Languages and identities – Fiction and non-fiction references

Identities within a language – in Tamil

In Caste and its multiple manifestations. A study of the Caste System in Northern Sri Lanka (2021, Baby Owl Press, Sri Lanka), Selvy Thiruchandran studies how language structures go hand-in-hand with caste structures:

“A question raised by a low caste person to an upper caste person mainly the Vellalar takes an interesting form. It is considered rude or impolite to ask a question or make a statement on equal terms or with an equal status with a Vellalar. For example, questions like “are you going?” or “what do you say?” have to add a phrase akum in order to sound respectful. Instead of directly asking poreenkala (Are you going?), “akum is added at the end, thus saying poreenkalakum\ Or, instead of asking ennasollureenka (What do you say?) they say “ennavaakum sollureengal The interrogative marker has supposedly made the address polite and dispels the status of being equal in the conversation. Etymologically aakum cannot be explained or broken into syllables to signify a meaning other than a derived contextual meaning as it appears or it seems expressing a sense of uncertainty like, maybe’. Unlike other forms of speech formation aakum was a Panchamar construction. How it originated and why it originated remains a mystery ” (p 63).

Forms of respect as well as derogatory comments can be conveyed through the use of specific language structures. People belonging to low-castes could be referred to in the adu (it / animal or object form): “A person of high caste, when he wants to ask the question “Where are they?” phrases it as “atukal enge?”(thus referring to them as inanimate objects) instead of “avarkal enge” Where are they?)” (p 64).

In When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy reflects on how language shapes her identity or rather how she can see herself:

Language determines who you are, but also who you are shapes the language you use
“English makes me a lover, a beloved, a poet. Tamil makes me a word huntress, it makes me a love goddess.
There is a linguistic theory that the structures of languages determine the mode of thought and behaviours of the cultures in which they are spoken. In an effort to understand my life at the moment, I have come up with its far-fetched corollary, a distant cousin of this theory: I think what you know in a language shows what you are in relation to that language. Not an instance of language shaping your worldview but its obtuse inverse, where your worldview shapes what parts of the language you pick up. Not just: your language makes you, your language holds you prisoner to a particular way of looking at the world. But also: who you are determines what language you inhabit, the prison-house of your existence permits you only to access and wield some parts of a language.
Now in Mangalore, I know the Kannada words eshtu: how much; haalu: milk; aanda: eggs; namaskaram: greetings; neerulli: onions; hendathi: wife; illi: here; aadu: that one; illa: no; saaku: enough; naanu naandigudda hogabekku: I want to go to Naandigudda” (p 92).

Identities beyond a single language

What happens then when one moves from one language to another and faces what Yaa Gyasi has eloquently phrasely: (speaking of her mother from Ghana, who moved to America) “I think, rather, that she just never figured out how to translate who she really was into this new language” (Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyassi).

Despite the inevitable sense of loss in this process of translating identities, there is also the possibility of creating new ones, as Lauren Collins brings out in When In French. Love in a Second language:

“ Bilinguals overwhelmingly report that they feel like different people in different languages. They do so for a multitude of reasons, some of which are less attributable to any language in particular than to having a new language itself. A person may be a loan shark in his new language when he was an opthalmologist in his native tongue. Perhaps he spoke Polish to his first wife but speaks Portuguese with the second. He may have scaled or slid down the ladder of class. He may have changed his politics, or his name.”

It is often assumed that the mother tongue is the language of the true self. And in many ways it remains the primal vehi­cle, the first and most effective responder in moments of cele­bration or crisis. A person who has spoken English most of her life is always going to speak English when she stubs her toe. But if first languages are reservoirs of emotion, second lan­guages can be rivers undammed”, and even “A fresh language can be a solvent to heart­ache.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NR

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OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
NR (15 juin 2024). Languages and identities – Fiction and non-fiction references. SRI LANKA & DIASPORAS. Consulté le 13 juillet 2024 à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/11u17


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