- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 18/05/2011
- English, Joyce or Neruda, literature, Translation
What does it mean to write in a language which is not your own? Here are three, radically opposed perspectives on what it means to write in a language which has been in some way imposed on your culture.
Firstly, James Joyce describing the sensation of being a prisoner in the language of the colonial oppressor:
The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.
(Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
Secondly, another poet, Pablo Neruda, and an extract from a no less autoboigraphical work, his Confieso Que He Vivido:
Qué buen idioma el mío, qué buena lengua heredamos de los conquitadores torvos…Todo se lo tragaban…Por donde pasaban quedaba arrasada la tierra…Pero a los bárbaros se les caían de las botas, de las barbas, de los yelmos, de las herraduras, como piedrecitas, las palabras luminosas que se quedaron aquí resplandecientes…el idioma. Salimos perdiendo…Salimos ganando…Se llevaron el oro y nos dejaron el oro…Se lo llevaron todo y nos dejaron todo…Nos dejaron las palabras.
(A literal translation: How fine is my language, what a fine idiom we inherited from the grim conquerors…They swallowed everything up…Wherever they passed, they left the land bare…But from the barbarians’ boots, beards, helmets, horseshoes, luminous words fell like pebbles and here they remained, shining…the language. We ended up the losers…We ended up the victors…They took the gold away with them and they left us the gold…They took everything and left us everything…They left us words.)
And, from the sublime to the ridiculous, here is an article about an Indian man who has started a cult for the worship of ‘the Goddess English‘…