with poems in Spanish; in an interlingual experience, the tensions in syntax, the connotations, the ironies, and the reverberations of words and images interlock, pulling in two directions at once. Poems written interlingually engage rival sets of reader expectations and desires. They graphically enact on the surface of the page the conflicts and tensions between the two main audiences of Chicana-Chicano poetry, the English-speaking audience and the Spanish-speaking audience.” (Contemporary Chicana Poetry: A Critical Approach to an Emerging Literature, by Marta Ester Sánchez, 1986, pp. 20-21)

05 September 2009

Kinaray-a in an American play

A play, entitled Ruby, Tragically Rotund, by Boni B. Alvarez, produced by Playwrights’ Arena in association with the Latino Theater Company, is currently showing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. In an interview by Ruben V. Nepales, the playwright says:

"I have flashback scenes in Ruby which are written in Kinaray-a, a Visayan dialect [should be language - IRC]. It’s my parents’ language. I feel that, compared to Tagalog, Kinaray-a is a more musical language. In these flashbacks, I wanted a very hopeful and romantic mood, so I decided to write them in Kinaray-a.

Ruby is a very Filipino play because it is infused with Pinoy culture — my experience of it, specifically. Ruby has a Filipino family, but she also has a blossoming relationship with her African-American boyfriend that could lead to a family of her own. At the same time, she has a very diverse group of friends whom she also considers family.

"While Ruby is very Filipino, it’s also very American — not just Filipino-American, but how we fit into the entire American landscape, not only as an individual group, but also in how we live with other groups."

The play was previously mounted at the Scene Dock Theatre at the University of Southern California School of Theatre. It received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Theater has long been multilingual. In fact, having more than one language in the text of a play tends to be the rule now rather than the exception among the leading theatre groups in the world. I will be in the US in a couple of months, too late to catch the LA production. If anyone has seen the play and has comments about it, I would be very grateful.

04 September 2009

Ahmadou Kourouma

Here is a quote from "Discourse in Kourouma’s Novels: Writing Two Languages to Translate Two Realities" (2007), by Amadou Koné:

"As Kourouma says, there is 'a deficit of vocabulary in the European language as used by the ex-colonized individual', not because the African fails to understand the French language, but because the French language is incapable of translating an African reality. Thus, without any hesitation, Kourouma is going to compensate for the lacunae of that language in order for it to express a reality related in its fullness. Kourouma asserts his freedom from the beginning:

"'Je n’avais pas le respect du français qu’ont ceux qui ont une formation classique. . . . Ce qui m’a conduit à rechercher la structure du langage malinké, à reproduire sa dimension orale, à tenter d’épouser la démarche de la pensée malinké dans sa manière d’appréhender le vécu.

"'I did not have the same respect for French that those with a classical education hold. . . . This led me to strive for the structure of the Malinke language, to reproduce its oral dimension, to attempt to assimilate the procedures of Malinke thought in its mode of apprehending lived experience.'" (p. 114)

This is an insight applicable to all of Wikcrit: another language is used by a writer because the main language is inadequate to express whatever s/he wants to say, or alternatively if the text appears to be monolingual (as I like to say, following Bienvenido N. Santos and N.V.M. Gonzalez), a writer writes in her/his first language using words of the second language.

03 September 2009

Multingual writing focused on languages themselves

The abstract of the article "Parallel patterns? A comparison of monolingual speech and bilingual codeswitching discourse" (2000) by Penelope Gardner-Chlorosa, Reeva Charlesc, and Jenny Cheshire points to a direction that Wikcritics could productively pursue:

"The extensive work done on the structure of monolingual discourse is now paralleled by a strong tradition of studies of the conversational functions of bilingual codeswitching (Gumperz, 1982; Myers-Scotton, 1993a; Auer, 1998a). So far, however, no direct comparisons have been made between the two.

"In this paper we compare the way in which four common conversational functions are realised (a) monolingually and (b) through codeswitching by members of a Punjabi and English-speaking network in London. The samples are thus ideally matched - the same speakers in the same context - and we establish that codeswitching may be used in two ways within these conversations. On the one hand it may take the place of monolingual ways of marking significant moves in the conversation (e.g. emphasis, change in voice quality), or add itself to these to reinforce the effect. On the other hand it can be used as a further dimension to the monolingual means which are available, allowing the speakers to introduce structural contrasts, manage the conversational ‘floor’, or highlight the different connotations of each variety as a counterpoint to the referential meaning of their utterance."

In literary texts, a word in another language is often used to alert the reader that what is being said or what will be said shortly needs special attention (e.g., T. S. Eliot's use of French). The "foreign" word then serves the same function as a "wrong" or "irregular" foot in an otherwise monotonous metrical pattern. This reason for being multilingual has been examined quite well and quite often by literary critics.

What Wikcritics can explore, however, is the second reason cited in the linguistics article: the second language may actually be used to comment on the first language. It is not unusual for a writer to write about language itself, not on the external reality that the work is supposed to mirror (I am using traditional mimesis terms). Multilingual texts may be about the different languages themselves, rather than just about whatever the words are referring to. It's certainly food for thought.

02 September 2009

Indonesian multilingual novel

A student thesis at the Petra Christian University investigates code-mixing in an Indonesian novel (that later became a film). Writes the student: "The writer has chosen one of the best-selling novels in Indonesia in 2004, 30 Hari Mencari Cinta (30 Days in Search for Love) which was written by Nova Riyanti Yusuf and Upi Avanto. ... The novel itself is so closely related to young people’s love and lives; therefore, the writer thinks it can represent them in a simpler way. The research is based on the language of narration and the characters’ conversation in the novel which often include code-mixing. ... In the novel 30 Hari Mencari Cinta, the writer Nova Riyanti Yusuf often includes code-mixing in the language of narration and the characters’ conversation. However, since it is a novel, she only gives the context without showing any further direction on how the code-mixing is composed there."

The thesis points to two distinct concerns of Wikcrit - code-mixing in dialogue (which is easily explained and often even dismissed as simply reflecting the way people actually speak in multilingual societies) and code-mixing in the narration (which is not as easily explained and which, therefore, needs the sophisticated tools of literary criticism). Unfortunately, I cannot read Bahasa Indonesia (or Bahasa Melayu or Malay) and cannot judge whether the student's work is accurate and useful for us. Needless to say, it is the novel that should be of interest, not the film (where the multilingual narration is, of course, irrelevant).

01 September 2009

Multilingual literature is natural for many

To Ruth Vanita's observation in her "Gandhi’s tiger: multilingual elites, the battle for minds, and English Romantic literature in colonial India" (2002) --

"The average university graduate in Victorian England and in the early twentieth century could read and write English and French as well as Latin and some Greek. An average graduate in north India in the same period could read and write English, Hindi, Urdu, and the mother tongue (such as Punjabi) and also some Persian and/or Sanskrit." (p. 97)

-- we can add the Philippine equivalent: The average university graduate in the Philippines today can speak and/or read Filipino (the national language), English (the medium of instruction in most universities), the lingua franca (Cebuano, Ilocano, or Tagalog), and the mother tongue (Adasen, Yogad, or any of the 171 Philippine languages). If the graduate has Chinese blood and/or studied in a Chinese-medium school, s/he will also know how to speak, if not to read, Mandarin Chinese (taught in schools) and Fookien Chinese (the Chinese language most Chinese-Filipinos use). If the graduate is Muslim, s/he will know how to read Arabic. If the graduate has wealthy parents, s/he will know how to speak Spanish. If the graduate has a parent working overseas, s/he will have a rudimentary knowledge of Japanese, Italian, or whatever the language is in the country where the parent is (about 10 million adult Filipinos now work outside the country). To the British in Victorian England, to Indians, and to Filipinos, literary texts that use more than one language would be the rule rather than the exception.