03 February 2010

Defense of pidgin

There is a clear relationship between racism and the fear of pidgin. An article that examines this statement in the context of "broken English" among Chinese in the 19th century is Kingsley Bolton's "Language And Hybridization: Pidgin Tales from the China Coast" (2000). Here is the abstract:

"This essay looks at the history of pidgin and creole studies in the context of linguistic theory with particular reference to the study of 'Chinese pidgin English.' It argues that, although linguistics makes the claim to be an objective and systematic science, an examination of the past reveals that its own discourses have been shaped by a range of powerful forces from outside the disciplinary study of language. In the case of pidgin and creole linguistics (or 'creolistics'), one obvious influence is from European 'race theory' of the late nineteenth century, seen most clearly in the adoption of a vocabulary which includes terms such as monogenesis, polygenesis and hybridization. In the case of Chinese pidgin English, early accounts of the use of 'broken English' are found in the memoirs of sailors and merchants on the South China coast, and these were later supplemented by missionary and colonial accounts from Canton, Hong Kong and the treaty ports of China. The most influential account was that of Leland (1876), whose 'comic' account of Pidgin-English Sing-song contributed to the formation of a cultural imaginary of Chinese people at a time of growing anti-Chinese racism in the United States and Britain. Although many pidgin and creole scholars have denied a direct link between racial mixing and language mixing, it appears evident that the fear (and attraction) of racial miscegenation was at the heart of many western responses to pidgin English in China."

At the root of the marginalization of multilingual poetry is an analogous "ism" on the part of literary critics, who were usually brought up in the age of the old and discredited prescriptive linguistics. Unable to accept that the "colloquial" or "substandard" or "ungrammatical" or "idiosyncratic" (or whatever pejorative term) language being used by multilingual writers may be just as valid and respectable as the language they learned in school, these critics do literature a great disservice by limiting its traditional role - which is to deconstruct language itself, to make it defamiliar, to make it construct reality rather than be constructed by it.

1 comment:

  1. During the tenure of Cory Aquino, the Oxford English Dictionary, included the word "Filipina" which in edition defined as "maid". Cory protested and the word was thrown out.

    No one among the editors of dictionary will accept the racist undertone of that definition, and to deconstruction that social construction will certainly entail much time, to demafiliarize what could have been become familiar.