“Language Is Like a Soul”

March 15, 2013 • Interviews

CWM:  In your lecture on ‘The Death of Language’ (on the 26th of October of 2010, in Rotterdam), you said, if I may paraphrase: that language is like a soul and speaking several languages is like having many souls. Do you read multilingual writers in a different light than monolingual writers and can you read, so to speak, the different souls in their writing?

Crystal:  Yes, in principle, but it’s difficult to generalize, because so much depends on content (is the subject-matter one that motivates the exploration of these ‘souls’ on the page?), specific circumstances (eg are the two languages written in the same orthography? if not, the choice of alphabet would immediately manifest those identities), and audience (who is the writer wanting to reach?) The clearest cases I’ve come across are those where the narrator or characters in a story use different languages or dialects, as in Suhayl Saadi’s Psychoraag (which uses Glasgow English, Urdu, and standard English). One can see the different ‘souls’ there, I think.

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