Academic journal article MELUS

The Politics of Relation: Creole Languages in Dogeaters and Rolling the R's

Academic journal article MELUS

The Politics of Relation: Creole Languages in Dogeaters and Rolling the R's

Article excerpt

On March 25, 1990, a review of Jessica Hagedorn's novel Dogeaters appeared on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. While the review was generally favorable, the reviewer offered this critique of the use of different languages in the book:

      There are times when, reading "Dogeaters," one wishes for not
   only an intimate knowledge of contemporary Manila society, but also
   of Spanish and Tagalog. Filipino English [Taglish] will be an
   unfamiliar dialect to most readers. Conveying its nuances to an
   English-speaking readership is a task Ms. Hagedorn has set herself
   but one in which she has not quite succeeded. [...] It's amusing to
   interbreed the languages and the music like that. But I'd like to
   know what it means.

      Maybe because there is no equivalent, there is no colloquial way
   of talking about merienda in English ("a light meal in the late
   afternoon or evening"), let alone kundiman and halo-halo. Or no
   equivalent for any of the hundreds of other non-English expressions
   that pepper Ms. Hagedorn's pages. [...] The exoticisms become
   tiresome, more a nervous tic than a desire to make connection across
   the gulf of culture. (D'Alpuget 38)

In remarking that "conveying [Taglish's] nuances to an English-speaking readership is a task Ms. Hagedorn has set herself but one in which she has not quite succeeded," the reviewer reveals her misapprehensions about Hagedorn's use of Taglish in the novel, assuming that failure stems from Hagedorn's unwillingness to translate and make indigenous culture easy to understand for Anglophone consumers. Indeed, the remark assumes that the author is supposed to cater to this particular English-speaking American audience and inadvertently points to a hierarchization of languages that reflects the global division of labor in the political economy of the United States, where English is privileged over both Tagalog, a language of a former American colony, and Spanish, the language of many of America's underclass immigrants. (1)

Despite what this New York Times book review suggests, Hagedorn uses a rather superficial form of Taglish, an almost inaccurate depiction of the Taglish used in Manila, which comprises much more Tagalog than English. Rather, the sprinkling of Tagalog and Spanish words and phrases among the English words in the novel stimulates a dynamic among the various languages quite different from the way Standard English is deployed in the United States. The novel, set in the Philippine martial law period, depicts Manila society and politics in the 1970s, focusing on the experiences of characters that are considered marginal by the society in which they lived: the daughters, wives, and sisters of powerful male senators and generals as well as working-class Filipinas and impoverished male sex workers. The moments in the novel where Taglish is present amid the predominantly English text present us with a cultural sensibility that evokes the author's perception of Manila during Martial Law (1972-1986).

More specifically than in Dogeaters, R. Zamora Linmark's novel Rolling the R's dramatizes this opposition between English and a creole language. Rolling the R's depicts a culture where Hawai'i Creole English (HCE) or Pidgin, the language regularly used by the local, poor, working-class Filipino American residents in the novel, is considered far inferior to "standard" English and is regulated by the education system. Here, Pidgin is linked to marginalized identities, particularly sexualized and racialized identities: for example, Edgar Ramirez, as a young gay Filipino boy, is deemed sexually and racially unacceptable to the traditional values of Hawai'i's Filipino communities. The novel follows the lives of a cast of ten-year-old fifth-graders who are considered outcasts in the economically depressed community of Kalihi in 1970s Hawai'i. This cast includes not only Edgar, but Katrina, a sexually promiscuous girl; Florante, a recent immigrant from the Philippines who is fluent in several languages and is a brilliant poet; and Vicente, a sexually repressed boy who allows himself to soar only when he performs Donna Summer songs. …

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