06 June 2010


One of the things that fascinate me about translingual or multilingual writing is the way the grammatical structure of a language is deconstructed or ignored when a second language is used hand in hand with a mother tongue in a literary text.  Here is an observation about Malayalam literature:

"The early period of Malayalam literature consists of a triple stream. (i) The Pacha-Malayalam stream, by which we mean literary expression in pure Malayalam without any admixture, (ii) The Tamil stream, (iii)the Sanskrit stream. The first stream consists of ballads and folk-songs, which are difficult to date. Songs connected with religious rites such as ‘Bhadrakali Pattu’, ‘Thiyattupattu’, ‘Sastrakali’, ‘Thottampattu’ and later in point of time, ‘Margamkalipattu’ are important varieties. Then we have festival songs like ‘Onappattu’ and ‘Krishipattu’ and ballads of North Malabar and South Malabar.  In the Tamil stream (pattu school) the most outstanding work is Ramacharitham (12th Century AD) composed in a language which is a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam. The mixing happens in the area of grammar as well."  [italics mine]

The subversion of English grammar is obvious in Philippine literature written in English, even by Filipino writers already living in English-dominant areas such as the United States.  Most teachers and even literary critics tend to regard grammatical peculiarities as "lapses" or plain "errors."  Linguist Andrew Gonzalez, however, in a famous article, claimed that "errors" might be "features" of a variety of the language.  In his later study of F. Sionil Jose's prose, he justified Jose's grammatical peculiarities as identifying marks of the writer, rather than the gross errors that practically all literary critics think they are.  (Jose, whose mother tongue is Ilocano but writes exclusively in the English he learned only in school, is occasionally rumored to be a contender for the Nobel Prize.  His books in English have never sold well in his native Philippines, but enjoy modest sales in the American-edited Random House editions and quite brisk sales in various translations in European and Asian languages, arguably because such American editions and foreign translations have "corrected" his grammatical "errors.")

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