29 December 2009

Government vs multilingual literature

As a general rule, governments do not like mixed-language texts. The idea that people will write in the mixed-language that they speak in tends to be, for some reason, unpalatable to the ruling class in any country. Here is a 17th century example from India:

“After the fall of the Vijaynagar kingdom the Muslin dynasty of Qutb Shahi Kings of Golkonda took over and also ruled over a good part of northern Telugu area. Telugu writers, however, received some patronage from these kings specially Sultan Ibrahim Qutb Shah, who encouraged pure Telugu diction for composition, instead of a highely Sanskritised mixed language, which by that time almost completely controlled poetic activities.” [The Written Languages of the World: A Survey of the Degree and Modes of Use: India: Book 1 Constitutional Languages (1989), by Heinz Kloss and Grant D. McConnell, p. 547]

What literary critics call "hegemony" is at work here: the ruling class inevitably wants to recognize or legitimize works written only in their highly-educated language, rather than in the uneducated language of the oppressed classes. In the Philippines today, the bestselling novels of Bob Ong and numerous romance novelists (written in Taglish, a chaotic mixture of Tagalog, Filipino, and English) are not considered "respectable" and are not taken up in literature classes. Clearly, multilingual criticism cannot ignore political realities.

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