16 October 2010

Poetry in Indian English

In a multilingual environment, an imported language like English inevitably becomes a welcome resource, rather than an imperialist hindrance, for poets.  The language, however, undergoes radical changes, not least among which is the way the poetic tradition it brings to the new country becomes "indigenized" or "colonized by the colonized."  Here is the abstract of an article by Ravinder Gargesh that examines Indian poetry in British English from a linguistic point of view, though because it moves towards semiotics, also moves towards literary criticism:

"English is a language of intellectual and creative activity in India. After independence and particularly from the 1950s onwards, English began to acquire a distinct Indian voice through greater innovations and creativity. In the domain of poetry, since the themes and substances are Indian, most creative writers in English in India emphasize that English is at home in India and India at home with the English language, so much so that if English is to be called a foreign language it is the native English, i.e., the British English, that is becoming more foreign in India. Most poets like Kamala Das, R. Parthasarathy, etc. are conscious of their multilingual situation. The poetry emanating from a bilingual sensitivity shows unique characteristics of the kind that Braj Kachru (1996a: xiii) had recognized as the nativized variety of English in India which he terms IE (Indian English) or on the larger canvas SAE (South Asian Englishes) which function not only as an `additional linguistic arm' in the culture of creativity (1996b: 17), but also as a marker of identity in local contexts (2005: 220). The present paper is an attempt at viewing the result of the productive linguistic innovations which are determined by the localized functions of a second language variety, which also implicate new communicative strategies or the ones that get transferred from local languages. The paper highlights some strategies utilized by some poets at the phonological, lexical, syntactic and figurative levels. In terms of discourse, larger configurations of historical and functional styles are also formed. Since the user of the non-native variety is bilingual, creativity is also manifested in different kinds of `mixing', `switching', `alteration' and `transcreation' of codes. The nativized variety reveals the use of native similes, metaphors, transforming of personalized rhetorical devices, transcreation of idiomatic expressions, use of culturally dependent speech styles, etc. The paper intends to show that as an end product what we get is the cultural semiotics of English as developing in India in a localized way, a form that is gradually moving away from the cultural semiotics of the standard British English."

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