02 July 2010

Karen Van Dyck

Vivienne Nilan interviewed Karen Van Dyck in 2006 and gave this account of the scholar's work with interlingual Greek-English literary texts:

“In town this week to deliver the 11th Kimon Friar Lecture at the American College of Greece, Van Dyck spoke on ‘Gringlish Literature and the Question of Translation.’

“What exactly is Gringlish? In her lecture Van Dyck explained how Gringlish was first coined to describe the particular way Greek immigrants in America spoke because they didn't know enough English, coming up with formulations such as ‘Ftasame ta belozeria’ for ‘It's gone below zero.’

“The term eventually stretched to cover ‘the differently macaronic talk of their children for whom Greek, not English, was the foreign language (‘to flori’ for ‘floor’) and the language of radio and TV announcers and rappers in Greece who borrow words and grammatical structures from English.’

“Van Dyck has taken it further, to describe what she calls Gringlish literature, which is far more than a humorous mishmash of the two languages and which feeds into her interest in ‘literature written at the interstices of two or more languages. I find it fascinating to see how languages interact and alter each other, transforming the predictable into the unexpected by mixing up rules. Hybrid idioms intrigue me because they contain puzzles that demand going outside the box for solutions. One set of linguistic rules and cultural references is not sufficient. Greek Italian, Greek French, Gringlish or Gralbanian, for that matter, underscore how languages infiltrate and rewire each other, suggesting alternative identities and cultural communities that are impossible to stamp on a passport or codify in a census.’

“What makes Van Dyck's approach unusual for a scholar is that she zeroes in on precisely the elements that a more traditional academic might slate as grammatically, syntactically or lexically incorrect.

“As she explained in her lecture, ‘Gringlish offers a different approach to literature as well as translation by putting the emphasis on interference and complementarity over purity and replication.’

“Greek-American writers are teaching English speakers to read in a different way, argues Van Dyck, who also believes the most exciting literature comes out of these ways of thinking between languages.

“Citing Conrad and Nabokov as familiar examples of writers who worked between languages, Van Dyck noted how few readers of Greek literature think of the influence of other languages on leading demoticists such as Psycharis and Korais.

“‘It is important to think about national literature sometimes doing transcultural and translinguistic work behind the scenes,’ she said.”

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