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How hard is it to live in more than one language?
Thread poster: Jacek Krankowski
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Jan 8, 2003

Interview with Ilan Stavans, Professor of Latin American and Latino Cultures

at Amherst College

\"The Writer in Exile

Are you a writer or a Mexican writer?

I like to think that I am simply a writer but I\'m afraid that I will

inevitably remain a Mexican-or rather, a Hispanic-writer. Hispanic because

language is the main factor here, the vehicle of one\'s thoughts. Of course,

there are writers who overcome being from one country. No one would think of

Kafka as one more Czech writer, or Conrad as a Polish writer, or Nabokov as

another American or Russian writer. All of them did a wonderful thing with

exile, didn\'t they? They managed to master the art of exile. They became

better writers in the new language. Conrad is one of the greatest writers in

the English language.


Talking recently about writers from the West Indies, Brodsky said that

people like Walcott or Naipaul have two options, either choose the

transparency of non- history, that of their islands, or adopt the language

of their conquerors, the British.

I had a discussion with Brodsky about this, about joining forces with the

conqueror. He has a poem about Mexico, where he went invited by Octavio Paz.

It\'s called, \"To Yevgueny.\" In it, he celebrates the Spaniards, which would

seem a really politically incorrect thing to do. But what he said was that

it was nonsense to attack Spaniards because Mexico is made of Spanish

culture and of the native culture; you cannot eliminate one part. What good

is it to think that writing in Spanish is writing in the language of the

conquerors, or writing in English for me now is writing in the language of

the oppressors of Latin America? Writers have to choose the language that

makes it easier for them to communicate, the one that is more appropriate to

where they live and what they have to say. Anyway, nowadays, what are the

Caribbeans and Latin America but a pale copy of the United States? Choosing

the language of the conqueror is not a bad move. We were raised with the

popular images that come from the U.S., that come from that culture. Our

pantheon of heroes were replaced with a pantheon of characters from that

culture. Superman and Batman are part of my background.

Is that also communication?

I think it is. I have written an essay about communication called

\"Traduttore, traditore.\" The world is made of a thousand and one languages,

and we have different ways of handling communication. One attitude is let\'s

translate, another is let\'s not even try, a third is let\'s all learn a

universal language, such as Esperanto. Utopian, I know, but there was Latin

during the Renaissance, now there\'s English. A fourth option is, let\'s be

polyglots, let\'s live in more than one language, more than one reality.

Let\'s be multilinguists. I write in English for Americans about topics they

know little about, and I write in Spanish for Mexicans about topics they are

unacquainted with. I act as a bridge, I symbolize dialogue. Unless we say

that there can be no translation, unless we paraphrase Ambrose Bierce by

saying that an interpreter, a translator is someone who wants to convince

somebody of a message that was never there in the first place. The Hispanic

writers who live in the U.S., are they American or a continuation of Latin

America? A difficult question. Being bicultural is being troubled. It\'s a

source of constant conflicts, but only in paradise are there no conflicts. I

am the owner of a divided self and am sure my circumstances come as a result

of exile and, also, of a polyglot existence. (...)\"



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Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
You don't have to be exiled Jan 8, 2003

to live in more than one language. Probably the only indication of difficulty - in school, anyway - is that it takes children some 10 years to sort their languages out (and where society is bi/trilingual, they may never have to). This can create problems in countries where the teachers, for example, are monolingual and think that a child is undergoing a retarded development when he simply has to think a bit more before he talks.

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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
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With a little help from your government... Jan 9, 2003


On 2003-01-08 21:34, Parrot wrote:

it takes children some 10 years to sort their languages out (and where society is bi/trilingual, they may never have to)

Considering that, in my opinion, one of the reasons underlying fears of the European Union in a candidate country like Poland is the fact that too few people speak foreign languages, I do not understand why the Polish government has just abolished additional credit points children at schools were earning for having privately obtained Cambridge English or similar foreign language certificates. Why? Because not everyone can afford such private schooling... Rings too many bells for me. By the way, can everyone afford to own hectares of land to get subsidies from Brussels?

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:51
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Touched a sensitive point, Jacek Jan 9, 2003

Many governments say, \"we were spending too much\". And many countries resort to private education: a \"privilege\". Hence, the perception of \"elitism\" in our field, and the consequent snobbery on the part of some who DO make it. Sigh.

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