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.

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