23 October 2009

Ahdaf Soueif's "new English"

Mohammed Albakry and Patsy Hunter Hancock's "Code Switching in Ahdaf Soueif's The Map of Love" (2008) ends with this paragraph:

"In the tradition of prominent postcolonial writers (e.g. Chinua Achebe,Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie, Raja Rao, to name a few), Soueif seems to push the frontiers of the English language so as to express and simulate the multicultural experience of her characters. She uses code switching, particularly lexical borrowing and transferring from Arabic, as a way of finding a ‘new English’, a language between two languages. This mixed new English seeks to encompass both her new home and ancestral home in order to enable her to participate in both worlds. The hybrid English, then, could become a means by which bilingual writers are able to preserve their cultural identity and capture its flavor while at the same time writing about it in the dominant language."

This description could apply to most multilingual writers, except obviously to those that do not live in two cultures but only in two (or more) languages (such as those that do not leave their land of birth but nevertheless use more than their mother tongue). Similar linguistically-heavy work could and should be done on writers forced by colonization or other historical circumstance to live in two language worlds without necessarily wanting to "participate" in another geographical or national world. For example, I do not think Nick Joaquin seriously wanted to live in Spain and from his writings clearly had nothing but disdain for the USA, yet his being born into the Spanish language and growing up in Tagalog but writing in English surely cannot be explained away by a desire to participate in two or more worlds. Linguists have much to learn from literary critics.

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