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The General Background Of Multilingualism English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2294 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The first wide documentation about multilingualism in literature was written back in 1970 by Leonard Forster. Although highly elaborated, his work was not taken into account as properly, because domains such as Translation Studies and Literary Studies have neglected its importance. Literary Multilingualism is to remain overshadowed by other branches of literature, until major figures in this field publish their own contributions, and so change the general perspective. Rainier Grutman clarifies the matter when he associates the authors who write in two languages with the visible part of the iceberg of literature.

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Within the borders of multilingualism one can distinguish two types of bilingualism: the biographical and the literary kind. The biographical type of bilingual authors is when more than one language is used in the communication process, but only one when writing. The literary type comes into discussion, when an author composes a book in various languages. So, authors create bridges between different cultures and ways of communicating, by means of commenting about other literatures or by means of translating them.

Generally speaking, bilingual authors are forced to take the decision in which language they literary express themselves, whether it is the mother tongue or the foreign tongue. There is also the option for both languages to serve as a tool of self-expression, either for more than one work or for the same piece of writing that was self-translated. Such situations determine various ways of reaction for those who find themselves in such circumstances. André Brink finds the matter enriching: “[W]hile each has its unique treasurehouse of experience and understanding, the two in interaction are incomparably more than the sum of their parts.” (Brink 73)

Choice of language is not always conclusive, even in the literary creative process, the linguistic tool can be several times replaced with one language or another. Such is the case of many authors, as for instance Jorge Semprun, who when writing his book L’Algarabie (1981) switched more than once from Spanish to French, until finally he decided for French:

Dieses letztlich sehr alte Buch, das ich seit zehn Jahren in verschiedenen Formen, Entwürfen und Stadien, einmal auf Spanisch und einmal auf Französich geschrieben, in meinem Kopf unf auf meinem Schreibtisch mit mir herumschleppe, hat monatelang nach seiner Sprache gesucht. Und schließlich ist es eines Tages ein Buch auf Französich geworden. (Kremnitz 249)

There is a variety of reasons for adopting a particular foreign language when wanting to create a piece of work. In Georg Kremnitz’s work Mehrsprachigkeit in der Literatur (2004) he enumerates and gives arguments of such motifs: belonging to a multilingual society, promoting a minority language, individual or collective migration, political exile or other personal reasons. These can be produced out of personal experience or driven by the wish to win the public’s attention.

It is inevitable for a writer, who belongs to a multilingual society, to question himself in regard the language preference. Language usage and its social-linguistic status are prior aspects. It usually happens that writers choose the majority language, for in this manner they will expand the interest in their work beyond the borders and so, win a generous public recognition. In the case of colonial territories the authors will try to prove that they can prevail in both languages, so the decision might be strongly influenced by political issues. Anyway, sometimes it occurs that the minority language is used as a writing tool. The Nobel Prize winner Frédéric Mistral wrote his works first in Occitan language (Occitan language is spoken in Southern France, in The Occitan Valleys from Italy, Monaco and in Catalonia, Spain) and then self-translated them in French.

Spain, for instance, is a country where the reason for choosing as a linguistic tool a minority language is mainly a political one. Such is the case of Basque, Catalan or Galician languages. Some authors deliberately take this decision, even if a less expansive public is to be expected; Mercé Rodoreda and Montserrat Roig write only in Catalan. Both the majority as well as the minority languages can be used when writing literature, either composing a work in both languages, or self-translating ones work.

Writers who are forced to leave their country, also have to take into account the possibility of embracing another language within a new culture. Such is the case of exiled intellectuals, who are haunted by questions and are in search of plausible answers. Writing in a foreign language was for some a relief, but a blasphemy for others.

Ariel Dorfman underlines how incredibly hard is when writing autobiographies, because in such circumstances both languages hold great importance. He finds it impossible to have to choose one writing language out of two. The list of authors is to be enriched with great names such as Joseph Conrad, Paul Celan, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Eugène Ionesco, Julian Green, Jorge Semprun. The list might very well be continued. These authors have switched from one language to another, or they have used two languages simultaneously.

A valid criteria that will paint the whole situation in black and white, holds the name of language competence and it serves its purpose of pointing out whether the exile language is proper to be used as a writing tool or not: “[E]s ist zwar leicht, eine hinreichende Kompetenz für Alltagskommunikation in einer neuen Sprache zu erreichen, von dort bis zum literarischen Ausdruck ist oft noch ein weiter Weg.” (Kremnitz 214) When an author refuses to write in the new acknowledged language, or is not yet capable to do so, it is compulsory to search for a publisher who would agree to translate it. Finding a suitable publisher is harder to achieve as it may seem, for there are certain risks the publisher exposes himself to, from an economical point of view. There are two situations in which the writer might complete his purpose successfully or not. The first is when one has gained public recognition and fame in his mother land, and so his literary career in another country is not damaged. The second is when the author is not sufficiently acclaimed, and so success is harder to achieve on foreign grounds. The famous german writer Thomas Mann, for instance, wrote his books only in German and praised only his mother tongue, even if his works might have been properly received, even outside the boundaries of Germany, when living in exile.

However, there is another category of writers who apply a partial or a full usage of the foreign language. A partial usage is typical for those who have no preferences when uttering their ideas in both languages, whether they speak or write, they have no hold backs. More than that, a bridge between the mother land culture and the new land culture is built and so sets free the travel of information. This was the case of Jorge Semprun, who succeeded to find comfort and pleasure in France, as he did in his home land. It seems that some are determined to forget all about their past, in order to focus on future perspectives, and so they make full use of that what is new.

Being inconstant when taking such decisions is not to be blamed, for there are writers who in spite several changes from one linguistical system to another, they prevail in creating very good pieces of writing. Milan Kundera left a generous number of literary creations before emigrating in France back in 1975. Until 1990 he shaped his works in Czech, then in 1995 he published his first book in French, La lenteur. From that moment on, he kept writing only in French, and he enjoyed himself while doing so.

Apart from that, freely emigrating in another country implicitly changes the situation, for it usually occurs when one has broad knowledge about a particular foreign language and the socio-cultural background of the people who use it. Such is the case of writers as Julien Green or Eugène Ionesco, who both developed themselves in a bilingual medium. Eugène Ionesco travelled very much from Romania to France and vice versa, and so two languages were his constant instruments of self-expression. Julien Green had a similar situation, but he also felt differently about each language, when writing in English he always had the strange impression he was not quite the same person.

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Not everybody perceives having more identities as a benefit, for one can get lost between the borders of two languages, when searching for the right words. So rises the question of whether the authors are constantly translating and shifting from one linguistical and emotional area to another, or not. Ariel Dorfman, for instance, writes in English as well as in Spanish and is able to distinguish the influence of each language over the flow of ideas that rush into his head:

Dentro de mi cabeza cuando cuando estoi viviendo ― en este mismo momento en que yo te hablo castellano ― hay un traductor dentro de mí; hay una zona en inglés que está mirando todo esto. Lo que pasa es que yo vivo las cosas en castelliano pero, a la vez, el ingles está allí adentro observando y criticando o sugiriendo, o susurrando. Henry James decía que uno tenia un indioma que era su esposa y un idioma que era su amante. En mi caso tengo dos esposas y dos amantes. (Hax)

Experience in language acquisition plays a significant role, as far as the competence of a multilingual author is implied. The best achieved authors would be the ones that were raised and thought two languages at the same time, such as Julien Green and Eugѐne Ionesco. Another case would be that of Panait Istrati, who had to learn by hard a new language while being exiled. The majority of writers have not received a bilingual education from the start. First they excelled in foreign language studies, and then they perfected their knowledge while being in exile, in a country where that specific foreign language was spoken.

There are no objective criteria that can measure precisely whether a writer’s literary language competence is developed enough or not, that is why language shifts are not always accepted without facing problems. The difficulty lies at the creativity and the esthetic level ,where the effort of the writer increases, when he creates new combinations of words and expressions, that are a result of the influence of his mother tongue. Such constructions of words do not fit in the frame of the selected language, and they are usually not permitted, for they count as mistakes.

Literary multilingualism can be divided into two types: intratextual and intertextual. Georg Kremnitz considers that intratextual literary multilingualism consists of using more than one language inside a text, whereas the intertextual type employs the usage of more languages in various texts, written by the same author. When creating texts authors have to make a choice in regard to the way they compose their work. This step includes taking into account the potential reader and the impact that words have upon his way of understanding. So, in the case of intratextuality one thinks of a possible multilingual reader, while with intertextuality one expects the readers to be divided into groups, each of them using a different language.

Ein grundlegender Unterschied lässt sich allerdings sofort erkennen: während die textinterne Mehrsprachigkeit eine (zumindest virtuell) mehrsprachige Leserschaft voraussetzt, richtet sich die textübergreifende Mehrsprachigkeit vorwiegend an unterschiedliche Gruppen, die nicht dieselbe Sprache verwenden. Zumindest setzt sie nicht von vorn herein mehrsprachige Leser voraus.

There are alternative methods that allow a less experienced reader to get to the core of a book, even if the structure of the text might resemble to that of a puzzle, in that the pieces have different shapes and colors such as languages do. One can make use of footnotes in order to provide translations for the ideas expressed in another language. The positive aspect, is that there will be more readers interested in such a book, for they will have plenty information to decode the text. Whereas the negative one, is that too many footnotes disturb, and in case the translations are place at the end of the text, then the reader will be tempted to skip fragments, and so lose important details. Anyway, language fusion occurs not only at the level of the text, but also in sentences. Such is the case of Jorge Semprun’s L’Algarabie (1981), or Juan Marsés’ El amante bilingüe (1981), where in some sentences there are two languages used to express an idea, or even varieties of the same language, as in the book of Marsés.

Dorfman, Ariel (2004): Footnotes to a double life. In Wendy Lesser (Hg.): The Genius of Language. Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongues. New York: Pantheon Books, P. 206.

„I couldn’t for the life or death decide in which of my two languages to write the story of my life. […] whenever I wrote anything about my life, in either language it simply sounded … false, falso, fraudulent, fraudulento.” (Dorfman, 2004)

Anyway, writers who express themselves in a foreign language are often encouraged to proceed with their literary work, in some countries of the world. A well known example for authors who write in german, but have a different nationality, would be the annual Adelbert-von-Chamisso Prize, first offered in 1985.

All in all,


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