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.

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