05 September 2010


One of the reasons cited by poets that use more than one language in a single text is verisimilitude or true-to-life-ness.  One way to test whether a word is true to life or not is to do what the paradigm-shifting linguist Ferdinand de Saussure did  to check how different languages report the same sound.  Take a rooster.  Clearly, all roosters emit exactly the same sound when they crow.  How that sound is written on paper (and if Saussure is right, how the sound is actually heard by a listener) depends on the mother tongue of the writer.  Here is a list of the words used in some languages to mimic the sound of a cockcrow:  kykyliky (Danish), kukeleku (Dutch), cock-a-doodle-doo (English), kukkurukkuk (Filipino), kukko kiekuu (Finnish), cocorico (French), kikeriki (German), kikiriku or kikiriki (Greek), coo-koo-ri-koo (Hebrew), kukuriku (Hungarian), chicchirichí (Italian), ko-ke-kok-ko-o (Japanese), cucurucu (Portuguese), kukareku (Russian), quiquiriquí or kikiriki (Spanish), kuckeliku (Swedish), kuk-kurri-kuuu u uru uuu (Turkish), kuklooku (Urdu).

Here is one difficulty multilingual writers have.  If they use the sound as spelled in another language, they lose their monolingual reader, because the word would be unrecognizable.  On the other hand, especially if the text is prose rather than verse and the sentence is supposed to be uttered by a foreigner or someone using a different language, it would not be true to life if the cockcrow sound were spelled in the main language of the text.  For example, if I wrote in an English short story, “The Filipino heard the cock-a-doodle-doo of the rooster,” that may make sense to an American reader, but would be plain nonsense to a Filipino reader (who has never in her or his life heard a cock crow “cock-a-doodle-doo.”)

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