04 July 2010

Braj Kachru on mixed-language literature

Here are three slides from a lecture by World Englishes guru Braj B. Kachru:

"Contact Literatures in English 
    • Result of the contact of English with other languages in multilingual and multicultural context like in the case of Africa and Asia.
    • The contact varieties, as time passes, acquire stable characteristics in their pronunciation, syntax, vocabulary and discoursal and style strategies.
    • Long-term contact results in Nativisation and Acculturation.
    • Nativisation
      • Refers to the process which creates a localized linguistic identity of a variety
    • Acculturation
      • Gives English distinct and local cultural identities. 
"Such writing can be found in South Asia, West Africa, the  Philippines and Southeast Asia.

"Three facts on the Bilingual’s Creativity in English 
    • The institutionalized nonnative varieties have an educated variety and a cline of sub-varieties.
    • Writers in contact literature in English engage in lectal mixing
    • In such writing, there are style-shifts which are related to the underlying sociolinguistic and cultural context
"The result of such style-shifts, appropriate to non-Western contexts, is new discourse strategies, use distinctly different speech acts, and development of new registers in English.

"Issue’s on the Bilingual’s Creativity in English 
    • Question of language deficiency vs. difference
    • Recognition of Innovations used for stylistic effect as “foregrounding”
    • Recognition of various text types – code mixed or noncode mixed – which  are internationally meant for bilingual readers who share the bilingual’s linguistic repertoire and cultural and literary canon.
    • Recognizing functional appropriateness of lacalized sublanguages and registers
    • Providing contrastive typologies of linguistic and cultural conventions
    • Describing the formal and functional characteristics of bilingual’s language mixing and switching"
I am glad that linguists have raised the bar in their study of multilingual literature.  Linguistics, of course, does not (perhaps cannot) distinguish between the use of different languages in a text because the writer uses different languages outside the text (or in non-imaginative, real life) and the deliberate use of other languages that the writer may or may not actually speak or even know (the latter for aesthetic reasons).  This is an area where we need multilingual literary critics that can spot translingual or interlingual meanings intended or not consciously intended by writers.  (A clear problem in his presentation: a reader or a critic of a multilingual text need not be multilingual, just as a writer of a multilingual text need not be multilingual in real life.  Remember T. S. Eliot's shantih in The Waste Land?)


  1. A neighbour,Grandma Lucy, is in her late 80s, and residents dote on her. When they see her strolling, they'd invariably ask how she is. She lives alone in her well-appointed house, gets a visit from her relatives once a week. She struck me as a god prototype of the lonely geriatic character, alienated, nostalgic, and slowly drifting into some form of (almost protective) dementia. Wrote this poem and the best central image I could think of turned out intralingual, intracultural, and exactly as the linguists are now considering with critical telescoping. Good sign. I thought I'd call attention to this creative effort as a literary critic (on the reverse side of literary arts). The Italian dialog lines should help transport the immigrant's world into the narrative context.


    Caminnare. Fare una passeggiata.
    Eh, come stai? She shot back looking askance.
    Perched birdlike on her stroller, she inched
    Her way to the middle of the cul de sac ---

    Where I tarried, a wide wave our ritual,
    I called out, Come va, Nonna?
    Her andador tilted off the cobbled strada,
    She stared blankly, but smiled nonetheless
    In the courtly manner she never failed to show
    To neighbours and strangers alike.

    Her sallow skin becomes her regal face,
    I thought, but the same face furrowed,
    Her eyebrows arched impatiently then;
    She demanded: Are you the police?
    Or are you my son with a Florida tan
    Hiding as usual from me? I called them
    From 2441 because I could not find
    My house, nor my keys. Was just walking,
    Was just enjoying the sun for once.
    Crazy Calabria weather. Rain. Sun. Wind.
    Sun. Snow. Cold. Hot. Aiee... who are you?

    “2441 is your house, Nonna. And you have
    A daughter who will be here tomorrow.
    And this is Mississauga. I am Alberto
    With the nipotes Chloe and Louie at 2330.”

    Aieee...dolce angelo! My angels.
    How are they? E come va, amore mio?
    Caminare. Fare una passeggiata.
    O, com `e bello, O sole bello!
    But you will help me find my home,
    Won’t you? Won’t you? Amore?
    A lilt on her voice, she flirted rather coyly.

    What do you think? Linguists and literary critics catching up?

  2. what do I think? The poem allows the reader to witness an encounter between two neighbors, overhears their exchange, and feels the tug between senescence and sympathy. Forget linguists and critics.

  3. Paulino:

    Yours a salutary response to the poem as art. I normally "forget linguists and critics" when I write. Readers are better off finding the "splendoured things" in the work of art.

    Let the critic worry about spotting the equipment I used in achieving my artistic purpose.

    Can't help but find Isagani's literary theory au courant in this case.

    Regards. (Saw your picture at a Facebook post of a writer's reunion or something --- Jimmy Abad's or Ani's --- but can't recall which one. Marami ka na ring uban.)