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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Friday, March 27, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Linguistic relativism 2: RETRIEVING A PARADISE LOST

27 March 2009
Linguistic relativism 2

One reason it is difficult for critics to judge monolingual against multilingual works is that the critics themselves have to be multilingual or at least bilingual. A Western critic faced with the challenge of determining which of Oedipus Rex or Hamlet is a better play has to be able to read both Greek (even if learned only in school) and English (not our contemporary one, but that of Shakespeare). There are, of course, such critics, especially those that took classics in Oxford or similar universities. Reading Oedipus Rex in another language (which is what most critics do) will fail to catch some if not many of the crucial literary qualities of the work (the rhymes, the length of the syllables, the homophones, and so on, what structuralists would call the signifiers). That is, even if English speakers do not always acknowledge it, also the case with Shakespeare (I once heard a British actor read Shakespeare the way Shakespeare would have recited the lines, and no one in the English-speaking audience understood a word!). With macaronic poetry, a reader can at least catch the sounds and glimpse the rhyme scheme, but a literary critic has to go beyond merely glimpses. The literary critic has to be able to explain the relationship of sound to sense, and that is very hard (but not impossible, as in the case of Filipino critics that read English or in the case of many European critics that grew up with languages other than their own). Just like the multilingual writer, the multilingual critic has a distinct advantage over monolingual critics.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:45 AM


Is the advocacy behind multilingual literature an attempt to skirt the issue of a global language?

If we can't succeed in adopting or creating a dominant language for social and cultural development, might it not be politically easier to interlace languages to unify the human's worldview?

Esperanto did not prosper. French and Spanish were sine qua nons only in their Imperial heydays. Latin died with the dying of the Imperial Church. English as a dominant global medium of communication might still find its current efficacy marred by the economic downturn in most of the Western countries where English is used?

Would a multilingual literature not be creating a neo-Babel? It appears quixotic at this point to practise multilingualism.

The whole gamut of literary theory and linguistics would have to be turned upside- down, inside-out, to re-invent this wheel.

Multilingual lexicons, semantics, sound systems, syntax, ad infinitum would have to be codified. How much time does man have before he re-invents a new Dark Ages -- since the globalisation of culture will have to depend on a super-power to redirect geopolitics that will foster a political will to adopt one, unified, hegemonised culture and civilisation (unigovernments, universities, blended-multi-cultural-diversities etc.)?

How many world wars should be waged to slay the ogres of nationalism, territorial terrorism, and economic protectionism in order to humour our multilingual writers and critics?

Is this all a pipe dream? But the dream of retrieving a Paradise Lost from the cacophony of chattering-babbling-unlistening massmen remains to be that -- a dream devoutly to be wished. --ALBERT B.CASUGA

28 March, 2009 04:55

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