30 November 2010

Code-switching as characterization technique

There is an interesting idea in the [unedited] abstract of "The code mixing and the social situation in the language of narration and the characters conversation in the novel 30 Hari Mencari Cinta" by Jeffry Widiatijono:

"Kachru (1978) proposes that code-mixing is the use of one or two languages which has constant linguistic transfer from one to another language by a speaker. As linguistic function, code-mixing usually appears when the speaker mixes up the language he/she usually uses with another language. In proving his idea, the writer of this study wants to reveal how the code-mixing appears in daily conversation. In this case, the novel 30 Hari Mencari Cinta has been chosen to become source of the data. In this novel, such code-mixing appears both in the language of narration and the characters' conversation mostly in informal ways. In the language of narration, for one thing, there can be found distinct codes and types of code-mixing as what Kachru states. In the characters' conversation, such distinct codes and types of code-mixing can also be found. In dealing with the social situation, Fishman (1971) states that social situation is constructed when individuals interact in appropriate role-relationships with each other, in the appropriate locales for these role-relationships, and discuss topics appropriate to their role-relationships. This is clear enough since in each conversation, those three terms can be found either in formal or informal language. The social
situation in the novel is varied depending on how close the relationship among characters is, and it helps the writer of the novel express how the situation of the characters in various ways. In this case, the social situation makes the story in the novel more varied."

Widiatijono appears to have discovered that the use of different languages within conversations in a novel serves as a clue to characterization.  This is an idea that should answer the need of graduate students looking for a new angle to classic multilingual works (there are hundreds of these works, as well as hundreds of graduate students in search of a thesis topic).  Study the conversations in these works, see how the use of more than one language is deliberate on the part of the author (not the character), and find out what the aesthetic purpose of the author is as far as characterization is concerned.

28 November 2010

Linguists and multilingual novels

In the book Filipino English and Taglish:  Language Switching from Multiple Perspectives (2001), Roger M. Thompson mentions one reason linguists shy away from studying multilingual texts:  “I could describe the linguistics of written Taglish as it appears in tabloid newspapers, novels, and other written forms, but these are subject to editing and may not reflect everything that is happening in the spoken language.”  Apparently not having realized that Jacques Derrida’s “writing precedes and follows speech” is right, linguists are usually not willing to help multilingual literary critics.  That is too bad, because we critics need the kind of scientific knowledge only linguists can give us.

24 November 2010

Christian Simamora

Here is a concluding paragraph from Najmah Soraya Wahdani's "Analysis of Code Switching and Code Mixing in the Novel Macarin Anjing by Christian Simamora":

"From the ten reasons why bilingual people switch or mix their codes, there are nine reasons that can be used to explain the code switching and code mixing in the novel Macarin Anjing by Christian Simamora.  Most of the characters switch or mix their codes in order to express their group identity, which means that they belong to a particular speech community, of which the members are able to use both English and bahasa Indonesia in their dialogues.  On the other hand, none of the characters switch or mix their codes in order to exclude other people when a comment is intended for only a limited audience.  It is mainly because the characters do code switching and code mixing only within their own group (bilingual community).  So, they feel that they do not have to exclude other people since they can use Bahasa Indonesia outside their group."

Linguists make a big deal out of group identity as a reason for code-mixing.  That is only one, in fact not even quite a significant one, of the reasons a writer uses other languages in an erstwhile monolingual text.  Writers do not see language as transparent, that is, not something that stays invisible while pointing to whatever it refers to.  On the contrary, writers see both what is being referred to and what is doing the referring.  The sounds and sometimes even the spelling or visual look of the foreign words are crucial to what a writer is trying to do.  Writers do not write merely for an audience that knows all the languages being used in a text, which is what is implied by the linguistic dictum that code-mixing is used for group identity.  Readers do not have to know the exact dictionary meanings of foreign words in a text.  All readers have to know is how the words look and sound; the meaning can always be deduced from context.  Writers harness the resources of other languages, importing not just the sounds and visual looks of words, but also the cultures that gave rise to those words, in order to make their meanings clearer and more complex.  This is one reason we cannot leave the analysis of multilingual texts to linguists.  Only literary critics can fully understand and appreciate multilingual texts.  That is why they have the obligation to lead readers (particularly monolingual ones) to this understanding and appreciation.

22 November 2010

Bakhtin revisited

James Philip Zappen quotes from Bakhtin’s “Discourse in the Novel”:  “Hybridization is both linguistic and cultural.  Hybridization ‘is a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation or by some other factor.’  Hybridization may be either intentional or unintentional.  Unintentional hybridization is ‘a mixing of various “languages” co-existing within the boundaries of a single dialect, a single national language, a single branch, a single group of different branches or different groups of such branches, in the historical as well as paleontological past of languages.’  Intentional hybridization, such as the artistic image of a language re-created in the novel, is not only a mixing of various languages but is more importantly a ‘collision between different points of views on the world’ that produces ‘a semantic hybrid; not semantic and logical in the abstract (as in rhetoric), but rather a semantics that is concrete and social.’  Intentional, novelistic hybridization is thus productive of new linguistic and cultural possibilities, for just as the mixing of heteroglot languages forms a complex unity of self with other, so also the mixing of differing worldviews forms novel cultural hybrids.”

Bakhtin was looking at multilingual texts (or monolingual texts that actually use languages at different stages of development) from the outside, as a critic.  We can look at these texts from the inside, as practising multilingual writers.  We know that our selves are complex, we know that languages co-exist within us, we know that we have linguistic resources much richer than the language-challenged, but we also know that mixing languages is not a matter of our choice.  The languages choose us.  Texts write themselves through us.  We do not write texts through our languages.

20 November 2010

Madhu Rye

Since I am not a subscriber to the Wiley Online Library, I have read only the first page of the article “Englishization of Contemporary Gujarāti Novel:  Code Mixing and Style” by P. K. Thaker.  The first page, however, appears to indicate that the writer looks at code-mixing as a device deliberately used by an author for artistic effect.  That is certainly one way of doing multilingual literary criticism.  It is, of course, merely a first step, because the much more difficult and most likely more revealing step is to take what does not look like a text that mixes codes or languages and show that it in fact does mix codes due to either the mother tongue of the author or the author’s own idiolect (or peculiar and individual language that only authors are able to cultivate).  Here is a quote from the article:

“Sridhar, for example, has shown how ‘the mixture of English with Kannada is considered a matter of prestige, a mark of education, urbaneness and sophistication.’  We shall look at the instances of such sociolinguistically significant code-mixing between English and Gujarāti which we find in a Gujarāti novel, Sabhā, by Madhu Rye (published in 1972 by Vora, Ahmedabad).  We shall also try to identify the stylistics implications of this phenomenon of code-mixing when used as a literary device.”

18 November 2010

Jose Gallardo

Here is an example of multilingual literary criticism that seems to me to be in the right direction.  It looks not just at what a text wants to say, but the language it uses to say it:

"Gallardo’s style suggests the meaning of the text. His deviant language becomes a functional form as it incarnates the very language it refers to which is undergoing deviation. The medium is not just the message; the message is actually the medium. The language designed and employed arouses laughter as it assumes the possible configuration of a ludicrous language. Put in a total perspective, the poem recreates the possible speech habit of the Kapampangan community in its projected linguistic situation. No wonder, then, that the poet-addresser who is himself part of the list of writers he proudly presents, begets an illusion of a nightmare."

Instead of ignoring the language of a text, critics should put their praxis where their theory is:  if language is indeed opaque, then we should look at the language and not just at what the language refers to.  In Gallardo's case (as I think is the case with many other multilingual writers), the language (or more precisely, the mixing of languages) is very much a part of the content (not just the style) of the text.

14 November 2010

New book by Adam Donaldson Powell

Congratulations to a member of our community of multilingual writers!  Here's the description from Amazon.com of The Stalker (Tale of a French Bitch), the new book by Adam Donaldson Powell:  "The Stalker (Tale of a French Bitch) is a story that explores the battle between the sexes, sexual orientation, questions of gender and the psychological aspects of personal identity.  Rachel, the main character, suffers from multiple personality disorder and enters into a relationship with a transsexual in transition (a shemale).  There are twists and turns to this bilingual tale, which is mostly written in English but which also includes a bit of French."

13 November 2010

Werner Reichhold

It is fairly obvious (unless you don't speak German) that the following lines from the poem "Larval in Waiting" by Werner Reichhold are really in German, using English words:

"arcs of palms donate
imperceptible asseverations
                  desert nightfall
                 we are destined
                             to resort
with the habitual coolness of a snake’s tongue
that brings to attendance an enigmatic path
like nakedness caught by the call of insects"

I really don't think any monolingual English speaker would say "imperceptible asseverations" or "brings to attendance."  The phrases are not ungrammatical; they are just not natural for monolingual English speakers.  They are, however, quite "natural" for bilinguals.  To appreciate the poetry, we really have to have two languages running simultaneously in our minds - English and German.

Needless to say, since Reichhold is also an artist of note, the words aspire to the condition not only of poetry or music but of the visual arts.

11 November 2010

Mother tongue as second language

One mark of a true poet, if we were to believe William Logan, is how the poet uses the mother tongue as though it were a second language.  This is the other face of multilingual literary criticism.  In addition to thinking of the effect of the mother tongue on a text written in a non-mother tongue, we should also think of how a monolingual poet can actually treat a mother tongue as a learned language.  Here is Logan's observation about John Ashbery:
Ashbery is our Nabokovian genius (at times he seems invented by Nabokov): he’s the great lepidopterist of language and life in our late century. He delights in English as if it were his second language, or not his language at all.
Poets that deliberately distance themselves from their mother tongue are able to do what second-language poets do instinctively, namely, to stop treating language as transparent or directly related to reality, to think of language as an unnatural - rather than a natural - way of expressing what is inside, to return to what the Chinese critics said four thousand years ago that poetry is expressing what is in the heart, the heart being language-less.

09 November 2010

Joseph Brodsky

I'm too much of a cheapskate to part with my hard-earned English pounds, but I'm fairly sure I don't want to spend any currency on a review that starts off this way:

"Joseph Brodsky’s new selection, To Urania, gets off to a troubled start with a 20-line poem that contains at least one grammatical slip and a sentence of baffling absurdity. The slip occurs in line four, where we meet the construction ‘dined with the-devil-knows-whom’ – an accusative that seems to me justified by neither the rule-book nor colloquial usage. The absurd sentence follows two lines later. ‘Twice have drowned,’ we read (the first person being understood), ‘thrice let knives rake my nitty-gritty.’ Eh? ‘Twice have drowned, thrice let knives rake my nitty-gritty.’ I see."

Maybe Christopher Reid gets more intelligent as his review gets underway, or maybe his first paragraph is merely a rhetorical ploy ("you thought this was what I meant but actually this is not what I meant"), but in any case, I will never find out, since I will not subscribe to the London Review of Books just to read what I fear may be yet another case of someone misunderstanding why writers in a second language deliberately subvert the grammar of that language.  Being ungrammatical, as long as one does it knowingly, is a way to attack the center.  The simplest example is the way Australian postcolonial writers do not capitalize the word english to refer to the language; in this way, they dissociate the language from the British, who always capitalize the word.

The Google entry on the article quotes  some of Reid's words:   "writes in his second language and then translates it back into his own?"  Reid inadvertently discovered the strength, rather than the weakness, of a second-language writer:  s/he writes in the mother tongue, using words from the second language.  Nobel laureate Brodsky, of course, thought and wrote in Russian but later thought in Russian but wrote in English.  That was one of the best things that ever happened to the English language.

07 November 2010

Ciaran Carson

Understandably, poets writing in a second language often concern themselves with language itself.  This paragraph from a review by Paul Franz of Ciaran Carson, who writes in English, which is his second language, points to a real advantage that such poets have over those writing in their mother tongue.  The second language naturally adds ironic distance:

"Language and origins are Carson's abiding concerns, and one of the advantages of this Collected Poems is its delineation of his work's consistent thematic arc, thus providing a backdrop for his several abrupt and dramatic changes of style. For Carson, of course, these problems are not abstract, but emerge out of his particular experience growing up and living in Belfast, where he still makes his home. Born in 1948, Carson was raised in an environment unique even by the standards of his limited Catholic enclave: thanks to their parents' efforts, he and his siblings spent their first few years speaking only Irish. The ironic distance this implies from his second language, English, the language of the street and of officialdom, partially explains the elaborate playfulness of some of his recent styles. And yet, even before language became his work's central theme, one may detect the aftereffects of the gap it opened between his childhood and adult worlds. Inevitably, this gap also takes on historical and political dimensions."

05 November 2010

Languages determine what we think

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (either the strong or the weak version) is still not quite accepted by many scholars, for reasons I cannot understand, unless it's the old "my language is the best language in the whole wide world and can do anything your language can do" syndrome.  You can enjoy a light treatment of the hypothesis (without the jargon of linguists, psychologists, philosophers, and other academics) in "5 Insane Ways Words Can Control Your Mind" by Sam Cooper of cracked.com.  Here's an excerpt, dealing with the familiar color issue:


It Makes People Who Speak Russian See More Colors Than You
Everyone's perception of colors should be the same. We have the same retinal structure due to evolution and the same wavelengths of light shooting at us.

Illustrated here, probably.
Yet somewhere, right now, there is a young couple at Home Depot looking at little cards with paint colors on them. The woman holds up four cards to her husband and says, "Do you like the eggshell, ivory, cream or bone?" at which point he looks at the cards, all of which are white, and says, "You're messing with me, right?"

"And what's all this 'taupe' bullshit?"
She's not. Experiments have found that whether or not you can register a color depends on whether or not you have a name for it in your language. You can see the color, it just doesn't register in your mind.
One study compared some young children from England with kids from a tribe in Nambia. In the English language, young kids usually learn 11 basic colors (black, white, gray, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, orange, purple and brown) but in Himba it's only five. For instance, they lump red, orange and pink together and call it "serandu."

We don't know what they call that hairstyle, but we call it "awesome."
If you showed the Himba toddler a pink card and then later showed him a red one and ask if they're the same card, the kid would often mistakenly say yes -- because they're both "serandu." Same as if you showed you "Eggshell" and an hour later showed you "Bone" and asked if it was the same card from before. Now, again, they can see the colors; if you hold up a pink card and a red card next to each other, the English kid and Himba kid both would say they're different. But not when they see them one at a time.
But if you teach him the new names for the colors, that one is "pink" and the other is "red," from then on he can identify them when seen by themselves, without the other one for comparison. Same as the girl or interior decorator who can immediately identify "eggshell" as distinct from "ivory" the moment she sees it on a wall, while her boyfriend couldn't do it with a gun to his head. The ability to recognize the color comes with having a name for it.

Also, with giving a shit.
Likewise, Turkish and Russian both split what we call "blue" into two different colors, for the darker and lighter shades. Therefore they consistently do a better job than English speakers when given the same "is this blue card the same as the last blue card" test. Even weirder, when testing the Russians they found that by giving them a verbal distraction (making them try to memorize a string of numbers while doing the color test) the advantage disappeared. It was the language part of their brain that was helping them "see" the color.  (END OF EXCERPT)

03 November 2010

English as a dead mouse

In her "English as a Second Language," April Bernard describes the soul of the English language as "pretty as a dead mouse."  That's an intriguing image, not only because dead mice are seldom, if ever, seen as pretty (poets still routinely follow the almost century-old New Critical command to yoke disparate images together), but also because English is not her second language.  To poets, the English language is, indeed, a dead mouse when used by non-poets, but it remains pretty, as in pretty dead, not just as in pretty attractive.

Here is something linguists would never appreciate - that it is possible for a mother tongue to be a second language.  A poet has her or his own language, which is the mother tongue, and the language that everybody else in the community speaks, what others may call their first language, is only the poet's second language.  This is, of course, something that is way down the road for multilingual literary criticism.  We still have to convince critics that poets writing in a second language are really writing in their mother tongue, using foreign words.

01 November 2010

Wang Ping

When a poet works in a second language, it is easier for her/him to ignore the nuances of the language.  This seems to be what is happening to Wang Ping, at least when she talks about her own poetry:

"When I started reading, I started writing in both Chinese and English. After I began writing for awhile, though, I realized that my style writing in Chinese was very conservative, whereas my English-language poetry was much looser and freer. I felt I had much more freedom in English - my way of thinking in poetic images was somehow quite natural."

I think she feels "somehow quite natural" in a second language because she does not have the restrictions imposed by centuries of Chinese poetic tradition.  It is good and bad that a poet writes in a language other than the mother tongue.  On the one hand, it is good that the poet freely moves around the second language, something those born into that language cannot do because their minds have already been molded by the language.  It is, therefore, good for a language to have second-language poets working with it.  On the other hand, a poet should not forget that poetry, like everything else in life, is structured by history (or as critics like to put it, "constituted").  Veering away from tradition is just ignorance, not skill.  By not having the knowledge that a mother-tongue poet has, the second-language poet runs the real risk of reinventing the wheel.

Take these lines from Wang Ping's "Syntax":

"Language, like woman,
Look best when free, undressed." 

The deliberate use of the ungrammatical verb is in keeping with the general theme of the poem, but the image is not correct.  I am a heterosexual male, but I cannot imagine a woman looking better naked than with a few pieces of clothing.  There is a reason painters and sculptors cover even a small portion of the body of a naked woman:  clothing increases rather than decreases sexual desire.  How else explain the unattractiveness of the naked breasts of some tribal women?  Similarly, to follow the metaphor of the lines, "To be or not to be" looks much better than "Decide."  Undressed language never looks better than dressed or poetic language.