09 December 2009

Mixed languages do not multilingual lit make

When we have a language that in itself is a "mixed language," such as Yiddish or Taglish, literature written in it may be multilingual in the general or linguistic sense, but it is not exactly multilingual in the literary theory sense. What I mean is that the use of non-mother tongue words in a mother-tongue work does not automatically make the work multilingual. What we are really looking for are works that use the second language as a way to incorporate a foreign culture into the mother or native culture. It is not just words that matter, but cultures. Yiddish, Taglish, and other languages that combine two or more earlier or older languages (English does, too, after all) should be considered as "pure" languages, or at least, in the linguistic sense, dialects. As the New Critics loved to say, it is when truly unrelated or even opposing elements are yoked together in a metaphor that the metaphor attains the level of literature. When unrelated languages or cultures are suddenly brought together in the same literary text, something bigger than either language or culture occurs. Multilingual art happens.

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