Kristina Langarika

31 December 2008 at 5:22 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

The report on the conference cited earlier says: “Kristina Goikoetxea Langarika explained that in addition to the practical reasons for her writing in Dutch – the language of the country where she lives and wants to find her audience as an author – there were also psychological reasons for her choice of language. For example, she explained, she writes in the second language ‘with a certain distance’, especially when she writes about her home country. But the internalisation of this ‘objectivity’ also leads to a change of perspective on the conditions and positions from which the author tells her stories or has a character tell a story.” Again, a crucial question arises: does that “distance” not constitute a weakness in literariness? In terms of the classic Chinese definition of literature (shih yen chih), how can a writer truly express the self if the language of the self is not the language of the expression? Or in Greek terms, is writing in a second language twice (or more) removed from the reality of the self?


Milan Kundera

30 December 2008 at 7:51 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

In the conference I mentioned in my last post, Jan Rubeš of Brussels talked about “Czech writer Milan Kundera, who has been living in France since 1975 and who in the early 1990s started to write in French. Rubeš explained that, through this other language, Kundera’s themes and language, as well as his inspiration, had changed.” The question that comes up is: was this good or bad? Do we prefer the Kundera writing in Czech (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984) or in French (Identity, 1998)? Is anything lost or added by the French language to the Czech writing? Some kind of change is clear, but is it change for the better or for the worse?

Divided selves?

30 December 2008 at 3:24 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

The Report on the Conference Immigrant Literature – Writing in Adopted Languages held on 24 April 2008 in Brussels, organized by the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) offers fertile ground for ideas about the core issue of this blog. I will go through the report in some detail, one detail at a time, to react even at this late stage, perhaps to elicit some posts from interested readers. Leonard Orban (EU Commissioner for Multilingualism) is reported to have said, “In their intermediate position, the authors are forced to give up a part of their own culture in order to better understand a new country. They live in a ‘divided self’ and have to become part of the foreign culture, thus both cultures enter a reciprocal relationship that could become a role model for a prudent interculturalism.” I like the way Orban stresses the importance of literature for peace and unity initiatives, but I am a bit wary about the divided self (in some circles, that is called “hyphenated identity”) idea. I think, on the contrary, that second-language authors, even if they do not know it, represent a third, rather than a mixed or cross-bred culture. Literary critics have to begin recognizing that reading a poem not written by a “native speaker” needs a different set of criteria from that we use in reading a poem written by a “native speaker.” To begin with, the literary critics themselves must know the mother tongue intimately, to know which rhythmic patterns and so on contribute to the patterns intrinsic to the new language.

Beckett on writing in a second language

30 December 2008 at 12:04 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Here’s something from a site about Samuel Beckett: “Beckett said that when he wrote in French it was easier to write ‘without style’ – he did not try to be elegant.” One problem with Filipinos writing in English is they try to be elegant in English, which is their second language (just like French was Beckett’s second language), instead of focusing not on style but on content. Here might lie a clue why Philippine writing in English is not as recognized outside the Philippines as English writing from other countries is.

Anthony Gardner’s list

29 December 2008 at 5:14 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

In an article entitled “Second-language authors” in a recent issue of the magazine Europe in the UK, Anthony Gardner lists several authors that wrote in other than their mother tongues: Józef Teodor “Joseph Conrad” Konrad Korzienowski (spoke Polish and French, wrote English), Samuel Beckett (spoke English, wrote French), Vladimir Nabokov (spoke Russian and French, wrote English), Oscar Wilde (spoke and wrote English, wrote French), Andrei Makine (spoke Russian, wrote French), Spinoza (spoke Dutch, wrote Latin), Leo Tolstoy (spoke and wrote Russian, wrote sometimes in French). Gardner writes, “Curiously, however, when speaking English Conrad never lost his Polish accent (indeed, according to his wife, it became stronger as he grew older); and the question remains as to how far a writer can assimilate a language other than his or her own. The critic A.C. Ward observed of Conrad that ‘he never wrote quite as a born Englishman’ (though, he added, ‘he wrote the language incomparably better than most educated Englishmen do’); while the French poet Adolphe Retté, who was asked by Wilde for his comments on the manuscript of Salomé, claimed that his main task was to remove ‘les anglicismes trop formels.'” It would be very interesting to find out what “native-speaking” British or American critics think of Nick Joaquin (spoke Spanish and Tagalog, wrote English), who is highly regarded as a great English writer by his fellow Filipinos, but by very few outside his own country.

Fun game on accents

28 December 2008 at 7:15 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” reads very differently depending on the accent or nationality of the reader. Try the Language Trainers fun game on accents. Try and see if the meter is kept by the various speakers. If sound is as important as sense, as many poets claim, what happens to the overall meaning and effect of the poem when speakers put the stresses on different syllables, as happens in this fun game? Is a poem’s music really in the ears of the hearer (or speaker)? Or is there, as the New Critics once pronounced, an “objective” music in the poem independent of human beings?

Film dubbing vs. subtitles

27 December 2008 at 4:05 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

This is really about film, rather than literature strictly speaking, but the point raised by one reviewer about the Mandarin Chinese dialogue of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gives me an idea of how to test experimentally the effect of language on readers or audiences. Holly E. Ordway says this about the soundtrack of the DVD version of the highly-acclaimed film: “I recommend that on the first watching you play it with the English dubbed track. The subtitles can be tricky to watch, as it’s possible to wind up slightly confused about the story because you looked away at the wrong moment and missed a key plot element mentioned in the subtitles. Choosing the dubbed track allows you to follow the story without having to worry about missing a crucial piece of information, and it also allows you to enjoy the cinematography and imagery of the film more fully, as you won’t have to be constantly looking at the bottom of the screen. On the second watching (for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a movie that definitely merits multiple viewings), you should consider watching it with the original Mandarin soundtrack with English subtitles, thus allowing you to get the original flavor of the film’s dialogue now that you are familiar with the storyline.” I recommend three, rather than just two viewings: first, watch the film in Mandarin without English subtitles; second, watch it with the dubbed English; third, watch it with the English subtitles. Do the visuals change? Not from the point of view of the film, but it would from the point of view of the viewer, who has to move her/his eyes up and down with the subtitles. Does the overall effect change? If we assume that the viewer does not understand Mandarin, then clearly the first viewing would not be exactly completely satisfying. Even more interesting would be the case if the viewer knows neither Mandarin nor English. The DVD has French (and perhaps in later versions, other languages) subtitles, so a French person would have a fourth possible viewing. But consider a Filipino that’s a non-Chinese and non-English speaker. There’s plenty of economic evidence that, in places where Tagalog is not widely spoken, Tagalog kungfu movies are very popular. I would think Ang Lee’s film would be similarly attractive even to those that cannot understand any of the languages in the DVD. This is an experiment that can surely be tried by someone.

Kuwadro / Portrait 3

26 December 2008 at 8:44 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

The climax of the play occurs with Katerina cursing Don Isagani with the Tagalog cuss words “Putang-ina niya!” I had to change the Tagalog to the Spanish “Hijo de puta!” when the play was anthologized for a secondary school textbook, at the request of teachers in a Catholic school; otherwise the textbook would not have been adopted. Curiously, the Spanish (which is a literal equivalent of the Tagalog) sounds a bit less vulgar to Philippine ears. In the English version, I used the pretty mild “That son of a bitch!” The English doesn’t even begin to approach the complex sharpness of the Tagalog curse. When spoken in an American film, SOB has little shock value, but when spoken in a Tagalog film, “Putang-ina” still surprises. The three versions (Tagalog, Spanish, English) of exactly the same literal meaning (referring to the mother’s less than exemplary sexual behavior) show why the language makes a lot of difference to the literariness.

Kuwadro / Portrait 2

26 December 2008 at 2:35 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

This is the last line of Kuwadro in Filipino: “Sambahin mo ako, sapagkat ako, ako, si Katerina Alonso, ang iyong reyna, ang reyna ng sarswelang filipina.” This is how I translated that line into English in Portrait: “Worship me, kiss my feet, because I, I, Katerina Alonso, am your queen, the queen of the Filipino sarswela.” I realized that the English “worship me,” the literal translation of “sambahin mo ako,” does not carry the same connotations the Filipino original has (“sambahin,” a play on “simbahan” and “sambahan,” alludes to a religious context), since I can say to a significant other “I worship you” or “I worship the ground you walk on” and be entirely secular. I added “kiss my feet,” which is more idiomatic in English and has the right non-religious connotation, which would work better with a secular audience (Americans, as a rule, are not as obsessed about religion as Filipinos are). In Filipino, “kiss my feet” would literally translate into “halikan mo ang mga paa ko,” which has no meaning, or at least does not have the meaning that the English text does. Incidentally, I deliberately wanted to allude to Nick Joaquin’s famous story “The Summer Solstice” (1947), where the man in the last scene kisses the feet of the woman.

Kuwadro / Portrait 1

26 December 2008 at 3:49 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Let me talk a bit about my one-act play entitled Kuwadro, which was a high point in my playwriting career. It was inspired by the life of Honorata “Atang” de la Rama, was a play originally written for and acted by Rita Gomez (both now-deceased female actors were icons in Philippine theater and cinema) and subsequently performed by various other actors, and has been anthologized in various books. I wrote it originally in Filipino in 1980, having been commissioned by the Metropolitan Theater in Manila, then was prevailed upon to translate it into English for an English secondary school textbook. The English translation, entitled Portrait, was staged in various countries (the most recent in 2006 in Los Angeles, USA, with some changes by Johnny Jose Cruz that I authorized). The Filipino play was also translated into Cebuano and staged in the Southern, Cebuano-speaking part of the Philippines. The English play is available online on the Asia and Pacific Writers Network website. It’s my only play that I translated myself. My other plays were translated by other people. In future posts, I want to talk about what I learned from the experience of translating my own play into a second language.

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