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.

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