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.


  1. In the sense that my world view is influenced by my mother tongue (Ilocano), I may subconsciously be using images from that mother tongue. However, my world view influenced by my second language, English, may also create more pronounced and more precises images as equipment of my poetry.

    I, nevertheless, know that I write in English (one used in my current milieu) using English, not my mother tongue. I find it difficult now to understand how I could have a world view (shaped in my Ilocano) that I am expressing in English (as my second language.)

    English is my more efficient poetic language.

  2. Bernard's "dead mouse" image of the soul of English is a tabloid label for an opinion I find neither true nor intriguing. It's a cheap shot. I can't see it as a logical premise or topic for conversation.