14 December 2009

The writer's language

Poet-critic Gemino H. Abad, who won this year's Premio Feronia (the Italian international literary prize), recently gave a talk at a writers' forum in Manila. He said:

“Any given natural language has its own vocabulary, grammar, and syntax: those are the fountainhead of its communicative power, and one transgresses them at his own peril. But any language too has inner resources from the infinite possibilities of its vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, their figures and rhetoric: those are the fountainhead of its expressive or evocative power, and one is circumscribed only by his imagination by which, sometimes, by assiduously working the language, he might transcend its inadequacies or limitations.

“So then, after a time — a long, persevering time — the writer’s language becomes essentially his alone, both its matter — and its manner, by which its matter is endowed with its interpretative form.”

I quote the passage from the equally engaging column in today's The Philippine Star of Jose "Butch" Dalisay, whose novel Soledad's Sister was shortlisted in the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize.

In our evolving multilingual theory of literature, we have to add "the writer's language" to the "natural" languages in a text. It is then easily seen that, in an apparently monolingual work, there are at least two languages at work - the language of the text and the writer's language. (Of course, this is old hat for followers of Mikhail Bakhtin.)

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