07 November 2011

Call for papers on (M)Other Tongues

Contributions are solicited for inclusion in the volume (M)Other Tongues. Papers may explore literary texts in any language discussing concepts of the mother tongue, its acquisition, its differentiation from other tongues, and whether it can be actually one, one’s own, or a mother’s language. Readings of literary texts are particularly welcome, but papers might as well pertain to the theory of autobiography and translation and to objects in other genres.

“The language in which we are speaking,” the protagonist of Joyce’s Portrait says in English about English, “will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words.” Everyone acquires language, yet Joyce raises the question: How? Does a subject, a prospective speaker lacking nothing but a vocabulary to say “I,” acquire speech by way of reaching for and accepting a language that is thus “gained” as a mother tongue? Or is it not rather that language only allows to articulate an “I,” and hence shapes it? Authors from St. Augustine to Kafka, Nabokov and Canetti discuss what it means to acquire a mother tongue, to form and reshape the language that enables to speak – not least of being estranged from speech. Deleuze suggests that by bringing about a “destruction of the maternal language,” literature renders into an expressive, communicative medium what is otherwise just a suppressive structure. Yet if that can be done in literature, language must itself comprise the possibility to be altered; a mother tongue might indeed not be a language until it is spoken, which means: altered, reshaped, thus becoming a (m)other tongue.

Please submit 300-500 word abstracts to prade@lingua.uni-frankfurt.deDeadline: December 12, 2011.

01 November 2011

On translingual literature

From Natasha Lvovich of the City University of New York comes a report on last summer's Colloquium on Translingual Literature, plus ideas on more events we might be interested in.  Here are her email posts, with permission from her:

"A brief report on our successful interdisciplinary venture last summer: the colloquium on Translingual Literature (of 6 participants) that I coordinated at the International Symposium of Bilingualism (ISB8) in Oslo, Norway. This was the first time ever that literature was featured at the main international gathering of second language/
bilingualism scholars (!). Our group delivered fascinating diverse presentations, triggered genuine interest, and made useful connections with academics across the disciplines. To my knowledge, several publications may come out as a result of this.

"Perhaps we can continue in the same vein? Steven Kellman and I have been looking into possible venues, and a couple of suggestions have emerged:

"1. AILC/IACL 2013 (International Association of Comparative Literature), July 18-24 2013, Paris, Sorbonne.
The theme of the conference is Comparative Literature as a Critical Approach, and it seems to me that a group on Translingual Literature focused on interdisciplinary inter-lingual inquiry in the increasingly globalized world might be an irresistible proposition. There are two options for groups: a 1,5 hour seminar meeting over several days OR a workshop/roundtable meeting once. More info here:

"The deadline for group proposals is January 1, 2012. I am happy to coordinate an AILC group if there is enough interest and we make the deadline.

"2. MLA 2013, January 3-6, Boston, MA. There are several group possibilities there, including Special Sessions and Discussion Groups. Perhaps someone on this list can look into it and organize a gathering.

"There are of course other possibilities, including the next ISB (9) in Singapore."

A follow-up email:

"I am so glad I have ignited quite a few sparks here. Nobody stops us to have several panels organized simultaneously at different places. I will keep rolling our Translingual ball toward Paris - but recent
responses show that this is how we can make ourselves known as a growing field and call for attention in several disciplinary directions, organizing Translingual Lit groups at different gatherings. And this is how the snowball firms up and grows, right?

"More to come: The 19th ICL: Congres International des Linguistes, Geneva, July 22-27, celebrating the anniversary of Ferdinand De Saussure. Look it up: www.cil19.org. I use structural/semiotic approach to translingual texts, but I don't think as a group, we have a good chance at the purely linguistic conference. But who knows?

"Also, even though we missed AAAL (American Association of Aplied Linguistics) for 2012, we may have a good chance in 2013 in Dallas (see dates: http://www.aaal.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=8),
organizing in summer--especially because the new president of AAAL is now Aneta Pavlenko (congratulations, Aneta!), who strongly believes in using literature in L2/Bilingualism research.

"Since I've got a show of interest (across the continents and fields) for AILC 2013 in Paris, the Call for Proposals with the details will follow shortly. I am excited! Thank you!"

10 June 2011

Will be in Passau

Rizal, der Nationalheld der Filipinos: Damals und Heute
Symposium an der Universitat Passau
Donnerstag, 30. Juni 2011,
R. 147 b, Juridicum, Innstr. 39
Bis 14.00 Uhr

1) "Rizal in seiner Zeit" (Prof. Dr. Dahm)
2) "Rizal in Heidelberg" (Dr. Frey) Kaffeepause
3) ,,Jose Rizal on film and online"
Das Image Rizals in den heutigen Philippinen (in engl. Sprache) (Dr. Isagani Cruz)
4) Rizal und Gandhi und die Politik der Gewaltlosigkeit (Prof. Dr. Dahm)

06 June 2011

Will be in Frankfurt

Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitat Frankfurt/M
Institut fur Orientalische und Ostasiatische Philologien
- Sudostasienwissenschaften -
Interdisziplinares Zentrum fur Ostasienstudien (IZO)
zu einem Gastvortrag
Dr. Isagani R. Cruz
[Literaturkritiker, Autor, Verleger etc., Manila]
Jose Rizal on film and online
am Dienstag, dem 21. Juni 2011, urn 16.00 Uhr c.t.,
Juridicum, 7. Stock, Raum Jur 717
(U 4,6, 7: Station Bockenheimer Warte)
gez. Prof. Dr. Arndt Graf
telefonische Ruckfragen unter:

02 May 2011

Symposium on bilingualism

ISB8 - International Symposium of Bilingualism, Oslo 2011
Velkommen til ISB8 2011!
Denne viktige internasjonale konferansen for tospråklighet blir i år arrangert av Institutt for lingvistiske og nordiske studier ved Universitetet i Oslo fra 15. til 18. juni.
Konferansen inngår som en del av feiringen for 200-årsjubiléet for Universitetet i Oslo.

ISB8 will be hosted by the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Oslo from June 15 to June 18, 2011.
The University of Oslo celebrates its 200th anniversary in the same year and ISB8 is part of the program for a celebration that will last throughout the entire year.

Six papers will cover the following topics:
-Synesthesia in Translingual Texts
-The Case of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
-Language and National Identity in Beckett’s Comment c’est/How It is and Nabokov’s Pale Fire
-Translingual Israeli Arab Writers
-Acquiring a Second Language Literature: a Case Study in Translingualism
-Visual Applications of English-Chinese Code-mixing in Ezra Pound’s The Cantos and Xu Bing’s Square Word Calligraphy

16 April 2011

Literary theory for teachers


Lectures by Dr. Isagani R. Cruz
May 9 to 13, 2011
Nicanor Reyes Hall – Case Study Room
Far Eastern University, Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines

A series of public lectures on the use of Literary Theory in teaching literature on the secondary and tertiary levels.  The lectures will acquaint teachers with the fundamentals of literary theory, from its beginnings in China to Ecocriticism and Wikcrit.  The lectures will focus on the way literary theories can be applied in practice to understand and to teach literary texts and other narratives, such as films.  No prior knowledge of literary theory and criticism is required.  The lectures will be conducted in English, but texts in several languages will be used as examples.

9 May Monday 9-11 a.m.:  Literature as Self-Expression:  The Birth of Theory in China
9 May Monday 2-4 p.m.:  Literature as Mirror:  Plato Begets Aristotle
10 May Tuesday 9-11 a.m.:  Literature as Prayer:  Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic
10 May Tuesday 2-4 p.m.:  Literature as History:  Rizal and Realism
11 May Wednesday 9-11 a.m.:  Literature as Object:  New Criticism & Structuralism
11 May Wednesday 2-4 p.m.:  Literature as Weapon:  Marx and the Marxists
12 May Thursday 9-11 a.m.:  Literature as Self-Contradiction:  Poststructuralism
12 May Thursday 2-4 p.m.: Literature as Sexual Politics:  Feminism and Gay Criticism
13 May Friday 9-11 a.m.:  Literature as World Politics:  Postcolonial Theories
13 May Friday 2-4 p.m.:  Literature in the 21st Century:  The Death of Theory Online

Lecturer’s Profile

ISAGANI R. CRUZ, Ph.D., is one of The Outstanding Filipinos (TOFIL) of 2010.  He is the  Consultant for Academic Institutional Development of Far Eastern University.  He is a Professor Emeritus of De La Salle University.  He was an Undersecretary and is currently an Adviser of the Department of Education.  He belongs to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.  In 2010, the world’s leading literary critics contributed articles to a book honoring him as the country’s foremost literary theorist.

25 March 2011

Sick leave

I'm currently battling a particularly bad strain of pneumonia and will be back blogging as soon as I regain my strength.

13 March 2011

Gay language

Should gay language be considered a different language?  The difference between English as used by homosexuals and English as used by heterosexuals is not obvious, but for other languages, the difference is enormous.  For example, in the Philippines, gay language (known as swardspeak) has a totally different vocabulary (not used by heterosexuals) and sometimes even a different grammar.  A poem mixing straight Tagalog and gay Tagalog can be treated the usual way we read multilingual poems.  In English, however, the difference can be pretty subtle.  Here is an excellent account of a gay poem mixing gay and straight vocabularies.  Since the gay words also have meanings in straight language, it is easy to miss the interplay of registers:

“Slang words may be deliberately adopted – with all their power to disturb – in order to insist on the difference between gay and straight love poetry.  Here, their function is that of a consciously liberating discourse.

“Poems that take this line often overtly mix register, as we can see in the following example:

I love your eyes;
in my dreams
my breath is on your pants
fluctuating seashell
my hand is on the zipper
starfish opening a shell
my hand petting your jock
blue sun warming a salty ocean (R. Daniel Evans, ‘I Praise’)

“This extract describes a rapid and – in a naturalised reading – bathetic shift from eyes to groin as the addresser prepares to suck the addressee.  Although it adopts a register familiar to love poetry, with its use of expressions like ‘I love your eyes’ and ‘dreams’ and the construction of an almost mawkisly romantic scenario with such trappings as ‘seashell,’ ‘starfish’ and ‘sun,’ the juxtaposition in lines 2-3 of two grammatically parallel phrases ‘in my dreams’/’on your pants/ neatly undercuts the potentially hackneyed romanticism of the opening couplet.  The same technique is used in the next two lines, where ‘my hand’ is implicitly compared and contrasted to ‘starfish’ and ‘the zipper’ to ‘a shell.’  The final couplet resorts once more to the use of structural equivalence:  the semantically connected verbs ‘petting’ and ‘warming’ oblige a reading in which ‘my hand’ and ‘blue sun,’ and ‘your jock’ and a ‘salty ocean’ are related both grammatically and metaphorically, exploiting the sexual implications of the second phrase to the full.”  (Charles Lambert)

09 March 2011

Oral language as another language

Seeing foreign words in a predominantly monolingual work is a clear sign that language-mixing or language-appropriation is taking place.  Much more difficult to detect (unless one is a native speaker of various languages or at least of the predominant language) is the interaction between the spoken register and the written register.  All languages make such a distinction.  (One thinks, in English, of fragments or run-on sentences, which speakers speak routinely but writers try very hard - except with reason - to avoid.  Or in many languages, the general convention that words used in real speech to refer to the sexual organs are not found routinely in most literary texts, particularly older ones.)  Here is an attempt to deal with the issue of two varieties or registers of the same language (one spoken, one oral) in the same literary text:

“What are the oral ‘traces’ when the written text is in another language?  The authors of the articles in the second section [of volume 2 of the book Interfaces Between the Oral and the Written, edited by Alain Ricard and Flora Veit-Wild, 2005], ‘New Literary Languages,’ tackle this intriguing question.  This section focuses on creation in African languages, where the translation from oral to written text is accomplished in the same language.  Using Daniel Kunene’s groundbreaking work as a reference-point, Alain Ricard analyzes the first Sotho novel and endeavours to establish its paradigmatic nature as  a text.  Thomas Mofolo knew Sotho tradition and invented a new language to express new realities, particularly the African appropriation of Christianity.  The Swahili writer Shaaban Robert is equally revealed, in Xavier Garnier’s article, as an innovator.  A civil servant, Muslim, and nationalist, he wrote prolifically in the traditional verse-forms, but he invented Swahili prose.  A different form of new prose was created by the Kenyan David Maillu, who, in his desire to pattern a novel on a new urban life-style, decided to mix languages and to mimic the speech of the young urbanized Kenyans.  Analyzing this type of code-switching in one of Maillu’s novels, Thomas Geider details the processes by which the creation of a truly original piece of writing is accomplished.”

06 March 2011

Arabic script

The problems of monolingual readers of multilingual European texts are nothing compared to the problems of monolingual (or monodialectal) readers of texts in Arabic script.  Because there is apparently no standard way of writing the different dialects (we should really call them languages, in the same way that we call various Chinese "dialects" as languages), it is extremely difficult for a reader to decipher texts written in non-universal Arabic.  Here is an account of that difficulty:

“A text written in dialect is fully intelligible only to those Arab readers who are its native speakers or are familiar with it through other direct experience.  This is especially true of the less central dialects, but it is applicable even to such a central dialect as that of Cairo or Beirut.  Although these central dialects are, grosso modo, comprehensible to many Arabs throughout the Near East and North Africa through film, popular songs and the like, their nuances are, more often than not, lost on those from different regions.  A novelist who writes dialogue in AM (i.e., his own dialect) is therefore likely to attract a much smaller reading public in neighbouring Arab countries than his colleague writing in FU.  He also risks becoming a ‘local’ writer rather than  one who addresses the reading public of the entire Arab world.

“Dialects in the Arab world never developed writing systems of their own, and AM is normally reduced to the uncongenial orthography of FU.  Thus the reader, especially one who is not a native speaker of the dialect in question, faces many difficulties in deciphering them.  Moreover, as there is no stable tradition of committing the dialects to writing, texts that employ AM are very often inconsistent in the use of Arabic characters for this purpose.

“Since the narrative sections of an Arabic novel or short story are customarily written in FU, the use of AM in the dialogue produces a text consisting of two different linguistic types.  Admittedly, the use of dialectal dialogue is a common practice among European and other novelists, who are not loathe to mix dialectal repliques with narrative sections whose language is usually more akin to the standard variety.  But it would seem that the lingual gap between the written and the spoken varieties of Arabic is much greater than what we find in most European languages.”  (Genre and Language in Modern Arabic Literature, by Sasson Somekh, 1991)

03 March 2011

Not easy to translate

“A book that is easy to translate is, after all, useless,” says Ludvík Vaculík.  Extremely difficult to translate is a book that mixes languages, because the translation will mask a major feature of the writing (everything will be in the target language, making it appear that the original was all in the same language).  Some translators resort to footnoting (e.g., “in French in the original”) but that impedes the reading.

Here is Eva Eckert's 1993 account of Vaculík:

“The articles by Brodská and Hrabik-Samal, stylistic literary analyses of two well-known Cz authors, Bohumil Hrabal and Ludvík Vaculík, further exemplify the relationship of the spoken code and the standard language.  Both authors are considered difficult to translate; Brodská and Hrabik-Samal address themselves to the causes of this difficulty.  Hrabal’s language is characterized by endless baroque periodic sentences.  Vaculík’s, on the other hand, is elliptic; it contains typically Cz metaphors and also various forms of the northeast Moravian Valachian dialect.  CCz is always used to a specific purpose in Vaculík’s prose.  The author intentionally elaborates his own language variety, Brodská suggests, to a point where it becomes untranslatable, by using neologisms, playing with words, and altering established grammatical constructions.  In Vaculík’s words, ‘a book that is easy to translate is, after all, useless.’”

01 March 2011

European tradition of mixing languages

Mixing languages, of course, is not new.  In fact, it is very old.  Here is a passage from Transforming the Center, Eroding the Margins:  Essays on Ethnic and Cultural Boundaries in German-Speaking Countries (1998), by Dagmar C. G. Lorez and Renate Posthofen (p. 258):

“Genthe describes the long European tradition of mixing languages within literary texts.  While making verses, he tells, some Roman poets already made no difference between Greek and Latin, thereby witnessing the incorporation of Greek culture into Roman culture.  Finally, since the eve of the Middle Ages and throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, several writers – including Molière in his Le Malade Imaginaire (1673, translated as The Hypochondriack, 1732) – elaborately assimilated their native language to the scholars’ Latin idiom.  This species of poetry is called macaronic because it was inaugurated by Tifi degli Odasi’s Maccharonea in 1490.”

I find it interesting that the mixing of languages is thought to be also a mixing of cultures.  This is a rather big jump from language to culture, but since each language theoretically embodies a particular culture, it is an avenue worth pursuing.  Perhaps the labeling of English as an "international language" would then be problematized, because the language (in theory anyway, even if it has not yet been shown in practice) carries the culture of Britain (and today, of the United States).  The Australian attempt to make English english, or the Indian attempt to make English Englishes, may be masking the hegemonic or imperial nature of the English language.  Perhaps (a thought at this point, without any theoretical basis yet) the widespread use of the English language is threatening not just other languages but entire cultures.

20 February 2011

Literary critics vs. linguists

The debate between linguists and literary critics about code-switching (or as we prefer to term it, multilingual literature) might be traceable to Jacques Derrida's famous insight that writing precedes speech.  Linguists look primarily at spoken language, while literary critics look primarily at written language.  But if Derrida is right that writing precedes speech, then literary critics see a much bigger and more accurate picture of multilingual literature than linguists do.

Here is an account by linguist John Lipski, for example, of Ilan Stavans:

“A very different perspective comes from the self-declared admirer and promoter of Spanglish Ilan Stavans, an expatriate Mexican writer now teaching in Massachusetts, whose prolific popular writings on Spanglish and purported specimens of this ‘language’ have made him a lightning rod for polemic as well as a widely-cited source among international scholars unfamiliar with the reality of Spanish-English bilingualism in the United States.  Rather than applying Spanglish to an already existent discourse mode or sociolinguistic register (as done, for example, by Ed Morales or by the New York Puerto Ricans cited by Zentella 1997), Stavans invents his own mixture of Spanish and English, loosely modeled after true intrasentential code-switching typical of U.S. Latino communities. … Stavans appears to regard all code-switching as a deliberate act of creativity, whereas most linguists who have studied code-switching – in a wide variety of language-contact environments throughout the world – analyze spontaneous code-switching in spoken langauge as a loosely monitored speech mode circumscribed by basic syntactic restrictions but largely below the level of conscious awareness.   Only in written language, particularly in creative literature, is deliberate manipulation of code-switching to achieve specific aesthetic goals a viable option.”  (Spanish and Empire, 2007)

If writing does precede speech, then even oral or non-literary code-switching is deliberate, just as Lipski concedes that creative writing is.

15 February 2011

One-way influence?

The standard way of looking at the interaction between English and another language is to say that English has influenced or even dominated the other language.  For example, here is what the leading Englishes advocate, Braj B. Kachru, says in Asian Englishes:  Beyond the Canon (2005), about English and Indian languages:  “There is general agreement that English has functioned as the main agent for releasing the South Asian languages from the rigorous constraints of the classical literary traditions.  With the influence of English literature came new experimentation, and resultant controversies.  The issues were seen in new theoretical and methodological frameworks.”

On the other hand, it is time to investigate what happens to English as a literary language when writers with a different mother tongue write in it.  I don't mean merely talking about how the language is different in literary texts written by second-language writers, because that has been studied quite well and even felt instinctively by readers.  I mean looking at English itself as a language.  There have been several studies of the number of non-English words that have entered English (I am talking of modern times, not the origins of English), but what about English structure?  Has the grammar of English changed because of the influence of Englishes or different varieties of English?  Has the English of monolingual American writers become different because of all the works written by immigrant or multilingual Americans?

I once gave a lecture on the influence of Philippine literature on American literature, and frankly, I was laughed out of the lecture hall.  Yet Herman Melville apparently passed by the Philippines on one of his whaling trips; given his sensitivity to languages and nature, he could not have possibly not been influenced by the Philippine writing then available to him.  Is it possible that the "strange" way he structured Moby Dick (usually attributed to his having dropped the project, read Shakespeare, and resumed the project without revising earlier work) been due to his experience reading the works of other countries (not necessarily the Philippines)?  Would it not shake the ego of Anglo-American writers to realize that they are as beholden to speakers of other languages as these others are beholden to them?

12 February 2011

Long tradition of mixing languages

“Language mixing in literary texts has been commented upon by literary scholars and medievalists for a long time,” writes D. A. Trotter in Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain (2000), citing examples from Latin-French-English macaronic poems, Piers Plowman, English-Latin-French-Hebrew medieval drama, and Mary Play.  He concludes his brief survey with this:  “Even this rather sketchy survey of mixed-language texts from almost five centuries should have illustrated that switching is evidently a common phenomenon in the history of written English texts and occurs in a variety of domains, text types and/or genres.”  Note the word "common."  The large number of predominantly English literary texts today that incorporate words and sentences from various languages shows that the classical tradition of mixing languages within one text is continuing and, in fact, getting stronger.

09 February 2011

Chinua Achebe on English

Here's a familiar quote from Chinua Achebe's “English and the African Writer” (1965):

"My answer to the question, Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? is certainly yes.  If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it like a native speaker?  I should say, I hope not.  It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to be able to do so.  The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use.  The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost.  He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience."

Literary critics in postcolonial countries tend to focus on one or both of two aspects of English:  how a writer's English differs but should not differ from so-called "Standard English" (whatever that is) and/or how a writer's mother tongue influences (more often, distorts) his or her English.  The kind of literary theory I am pushing for should remove the center of power from English (decenter or unprivilege it, as critics love to say) and to talk instead of the literary language that is created out of the merger of two languages - the mother tongue and the second language.  The English of a literary text is not the English that the linguists are talking about (the "authentic language," as they love to say).  Rather, it is a language that is intelligible only to readers and critics (and, of course, writers) of literature.

05 February 2011

Ana Castillo

In the hands of a poet, what is merely code-switching for linguists becomes a singular poetic code.  Here is a discussion of the way Ana Castillo lifts Spanglish from a "mixed" language to a "pure" poetic one:

"Of Castillo's poetry collection I Ask the Impossible, John Stoehr observed in CityBeat online that the author 'breaks the mono-linguistic rule by writing a Chicana-brand of poetry in both Spanish and English, effortlessly intermingling the Latinate and Germanic languages, often breeding them into an intriguing hybrid. But it's not Spanglish --it's something more lyrical and thus more poetic.' Geeta Sharma Jensen, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, dubbed it 'a work that celebrates a woman's strength and reminds people of social justice.' Noting that Castillo 'wrote these poems between 1989 and 2000,' Jensen quoted the book's introduction: 'They are meditations, odes, stiletto stammers. . . . They are the musings of a big-city gal and the prayers of a solitary woman who can feel equally at home in the desert or rancho.' Stoehr characterized the verses as 'irreverent, witty, passionate and intensely political,' and added that 'much of I Ask the Impossible is like hearing the voice of Carl Sandburg if he'd had a Mexican accent. Though Castillo would chafe at the comparison, she can hardly deny the similarities, especially in her homage to her hometown, "Chi-Town Born and Bred, Twentieth-Century Girl Propelled with Flare into the Third Millen-nium."' He continued: 'Beyond the Sandburgian free flow, Castillo brings to the fore her own unique voice, rife with the pain of ethnic life in the United States, the joys of a rich and diverse Mexican-American past and the struggles of her Chicana present. . . . [She is a] writer . . . who's likely to continue to fight the good fight and to break the rules for years to come.'"

02 February 2011

Mixtilingual poetry

The alternative term for multilingual poetry - mixtilingual poetry - comes from an old article, "From Bilingual to Mixtilingual Speech:  'Code-Switching' Revisited" (1988), by Renzo Titone.  Here's the abstract:

"Offers several justifications for the claim that code-switching is a positive, not a negative, phenomenon. Included are three examples of 'mixtilingual' poetry: poetry 'mixing languages' in order to evoke different feelings and images within a certain cultural context. The poems mix English and Spanish, English and Italian, and Italian and Spanish, respectively."

While the term mixtilingual makes explicit the presence of two or more languages in a single text, it hides a second and more sophisticated layer of language-based meaning-making in a text, that of a mother tongue beneath the surface of a second-language literary text.  A text need not be obviously mixed to be mixed; what appears to be a monolingual text, if written by someone with a different mother tongue, is necessarily also mixed and should be read as a "mixtilingual" text.  To make the lives of critics even more difficult, there is a third layer, which is the apparently monolingual text written in the mother tongue; in this case, Bakhtin's dialogics should bring out the other languages (idiolect, subtext, other voices, personal language, whatever) that are present in such a text.

30 January 2011

Book alert: Digital Poetry

Jorge Luiz Antonio presents a panorama of digital poetry in Brazil and in the world 

There are many ways of making poetry nowadays, but the one that mostly engages the new technologies of language is digital poetry. In Digital Poetry: Theory, History, Anthologies, Jorge Luiz Antonio presents a panorama of digital poetry history, from its origins, in 1959, until our days with the most advanced and creative innovations. The author shows how the resources of computer science, apparently cool and exact, can give new life to the universe of poetry when taking their producers and appreciators to the other artistic directions inside digital culture.

For Jorge Luiz Antonio his Digital Poetry: Theory, History, Anthologies is a book that "studies a type of contemporary poetry in its relationship with the arts, design and computational technology, which is a continuation and an unfolding of avant-garde, concrete, visual, and experimental poetry". According to the Portuguese poet E.M. de Melo e Castro, the work has "clearly the intention and the author's accomplishment of a discussion about the reasons that can be invoked for the study of the transformations that the use of the technologies is already causing in the concept of poetry". 

Digital poetry: theory, history, anthologies comes accompanied by a DVD that gathers a complete anthology of digital poems and their predecessors, introducing 501 poems of 226 poets and 110 theoretical texts of 73 authors, Brazilians and foreigners, with about 1500 printed and electronic pages, giving a rare panorama of what has already been done in the area of poetic experimentation, in Brazil and in other countries. The DVD shows that "poetry, art, design, science and digital technology form the transdisciplinary quintet that a portion of the contemporary poets chose to accomplish their poetic communication", as Jorge Luiz Antonio says.  
    (Franklin Valverde, Onda Latina, Brazil)

Digital poetry: Theory, History, Anthologies is a co-edition of Navegar Press (São Paulo, Brazil), Luna Bisonte Prods (Columbus, Ohio, USA), FAPESP (The State of Sao Paulo Research Foundation (São Paulo, Brazil) and the Author. 

On the author: Jorge Luiz Antonio, university teacher, researcher, FAPESP scholarship, post-doctor in IEL-UNICAMP, is also the author of studies on Cesario Verde and Augusto dos Anjos.

27 January 2011

Roger Federer

A break from talking about literature:  let's talk about tennis.  Here's an excerpt from a newspaper article about Roger Federer's being a polyglot (Swiss German, French, English):

"It is not uncommon for Federer to stay behind after his main press conference and answer questions in several languages for a variety of media in newspapers, radio and television.

"'Sometimes I wish I never told anybody I learned French or something like that.
"'I'm happy to speak it. It's a language we speak in Switzerland. I'm proud to have learned that language. At least I can communicate and have friends as well from that part of the world.'
"Federer, who has a South African mother, said he grew up speaking English and Swiss German.
"'That (being a polyglot) comes at a cost, sure. But I don't mind it. I try to have fun with it,' he said.
"'I have different humor in all the different languages, which is kind of fun for me, too. Getting to know myself through different languages is actually quite interesting for me.'"

I was struck by his observation that another language not only helps him communicate with people, but learn about himself.  Since one of literature's major goals is to help writers and readers learn about themselves, having more than one language is surely a simple way to gain more self-knowledge.  In the same vein, a novelist working with more than one language knows a lot more about his or her characters than one working monolingually.

24 January 2011

Thomas Shimmin

For those that know English and Manx Gaelic, here's a poem by the 19th-century poet Thomas "Tom the Dipper" Shimmin.  Even those (like me) that do not know Manx can appreciate the (strict) rhyming scheme and the (almost strict) meter, probably due to its being originally a song:

I was born at the Yinnagh where stands yon big mill,
Ayns shen hooar mee'n chied greim va cur't ayns my veeal;
On the fifteenth of May, eighteen hundred and nought,
Eisht dooyrt ny shenn vraane ver-mayd eaddagh noa ort.

Not long I remained down there it is true,
Gys çheu Ballacross va mee 'choyrt lesh dy bieau.
My uncle he loved me, an infant forlorn;
Eisht cur't lesh va mee dys thie Ballagawne.

Not long I remained my youth to regale,
Eisht cur't lesh va mee dys Ballacashtal;
Whilst there I was sent to school and to trade,
As schoillar mie va mee ec three bleeaney jeig.

I began to improve in the shoemaking trade,
As greassee mie va mee ec nuy bleeaney jeig.
I soon became foreman, which was no disgrace,
Eisht phoose mee shenn ven erskyn daeed vlein dy eash.

Full thirty years long - I then lost my bride,
As dooinney treogh va mee ec jeih blein as daeed.
Again I got married to a good woman true,
Agh boggey ayns paitçhyn cha row ad ayn rieau.

Bred and born in the Lowlands I upward would go,
Son cha row mee booiagh dy ve injil myr shoh.
I am rising up higher again and again,
Ta mee nish beaghey ayns Kirkdale ec Slieau ny Garnane.

And shortly like Moses on top of the hill,
Yn çheer roym cha baghtal lane bainney as mill;
But do not mistake me, I now mean the soul.
Ta mee nish taggloo jeh'n çheer spyrrydoil.

Now I am getting old and death will devour.
Dy jean Creest leeideil as cur bea nooghyn my chour;
Then in the great judgement when all shall appear,
Goit seose marish Yeesey dys thie-mooar yn Ayr.

22 January 2011

Spanglish as literary language

The chicken-and-egg question is which comes first, the creative way in which people on the streets mix languages or the deliberate way in which poets creatively mix languages in a single text?  Did Chaucer merely capture the language being spoken in the markets of his time, or did he create that language?  In the case of Spanglish, poets can at least be credited with naming the language.  See this encyclopedia entry:

"Spanglish has existed as long as Spanish has been in contact with English in the United States and the cultures have coexisted; however, the term gained currency in the 1970s with the explosion of bilingual Latino and Latina poetry.  Nuyorican poets, such as Miguel Algarín, Tato Laviera, and Sandra Maria Esteves, and Chicano and Chicana poets, such as Alurista, Tino Villanueva, and Bernice Zamora, incorporated Spanglish in their writing and defended its use as a creative representation of the Latino and Latina vernacular.  While Spanglish is more closely associated with poetry, writers such as Roberto Fernández, Junot Díaz, and Giannina Braschi regularly incorporate it in their prose."

The answer to the riddle might seem obvious (that people mixed languages before poets), but note that poets (not novelists, who more directly capture real-life speech) were the major contributors to the spread of Spanglish as a literary language.  Perhaps William Wordsworth might have argued that ordinary human beings speak poetry in their everyday lives, but he was speaking metaphorically.  We know very well that poets craft or distill ordinary language and that we do not find people talking to each other in rhyming couplets.  I think that the role of poets in creating, not just mirroring, language is vastly underestimated.

19 January 2011

Student view

Here's a comment by a student about John Agard's "Half-Caste":

"The language of the poem is a mixture of Caribbean dialect and formal British English – the poet at one point says in Caribbean dialect: ‘Ah lookin at yu wid de keen half of mih eye’, but at another in BBC English: ‘Consequently when I dream I dream half-a-dream’.   This very powerfully gets across the fact that Agard is of mixed heritage."

While obviously "amateur" and not "professional" in terms of literary theory, this comment reveals that even the ordinary reader senses that form should mirror content.  If a poem talks about prejudice against people of mixed ethnic origin or heritage, then the poem itself should be "mixed," that is, should not aspire or pretend to be "pure."  The simplest and most obvious way to do this is to use more than one language.  Of course, this is merely on the "amateur" or student level.  Literary critics have to study how the languages were mixed, why a "foreign" or "non-standard" word is used instead of the expected word in the main language, how the words in the other languages add to the sound pattern and/or visual appeal of the poem, and so on.  But the initial acceptance of mixed-language poems is clearly there and clearly effective.