Hungarian literature

31 May 2009 at 11:20 AM | Posted in News | 3 Comments

I am now in Budapest. My tour guide says that Hungarian is spoken only by Hungarians. That sounds pretty much like Filipino, which is spoken only by Filipinos (and, of course, non-Filipinos that study it for various reasons, usually academic). But Hungarian literature, unlike literature in Filipino, has a worldwide readership through translations. Witness, for example, Magda Szabo. What are writers in Filipino not doing that Hungarian writers appear to be doing? Why are translators taking time to study and translate Hungarian and not taking time to do the same thing with writers in Filipino (or Tagalog or Cebuano or Ilocano)? The Philippines has been colonized or conquered several times in the past, just like Hungary. Where lies the difference?

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Wikinovel attempt

28 May 2009 at 3:45 AM | Posted in News | 6 Comments

Multilingual writers keep trying to join the Web 2.0 generation, though so far unfortunately with not consistently sterling success. Witness this candid admission by a group of such writers:

“Seeing how few collaborative multilingual literary projects exist in any form, this [disappointing] result is not particularly surprising. The Congress moved towards a similar goal but language exchange in conversation about shared texts is a bit less daunting than collaborative multilingual literary creation. No doubt, as automated translation becomes better and as interaction increases across linguistic boundaries in the world of electronic literature, more interlaced multilingual works will be possible.”

In fact, despite the “failure” of this particular 2006 project, the idea of a wikinovel is an excellent one, since the Web offers writers from various linguistic traditions a way to work together without having to pay enormous airfares and hotel bills or getting a grant from usually fairly conservative writing retreats. I hope the writers of the Wikinovela: a project of hypertextual, collaborative, and multilingual creation on the Internet will come together again in virtual space to create their second work.

Lisel Mueller

26 May 2009 at 11:56 AM | Posted in News | 3 Comments

Pulitzer Prize winner Lisel Mueller’s “English as a Second Language” gives us an explicit example of how second language speakers react to writing drastically differently from first language speakers:

The underpaid young teacher
prints the letters t, r, e, e
on the blackboard and imagines
forests and gardens springing up
in the tired heads of her students.

But they see only four letters.

Similarly, when a reader reads a work in his/her own mother tongue written by someone to whom the language is only a second or foreign language, the reader thinks that s/he is on the same wavelength as the writer. That is clearly not the case, even in ordinary speech, as illustrated by the poem. Since poetry is even more dependent on precise language (including connotations and word history), it follows that the reader is even more in danger of totally misunderstanding a second-language work. In the poem above, since Mueller is also writing in a second language, the monolingual reader will miss the German characteristic of the verse (e.g., precision in number of syllables and stresses, even visual length of lines).

Puthi literature

25 May 2009 at 4:28 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

For a good introduction to Puthi literature (“Puthi Literature is a special genre of literature written in a mixed vocabulary drawn from Bangla, Arabic, Urdu, Persian and Hindi. It was current during the 18th and the 19th centuries and its composers as well as readers were Muslims.”), visit Banglapedia.

Sometimes, one-third of an entire work in Bangla would consist of words taken from other languages. Apparently, at that time, readers understood the poems because the mixed language was their own, not that deliberately propagated by schools or state.

Today, in the Philippines, many schools are trying to propagate a language (either English or a vernacular language) that is not the language that ordinary Filipinos speak at home or in the workplace. Derisively labeled “Taglish,” the language that almost everybody speaks is used by novelists that specialize in romance. These novelists sell books in the thousands of copies per week. In contrast, books written in English or in one of the vernaculars rarely sell more than a couple of hundred copies a month. Let us hope that the experience of the Puthi writers is not repeated in the Philippines.

Javanese and Indonesian in a novel

23 May 2009 at 10:08 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Here is a longish (edited) excerpt from an analysis of a multilingual work:

Bintang Berpijar di Langit Majapahit was written by Taufiq Saptoto Rohadi, also known by his pen name Tasaro. He is a talented writer who started his career in the journalistic and media world. The historical fiction is his first book.

“The setting in this novel is near the end of the Majapahit Golden Era. This novel is about a girl’s adventure. Hui Sing comes from China, and then she chooses to stay in Indonesia. She is one of the Cheng Ho admiral’s pupils, but he considers Hui Sing as his own daughter. She comes from the Ming Kingdom and accompanies Cheng Ho to go to Java to give a tranquility message to the King of Majapahit. Then she meets Respati, a brave Majapahit commander. Despite the ordeals, they finally get married and have a baby boy. Many murderers try to kill them. Hui Sing is saved but not her husband. Her enemies kidnap her son. Finally, Hui Sing takes revenge for her husband’s death and tries to find her son.

“There is a lot of code mixing in this novel. The code mixing could be in different word classes. To illustrate: ‘Romo, Kartiwa hanya seorang nelayan, bukan prajurit yang siap berperang.’ (‘Father, Kartiwa is a fisherman, not a soldier who is ready for a battle.’) Romo means father. In that particular sentence, the speaker is mixing two codes or languages, which are Javanese and Indonesian. The Javanese word is Romo and the rest are Indonesian.

“Another example is ‘Aku rasa akan sangat mudah untuk menggebuk tubuh Hui Sing dalam posisi itu.’ (‘I think it will be easy to punch Hui Sing’s body from that position.’) Menggebuk means to punch. In that, utterance the speaker has mixed Indonesian and Javanese codes. Furthermore, in the first example, the code mixing deals with the word class Noun; however, the code mixing in the second example deals with another word class – Verb.”

I have nothing against linguistic analyses of literary works. In fact, much insight has been generated by linguists reading literature that has not been available to literary critics that do not have that deep a knowledge of linguistics. But it is important for literary critics to go beyond questions of language into questions of literature. In this example, it would be good to ask, for instance, how Indonesian and Javanese cultures differ and how the differences (as signaled by the code-mixing) illuminate the situation of the characters or move the plot forward.

23 May 2009 at 9:57 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Ang aking mga blog

Simply put, blogging is addictive. I have five blogs, two of which are fast asleep, two barely breathing, and one awake and much too active.

The terribly active blog, which keeps me busy for a couple of hours a day, appeals only to writers and critics. Named LOL Literatures in Other Languages, the blog focuses on multilingual or mixed-language literary texts. I am trying to invent a literary theory that, until I think of a more catchy name, is called Multilingual Literary Criticism (MLC).

I have, so far, gotten the interest of polyglots that write texts not in their mother tongue (such as Cuban-Americans, expatriate Europeans, and Filipinos) or critics that are appalled at the lack of interest among literary scholars in the tradition of macaronic verse.

Although the most pressing need for MLC is for those reading mixed-language texts, which have become fashionable lately, I am arguing that even apparently monolingual texts are actually mixed-language. I took my cue from two writers who gave the same insight into their own works, but without knowing that the other had said it, too.

N.V.M. Gonzalez, in a lecture that I attended in California, declared to his American audience, “I write in Tagalog, using English words.” Bienvenido N. Santos, talking to me in Manila, said, “I write in Capampangan, using English words.” The two writers made an impression on me that has refused to go away. I now think that Philippine writers in English write in Tagalog, Ilocano, Cebuano, or whatever vernacular is their mother tongue, using English words.

By suggesting that Cuban-American writers write in Spanish, using English words, I have, so far, gained the interest of many Cuban-American writers, who agree that they “think in Spanish but write in English.” My European readers (bloggers call them “followers”) are less convinced; many of them do not know in which language they think, because they grew up with more than one mother tongue.

Sometimes wide awake but often on its siesta is my second blog, Critic-at-Large, in which I put all sorts of stuff – sometimes my old columns, sometimes my speeches, sometimes position papers by the various groups I belong to.

In a blog, followers often engage in heated discussions related to a blog entry. One comment I made on Nikki Coseteng’s Diliman Preparatory School continues to generate widely-divergent opinions on the school’s experiments in basic education. The comments sometimes border on the libelous, so I often exercise my right as moderator not to upload extreme views. Despite my censorship, there are still more than 140 comments on that particular blog entry.

My other blogs are the barely breathing Filipino (this one), the sleeping Philippine Fulbrighters, and the fast asleep Manila Critics Circle. The Fulbright blog will soon wake up, because I will upload the transcribed First Fulbright Seminar, which was on corruption. The MCC blog will also get up soon, because I will upload, as soon as they are available, the titles of the shortlisted books for the 2008 awards.

(Published in The Philippine Star, 14 May 2009)

My blogs

23 May 2009 at 9:48 AM | Posted in News | 2 Comments

Simply put, blogging is addictive. I have five blogs, two of which are fast asleep, two barely breathing, and one awake and much too active.

The terribly active blog, which keeps me busy for a couple of hours a day, appeals only to writers and critics. Named LOL Literatures in Other Languages, the blog focuses on multilingual or mixed-language literary texts. I am trying to invent a literary theory that, until I think of a more catchy name, is called Multilingual Literary Criticism (MLC).

I have, so far, gotten the interest of polyglots that write texts not in their mother tongue (such as Cuban-Americans, expatriate Europeans, and Filipinos) or critics that are appalled at the lack of interest among literary scholars in the tradition of macaronic verse.

Although the most pressing need for MLC is for those reading mixed-language texts, which have become fashionable lately, I am arguing that even apparently monolingual texts are actually mixed-language. I took my cue from two writers who gave the same insight into their own works, but without knowing that the other had said it, too.

N.V.M. Gonzalez, in a lecture that I attended in California, declared to his American audience, “I write in Tagalog, using English words.” Bienvenido N. Santos, talking to me in Manila, said, “I write in Capampangan, using English words.” The two writers made an impression on me that has refused to go away. I now think that Philippine writers in English write in Tagalog, Ilocano, Cebuano, or whatever vernacular is their mother tongue, using English words.

By suggesting that Cuban-American writers write in Spanish, using English words, I have, so far, gained the interest of many Cuban-American writers, who agree that they “think in Spanish but write in English.” My European readers (bloggers call them “followers”) are less convinced; many of them do not know in which language they think, because they grew up with more than one mother tongue.

Sometimes wide awake but often on its siesta is my second blog, this one, Critic-at-Large, in which I put all sorts of stuff – sometimes my old columns, sometimes my speeches, sometimes position papers by the various groups I belong to.

In a blog, followers often engage in heated discussions related to a blog entry. One comment I made on Nikki Coseteng’s Diliman Preparatory School continues to generate widely-divergent opinions on the school’s experiments in basic education. The comments sometimes border on the libelous, so I often exercise my right as moderator not to upload extreme views. Despite my censorship, there are still more than 140 comments on that particular blog entry.

My other blogs are the barely breathing Filipino, the sleeping Philippine Fulbrighters, and the fast asleep Manila Critics Circle. The Fulbright blog will soon wake up, because I will upload the transcribed First Fulbright Seminar, which was on corruption. The MCC blog will also get up soon, because I will upload, as soon as they are available, the titles of the shortlisted books for the 2008 awards.

(Published in The Philippine Star, 14 May 2009)

Multilingual drama as dominant culture

22 May 2009 at 10:01 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

In Raymond Williams’s often-used classification of types of culture (residual, dominant, emergent), multilingual literature is clearly the emergent and (at least in the genre of drama) may already be the dominant form that literary writing is taking. Here is an observation that, from my own experience of watching plays from all over the world, is accurate:

“In the post-colonial world, creative writing for multilingual audiences flourished where readers (or viewers) could appreciate it. In Anglophone communities where many languages are in widespread use, dramatic performances for stage or television have achieved sophisticated effects through the use of several languages. Some plays offer the option of scenes not in English (for instance, Kee Thuan Chye’s Malaysian play, We Could *** You, Mr. Birch). Others employ scripts with a mixture of languages (for instance, Stella Koh’s monologue for a Singaporean audience, Emily of Emerald Hill, employs fragments in Hokkien, Cantonese, Malay, Hindi, and even African-American English of the American south). Such works make local use of global English.” (p. 355 of Richard W. Bailey’s “English among the Languages,” in The Oxford History of English [2006], edited by Lynda Mugglestone).

Gonbidapena

21 May 2009 at 11:55 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

I’ve been traveling these past few days and will be back in Manila only in the second week of June. (As I write this, I am in London.) This should explain why I most likely cannot blog regularly until I get home. When I do have quiet time in a hotel, however, I read, for my own enjoyment, multilingual literature, such as these lines from Antoine Cassar’s “Gonbidapena“:

Edan, erdaldunak, hau da zuen herria,
f’kull ħamrija l-għeruq, f’nifs ir-riħ kull żerriegħa,
et avant tout vignoble ce vin du mot nomade.

Cassar used to be a voice crying in the wilderness. With the increasing incidence of mixed-language poetry, he should no longer feel so alone.

Not Chaucer

19 May 2009 at 4:56 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

I was taught in school that Chaucer was the first to mix languages among writers in English. That turns out, like many things I learned in school, not to be exactly correct.

In The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance, the mixing of languages in literary English is traced to the entire period and not to Chaucer as an individual:

“In the writings of the end of the thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth, the proportion of Romanic words is so great that we may correctly say that the literary English of the period was a mixed language. The interesting group of poems, perhaps all by one author, consisting of Alisaunder, Arthur and Merlin and Cœur de Lion, contain many long passages in which nearly every important verb, noun, and adjective is French. Nor is this mixed vocabulary at all peculiar to works written in the south of England. In Cursor Mundi, and even in the prose of Richard Rolle, which are in the northern dialect, there is, on the average, at least one French word in every two lines. The alliterative poetry of the west midland and northern dialects from about 1350 onwards has an extraordinary abundance of words of French origin, many of which are common to several of the poets of this school, and do not occur elsewhere. The notion prevalent among writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that Chaucer corrupted the English language by the copious introduction of French words, was curiously wide of the mark. In reality, his language is certainly less marked by Gallicisms than that of most of the other poets of his time, and even than that of some poets of the early years of the fourteenth century. It cannot be absolutely proved that he ever, even in his translations, made use of any foreign word that had not already gained a recognised place in the English vocabulary.”

There are still the unenlightened that think that English is a “pure” language. Scholarship has shown that English was, from the very beginning, a mixed language. Works written in English are, therefore, inherently mixed-language works, even if the writers themselves think that they are monolingual. Multilingual literary criticism need not restrict itself merely to obviously mixed-language texts, but can say quite a bit about seemingly monolingual works.

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