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Special Issue of 
Studies in the 
Linguistic Sciences 

Volume 31, Number 1 
(Spring 2001) 
Department of Linguistics 
University of Illinois at 


(ISSN 0049-2388) 

publication of the department of linguistics 

with support of the humanities council in the 

College of liberal arts and Sciences of the 


Managing Editor: Elmer H. Antonsen 
Book Review editor: Peter Lasersohn 
editorial ASSISTANT: Angela Nollett 

Editorial BO.ARD: Elabbas Benmamoun, Eyamba G. Bokamba. Chin-Chuan 
Cheng, Jennifer S. Cole, Adele Goldberg, Georgia M. Green, Hans Henrich Hock, 
Braj B. Kachru, Yamuna Kachru, Chin-W. Kim, Charles W. Kisseberth, Peter 
Lasersohn, Howard Maclay, Jerry L. Morgan, Rajeshwari Pandharipande, Daniel 
Silverman, James H. Yoon, and Ladislav Zgusta. 

AIM: SLS is intended as a forum for the presentation of the latest original re- 
search by the faculty and students of the Department of Linguistics, University of 
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Diaspora, Identity, and 
Language Communities 

Edited by 

Braj B . Kachru j^^ y brARY OF THE 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign . . ^ aaa4 

NOV 1 2 2001 


Indiana State University 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1 (Spring 2001) 

Department of Linguistics 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Cover by Roxanne Walker Graphic Design 


Preface v 

Acknowledgments vii 

Part I: Culture, canon, and creativity 1 

1 . Cameron McCarthy: The predicament of cultures: Wilson Harris, 
postcolonial literature, and the curriculum in troubled times. 3 

2. Edwin Thumboo: 'In such beginnings are my ends'; Diaspora and 
literary creativity. 19 

3. Shirley Geok-lin Lim: Not waving, but drowning: Creativity and 
identity in diaspora writing. 31 

Part II: Contextualizing diasporas 49 

4. SaUkoko S. Mufwene: English in the Black diaspora: Development 

and identity. 51 

5. Enrique (Henry) T. Trueba: Language and identity among Mexicans 
in the United States: The secret of resiliency and successful adapta- 
tion. 61 

6. Aleya Rouchdy: Language contact and identity: Arabic in the 
American diaspora. 77 

7. Elabbas Benmamoun: Language identities in Morocco in a historical 
context. 95 

8. Erica McClure: Language and identity in the Assyrian diaspora. 107 

9. Michael Palencia-Roth: Diasporic consciousness in contemporary 
Colombia. 121 

10. Robert Baumgardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico: Constructing 

identities in Monterrey. 137 

ll.Nobuko Adachi: Japanese Brazilians: The Japanese language com- 
munity in Brazil. 161 

Part III: Constructing discourse in diaspora 179 

12.Pradeep A. Dhillon: The longest way home: Language and philoso- 
phy in diaspora. 181 

13.Tamara M. Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in trans- 
planted English discourse. 193 

14. Robert D. King: The paradox of creativity in the diaspora: The Yid- 
dish language and Jewish identity. 213 

IS.Rajeshwari V. Pandharipande: Constructing religious discourse in 

diaspora: American Hinduism. 231 

16. Marc Deneire: A quest for language: Jack Kerouac as a minor writer. 253 

IV.Tej K. Bhatia: Media, identity, and diaspora: Indians abroad. 269 

Part IV: Afterword 289 

1 8. Ladislav Zgusta: Diaspora: The past in the present. 291 

Notes on the contributors 299 


The contributions in Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities bring to- 
gether studies on the most dynamic cross-cultural and cross-national phenomenon 
of contemporary societies in an integrated format. The papers represent several 
disciplinary perspectives: cultural, linguistic, attitudinal, and ideological. 

In historical terms, the contexts of diasporas have a long history, which is 
insightfully summarized in the final chapter by Ladislav Zgusta. What is refresh- 
ingly new in this collection is that numerous theoretical and methodological para- 
digms are used to provide insights for our understanding of this age-old global 
phenomenon. The primary focus of the volume, however, is to reflect on identities 
and the implications of concerns about identity on our conceptualizations of dias- 
poric language communities. 

The volume documents the continuing impact of diaspora on communities 
globally. The effects of diaspora are seen in communicative acts, literary creativ- 
ity, language change, and indeed in the sociocultural and religious interactions of 
communities touched by this phenomenon. The dynamics of this change are that 
of fusion and conjoining of languages, cultures, and identities. 

These visibly altered contexts of language communities naturally present 
challenges to our traditional theoretical and methodological conceptualizations of 
language function, language form, and language acculturation. It is evident from 
several of these studies that some of the basic terminological concepts traditionally 
used about language communities — "mother tongue," "native speaker," and 
"speech community," to name just three — are questionable. These challenges to 
analysis and interpretation are encountered by almost all disciplines in the social 
sciences to various degrees. 

The four parts of Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities provide 
interdisciplinary case-studies of, for example, Africa, Colombia, India, Malaysia, 
Morocco, Singapore, and the United States. The four thematically organized parts 

PART I: Culture, Canon, and Creativity 

PART II: Contextualizing Diasporas 

PART III: Constructing Discourse in Diaspora 

PART IV: Afterword 

This volume, like any other such multidisciplinary undertaking, has a his- 
tory. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the original initiative to 
celebrate the year 1998 as the Year of Diaspora Communities came from the Of- 
fice of International Affairs with support from the Ford Foundation, New York. 
The symposium that ultimately resulted in Diaspora, Identity, and Language 
Communities was just one activity of the year-long focus on this cross-disciplinary 

Diaspora, Identity, and iMnguage Communities 
(Studies in the Lingui.stic Sciences 3 1 ; I , Spring 2001 ) 

topic. Almost all the papers in this volume were presented in that three-day sym- 
posium (20-22 November 1998). 

In inviting the participants to the symposium, the major considerations were 
the expertise of each scholar in a language and region, knowledge of the language 
group or ethnic group in a diasporic context, and the depth of her/his theoretical 
conceptualization of issues specifically related to a language in diaspora, including 
the interdisciplinary implications. I believe that to a large extent that goal of the 
symposium was realized. 

The organizing committee was keen that the designated goal for the sympo- 
sium be articulated in the presentations, in the discussions that took place during 
the symposium, and at several social events that were part of the symposium. The 
fruits of those dialogues were included in the final versions of the papers. 

Braj B. Kachru 
Cecil L. Nelson 


We wish to express our gratitude to the Center for Advanced Study and to the Of- 
fice of International Affairs of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for 
cosponsoring the two initiatives on Language, Identity, and Diaspora Communi- 
ties. The first initiative was an interdisciplinary semester-long advanced graduate 
seminar, and the second an international colloquium that resulted in the present 

We are grateful to the Center staff, Jackie R. Jenkins, Nancy Sarabi, Duane 
Swenson, and Liesel Wildhagen, who as an invaluable team oversaw various as- 
pects of the seminar and the colloquium. It was Liesel Wildhagen who took charge 
of the initiatives from their inception until their conclusion with dedication, com- 
mitment, and a great sense of responsibility. Masumi Iriye, the present Associate 
Director of the Center, provided enthusiastic support in the preparation of this vol- 

This publication would not have taken its present form without the support 
and encouragement of Elmer Antonsen, Managing Editor of Studies in the Lin- 
guistic Sciences. We are grateful to him for that, and for his immense patience. 






Cameron McCarthy 

In this essay, the author calls attention to the radical reconfigura- 
tion and rearticulation of identity and belonging taking place in mod- 
em life as a consequence of the rapid movement of people and cul- 
tural and economic capital across national borders. Indeed, culture is 
now a primary object of antagonist feeling and ethnicization. He ar- 
gues that this provides both a challenge and opportunity to educa- 
tors as they now are forced to confront the multiplicity and plurality 
of languages and cultural form that are now defining the modern 
classroom. Drawing on the work of the Guyanese philosophical nov- 
eUst, Wilson Harris, the author suggests that postcolonial literature, 
like that of Harris, provides a model for the thoughtful encounter be- 
tween human groups and an avenue for communicative action that 
might help to confront the growing pattern of cultural balkanization 
that now dominates social and educational life in many different set- 


Proof like Doubt must seek the hidden wound in orders of compla- 
cency that mask opportunist codes of hollow survival (Wilson Harris 

As we enter the new millennium, the extraordinary diasporic movement of people, 
ideas, and images across national boundaries has begun to pose major challenges 
to educational and curricular organization in the school systems of industrial 
countries of the West. These challenges are particularly fore-grounded in areas of 
educational and social life that have become flash points of tension as the radical 
presence of diversity now threatens old ways of curriculum organization associ- 
ated with Eurocentrism and monoculturalism. Some of these key flash points of 
tensions are in the areas of language, identity, and community — sensitive mark- 
ers of group affiliation that often get articulated to discourses of cultural balkani- 

Diaspora. Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

4 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

zation and racial and ethnic antagonism. The great challenge that faces curricu- 
lum educators in these times is to find a non-alienating way of re-narrating and 
reformulating the meaning of the material realities and challenges associated with 
diversity. Educators must formulate a new curriculum methodology in a manner 
that the broad and varied populations that now attend our universities and 
schools can feel engaged and connected beyond the particularism of personal 
history and origins. I will argue in what follows — by drawing on a central exem- 
plar — that postcolonial literature provides models of thoughtfulness and reflex- 
ivity that can greatly assist educators as they attempt to negotiate the competing 
interests, needs, and desires generated by the diverse populations now attending 
our educational institutions. 

This chapter looks at postcolonial literature as a space for the exploration of 
this radical diversity, not simply as a problem, but as an opportunity for a conver- 
sation about establishing a normative basis for communicative action in the cur- 
riculum. I write as a critical educator invested in a project of communicative ac- 
tion or dialogue that might get us beyond the implacable categories of Eurocen- 
trism and the reductive forms of multiculturalism that have become such integral 
parts of the crisis language of curriculum reform in the area of race relations. In 
invoking postcolonial literature, I am pointing toward a re-deployment of the vo- 
cabulary of difference that might help practitioners to humanize an increasingly 
commodified, instrumental, and deeply invaded curriculum field. I use as an exem- 
plar of this new materialist humanism (what one postcolonial author calls 'the 
visualization of community' Gilkes 1975) the work of the Guyanese philosophi- 
cal novelist, Wilson Harris. I look at his novel. The Palace of the Peacock 1960. 

Harris' urge to write began when, as a young man, he worked for the Guy- 
anese government as a land surveyor charting the interior of Guyana. Harris re- 
ports an avid interest in the philosophical writings of Hegel and Heidegger, whom 
he first read as a teenager. The Palace of the Peacock is a picaresque or quest 
novel, much like Herman Melville's Moby Dick, in which the main characters are 
pitted against nature in the journey of their lives. But in Harris' novel, nature is 
problematized. It is the fecund source of metaphors and allegories about the con- 
tested lives of human beings, their oppression of each other, and the open possi- 
bilities that reside within collective action and communal spirit and determination. 

The motif of possibility 

Our literatures did not passively accept the changing fortunes of 
their transplanted languages . . . Soon they ceased to be mere trans- 
atlantic reflections. At times they have been the negation of the lit- 
eratures of Europe; more often they have been a reply (Paz 1990:5). 

Some years ago, I attempted to outline the possibility of validating or 
proving the truths that may occupy certain twentieth century works 
of fiction that diverge, in peculiar degrees, from canons of realism. I 
sought such proof or validation by bringing the fictions 1 had in mind 


Cameron McCarthy : The predicament of cultures 5 

into parallel with profound myth that lies apparently eclipsed in 
largely forgotten so-called savage cultures (Harris 1985:7). 

I have come to the feeling that there are certain words, phrases, terms that I do not 
like, even when I am using them in my own writing: words and terms such as 
'origins', 'center', 'the best', 'the brightest', 'hierarchy', 'pure', 'Western', 'civi- 
hzation', even — 'culture' (although 1 am sure to use the last one several times 
before this essay is finished). These words relay and circulate a certain kind of 
hypocrisy of completeness and self-sufficiency in curriculum theory and design 
and in the practical matters of everyday human life. EducaUonal theorists and 
policy makers invested in these words — these lines of demarcation — now stand 
clumsily in the doorways of cultural commutation that hnk human groups to vast 
underground networks of feeling, sensibiUty, and promise. Words such as 'ori- 
gins', 'Western' and 'center' have led us to blocked visions, suspended horizons, 
and ineluctable retreats. They serve to repress interlocked histories and trestles of 
association. They paste over the fault lines that, have for some time now, ruptured 
the undersides of imposed identities deep beneath the glistening surfaces of 
'Europe', 'Africa', 'Asia', the 'Caribbean', the 'Orient', and the 'Occident'. 

So here we are, at the end of the twentieth century, fighting old, stale atavis- 
tic internecine wars in the heart of the curriculum field and in the trenches of edu- 
cational institutions. Its an old saw among academics that the battles in academic 
life are as vicious as they are because the stakes are so small. Maybe proponents 
of such a point of view are right. And, it is partly our deep investment in words 
like 'center' and 'Western' that has gotten us in our present curriculum trouble 
— our present impasse between the Wild West and the rest of the world. In this 
new world order, each person grazes on his own grass, so to speak, and in a tor- 
tured sense, turns the key on his own door. These Unes of psychic tension and 
demarcation are powerfully registered in current debates over multiculturaUsm 
and curriculum reform. The debaters radically oppose the literature and cultural 
production associated with the canon to the new literatures of postcolonial writ- 
ers and indigenous minority novelists and poets. It is assumed by some of the 
more conservadve thinkers, such as William Bennett 1984 and Dinesh D'Souza 
1991, that East is East and West is West and never should or must canonical and 
non-canonical literatures meet in the school curriculum. Some more reformist 
theorists, such as Molefi Asante 1993, assume that, since the dominant curriculum 
thrives on the marginalization of the cultures of minorities, that minority identities 
can only be fully redeemed by replacing the Western and Eurocentric bias of the 
curriculum with non- Western minority literatures. 

Of course, when talking about this economy of oppositions, one cannot for- 
get the rather unfortunate pronouncements of Fredric Jameson 1986 in an article 
he published in Social Text some years ago entitled 'Third World Literature in the 
Era of Multinational Capitalism'. In this article, Jameson asserted that third world 
literary texts were 'necessarily allegorical', and should be read as 'national alle- 

6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

gories'. According to him, third world fiction lacks one critical historical variable 
that helps to establish the modern Western realist novel, namely: 

a radical split between private and the public, between the poetic 
and the political, between what we have come to think of as a the 
public world of classes, of the economic, and of secular pohtical 
power: in other words, Freud versus Marx (Jameson 1986:69). 

Without this split, third world fiction can all be reduced to a single narrative para- ' 
digm: 'the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the em- 
battled situation of the public third-world culture and society' (p. 65). Here, 
Jameson has placed third world fiction into a very limited box. This is not to say 
that Jameson's intuitions about third world fiction are entirely off the mark — 
Harris's work is after all deeply allegorical; but Jameson's problems begin when 
he takes a partial insight and recklessly presses it out into a totalizing usurping 
epiphany — filling up the periphery and the globe. 

1 must admit that I have reached a kind of exhaustion with a certain usage 
of the language of difference — a quiet weariness with the language of negation 
and fatahstic oppositions. This essay represents a new effort to articulate a motif 
of possibihty — a vision of curriculum that is socially extended, but at the same 
time deeply invested in the fictive worlds created in postcolonial writing. In these 
imperfect worlds of imagination, literature leads the way and sociology clumsily 
follows — happily, without the burden of 'controls'. It is an attempt to, in Har- 
ris's words 'visualize a community' — a community of lost or broken souls — the 
community of Donna Haraway's cyborgs, of Gloria Anzaldua's border people, of 
Gabriel Marquez's El Macondo, or the folk of Harris's Mariella, dwelling in the 
interior of Guyana — the mythical rain forests in which the Cauda Pavonis or 
The Palace of the Peacock 1960 might be glimpsed.' 

I believe that the challenge of multiculturalism is the critical challenge of 
curriculum in postmodern times — it is the challenge of living with each other in a 
world of difference. I believe that postcolonial literature — - even more so than 
postcolonial literary theory and criticism — has sought to foreground this chal- 
lenge of living in a world of difference in late-century society, and as such pre- 
sents us with fictive maps in which power and communication are conceived as 
operating horizontally, not vertically, not top down as in encoding-decoding, but 
rhizomatically in the sense that often cabalistic passageways link the mighty and 
the meek on shared and complex tenains. And some times close up the meek pre- 
vail. For example, Harris' The Palace of the Peacock, tired of abuse, Mariella — / 
Arawak woman and colony — shoots Donne, the colonial oppressor. Her action ^ 
is that of a shaman of the folk. The landscape of power is altered in the twinkling 
of an eye. Donne, the reader, later discovers, is that part of the folk reproductive 
of the old colonial will to power — the colonizer in the colonized — that Mariella 
as Shaman and representative of the folk will redefine. It is within the context of 
these asymmetrical relations of colonizer and colonized that this literature takes 

Cameron McCarthy: The predicament of cultures 7 

on special significance, but the matter is never straightforward, as we will see in 
the example of Harris's novel. 

Historical flliation of tlie postcolonial novel 

Of course, the implications of this literature for curriculum cannot be grasped 
without some attempt to follow its materialist filiations, distributed as they are in 
the histories of classical and modern colonialism, but even more recently, since the 
sixties, in the footprints scattered across the late-twentieth century megalopolises 
— London, Toronto, New York, Paris, Mexico City. These footprints register the 
presence of the daughters of the dust, the migratory waves of humanity now 
conquering the West. The state of exile is also the state of rupture of old para- 
digms, of lost selves, and new affiliations, the locus of emergent self-discovery. In 
its most compelling forms, postcolonial literature struggles to embrace the old and 
the new, multiple worlds, divided loyalties, and passionate desires of the Other. As 
the Sri Lankan writer, Michael Ondaatje, puts it in The English Patient, this litera- 
ture celebrates those 'nationless ... deformed by nation states [who] ... wished to 
remove the clothing of their countries' (Ondaatje 1992:138-39). These literary 
works document the other side of the postmodern — multicultural worlds from 
which there are no longer exits for retreat. Postcolonial writers are fabricating the 
new subjects of history and are seeking to install these new subjects within the 
folds of contemporary imagination. These new subjects are patched together and 
fitted out with leaky souls. They are flawed or broken human creatures — bom in 
the crucible of cultural modernization, not at all, as some writers such as Roger 
Kimbal 1990 or Dinesh D'Souza 1991 might argue, stilted prototypes of socio- 
logical tracts singing hollow histories of oppression and damnation. And they are 
not for that matter, as Afrocentric writers such as Mike Awkward 1989 might 
suggest, existing in some prelapsarian past standing up before Adam and Eve. 

Emergent postcolonial literatures register a new structure of feeling, of 
overlapping and cascading epochs of time, of drifting space, of free associafions, 
of the ample desires and insatiable appetites of the center and the periphery rolled 
into one. As such, they offer a new late-twentieth century paradigm of curriculum, 
a poetics of a curriculum without borders. What we are witnessing at one level is 
the very transformation of the canons of English, French, and Spanish literatures 
as Pico Iyer 1993 maintains in a recent Time magazine article: 

Where not long ago a student of the modern English novel would 
probably have been weaned on Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and 
Aldous Huxley, now he will more likely be taught Rushdie and Okri 
and Mo — which is fitUng in an England where many students' first 
language is Cantonese or Urdu ... Thus the shelves of English book- 
stores are becoming as noisy and polyglot and many hued as the 
English streets. And the English language is being revolutionized 
from within. Abiku stalks us on the page, and triad gangs and 'filmi' 
stars. Hot spices are entering English, and tropical birds and sorcerers; 

8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

readers who are increasingly familiar with sushi and samosas are now 
learning to live with molue buses and manuku hedges (Iyer 1993:70). 

Transforming the canon, Wilson Harris and tlie new community 

And 1 saw that Donne was ageing in the most remarlcable misty way 
(Harris 1960:49). 

What might a community of lost or broken souls tell us about curriculum in late- ' 
century America? This is the question that Wilson Harris 1989 poses in his essay, 
'Literacy and the Imagination', where he suggests that solutions to the problem 
of hteracy in the Americas must begin with the recognition of the inadequacy of 
programs of imposition such as agricultural extension programs and urban literacy 
projects that distrust the cultural resources that reside within the masses them- 
selves. In other words, he argues that educators tend to have what he calls 'illit- 
erate imaginations'. Harris's observations on literacy point us in the direction of 
the resources of the folk — of the popular — the kind of cultural resources of in- 
terpretation and action that Paulo Freire 1970 discovers in his literacy work with 
the Brazilian peasants in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And, in another way, this is 
what Gloria Ladson-Billings and Annette Henry 1990 have been calling for in 
their notion of a 'curriculum of relevance'. 

Harris has provided an enfleshment of an answer to the problem of 'illiterate 
imaginations' in books like The Palace of the Peacock 1960, Whole Armour 
1962, Companions of the Day and Night 1975, Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated 
Wilderness 1977, and Genesis of the Clowns 1977. I want here to focus on The 
Palace of the Peacock as a meditation on a broken community and its set of 
propositions about a possible reintegration of this community of lost souls. I want 
to suggest that the way Harris negotiates canonical notions of literary genre, form, 
characterization, narrative and social vision has a lot to teach us about the prac- 
tice of curriculum in the world of difference that has overtaken our social institu- 
tions, if not our social consciences. I should say that I turn here to Wilson Harris's 
Palace of the Peacock 1960, but I could have turned to Gabriel Garcia Mar- 
quez's One Hundred Years of Solitude 1970, or Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy 1990, or 
Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children 1981, Ben Okri's The Famished Road 
1992, Caryl Phillips's Cambridge 1992, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient 
1992, or Toni Morrison's Beloved 1987 or Jazz 1992, or, finally, Nawal El Saad- 
awi's God Dies by the Nile 1985. All of these novels follow, broadly, a path of 
deflation of classical realism of the nineteenth-century novel and an implosion ofy 
an overmastering or ruling narrating subject. Instead, they put in place the angu-^ 
lar points of view of a polyglot cast of new characters, protean personaUties and 
kaleidoscopic visions, open-ended possibilities, and journeys from confinement to 
transformation. The vast majority of these authors, as Pico Iyer (1993:70) notes: 

are writers not of Anglo-Saxon ancestry, born more or less after the 
war and choosing to write in English [or Spanish or French]. All are 
situated at the crossroads from which they can reflect, and reflect on 

Cameron McCarthy: The predicament of cultures 9 

new forms of Mississippi Massala of our increasingly small, increas- 
ingly mongrel, increasingly mobile global village. Indians writing of a 
London that is more like Bombay than Bombay, Japanese novelists 
who cannot read Japanese, Chinese women evoking a China they 
have seen only in their mothers' stories — all amphibians who do not 
have an old and a new home so much as two half-homes simultane- 

Where is Wilson Harris to be placed among this motley crew of writers? In some 
ways, he is a precursor. Like the writers mentioned above, he was 'born after the 
war'. But the war that is a point of reference for him is the war that fed the often 
bitingly satirical poetry of the British war poets, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, 
and Robert Graves. It is of course World War I. Harris was bom in Guyana in 
1921. He is, as Robert Fraser 1988 tells it, a child of mixed Amerindian, Indian, Af- 
rican, and European blood. He began his professional life as a scientist, a land 
surveyor, working on the mapping of the often tricky interior of Guyana. 'Gui- 
ana' (Guyana) is an Amerindian word meaning 'land of many waters'. Waterfalls 
abound and many, like the majestic roaring Kaiteur Falls, charge the interior with 
a sense of terror and sublimity. The awesome nature of this terrain served as an 
initial inspiration for Harris. Wandering about in the interior of Guyana, Harris 
spent enormous amounts of time reading Heideger and Hegel and meditating on 
time and the psychic dimensions of human life, and the way in which the unpre- 
dictable and surprising topography of the Guyanese interior, landscape seem al- 
most to insinuate itself into the human personality. The rich unpredictability of 
the Guyana interior in part, precipitated his early writings as an imagistic poet of 
the interior (Fraser 1988). But most of Harris' work, such as The Palace of the 
Peacock, would be written and published in London. 

The manipulation of imagery, of metaphor, and symbol constitutes the cen- 
tral activity in The Palace of the Peacock. The novel serves a larger purpose of 
putting to melody a rendezvous with history — a re-encounter between the 
colonizer and the colonized in different times and different places, in multiple per- 
sonas, in real time, in dream and myth, in life and death. Together, the colonizer 
and the colonized must share a mutual responsibility for the future which, in The 
Palace of The Peacock, can only be glimpsed or constructed after an excruciat- 
ing revisiting of the past. In the novel, Harris attempts to place twentieth century 
humanity in conversation with those who have been designated as the people of 
'savage cultures'. But it is these same savage cultures of the interior of Guyana 
that support the weight of civilized existence in the coastal suburbs. To tell the 
story of this kind, in which multiple cultural systems of interpretations dialogue 
with each other. Harris must rent the fabric of the classical realist novel. Instead of 
the fiction of omniscience, with its privileged narrator sitting on top of a hierarchy 
of discourses (see, for example, C.L.R. James' Mariners, Renegades, and Casta- 
ways 1978, in which James talks about the bureaucratic deployment of charac- 
terization in Herman Melville's Moby Dick), Harris produces a form of fiction that, 
in his own words, 'seeks to consume its own biases through the many resurrec- 

1 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

tions of paradoxical imagination and to generate foundations of care within the 
vessel of place' (1985:9). The Palace of the Peacock is about the possibility of 
validating subaltern myths as opposed to colonial accounts of history. In some 
ways, Harris is saying the folk may yet have the last laugh. For instance, the 
Caribs of Grenada, it is told, in one seventeenth century confrontation with the 
French, leapt off a mountain to their deaths rather than surrender to the coloniz- 
ers. The Caribs record this event in myth and folk-tales in which their ancestors 
who plunged to their deaths in the seventeenth century ascend to heaven in a 
flock of stars. On earth, the hill from which they jumped is call la Morne des Sau- 
teurs or 'Leaper's Hill'. And at night, presumably, the stars continue to shine 
down in comment. The stars are, in the Carib mythology and astrology, the recon- 
stitutions of their ancestors' broken souls (EPICA Task Force 1982:9). 

The extractable story of Harris" novel takes the form of a journey of recla- 
mation, of rediscovery of the colony of Mariella. Mariella is the metaphor for al- 
ienated or hidden self — the living resources of the oral traditions of the folk — 
culture based on use value, outside the exchange relations of co-modification. 
But on board the canoe or pontoon that sails up the Cuyuni river in the interior 
of Guyana are the polyglot broken souls of a subordinating history. Colonizer 
and colonized must journey, must reach deep into their own souls for new sys- 
tems of communication that might settle old conflicts. Of course, the quest narra- 
tive goes back to the beginning's of the novel: Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, 
John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, the great stories of adventure of Geof- 
frey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Miller, The Clerk, The Nunnes Priest, and 
the rest, the extended narrative improvisations and oral documentaries of the Af- 
rican griots — Amiri Baraka's original 'Blues People'. With the arrival of the 
modem novel, we have the founding myths of the mariners, renegades, and 
castaways, as C.L.R. James 1978 notes: Daniel Defoe's Crusoe in Robinson Cru- 
soe, Herman Melville's Ahab in Moby Dick, and the tormented protagonists of 
Joseph Conrad's travel fiction, Marlow of Heart of Darkness and Nostromo of 

But the crew that sets sail on the pontoon in The Palace of the Peacock — 
in a sense represents condensations and fragmentations of these prototypes. The 
new imaginary spaces which the characters in this novel inhabit are considerably 
deflated and impacted — bodies press sensuously against each other. Harris' 
characters embody the dialectical tensions of self and other, past and present. 
There is Donne, the tormented captain and leader, named after the master of the 
literary technique of conceit — the metaphysical poet, John Donne. In The Pal- 
ace of the Peacock, Donne is colonizer and agent of dominadng instrumental rea- 
son, but it is his materialism that blocks his wholeness of being. His abuse of 
Mariella — Arawak, Shaman-woman, and colony — leads to one of his many 
deaths in the novel, when Mariella takes revenge. Donne is also the colonizer 
mentality in the colonized who issues decrees: 'Donne I suddenly felt in the 
quickest flash was in me' (p. 33). 


Cameron McCarthy: The predicament of cultures 1 1 

Vigilance is the ship's pilot, an Amerindian seer, on whom Donne and the 
crew must rely for his supersensitive vision to help them navigate and escape the 
perils lying in the bedrock of the river. There is Cameron the Afro-Scot of 'slow 
feet and fast hands' (pp. 25-6) in pursuit of deep materialist fantasies — the por- 
knocker panning the river bed for ancestral gold and other precious metals. There 
is the musical Carroll, an Afro-Carib youth, and player of the Carib bone flute. In 
his hands, the oar becomes a fully tuned violin. There is Schomburgh. the German- 
Indian, fisherman and wise uncle to all. There are the Portuguese da Silva twins, at 
war with themselves and the world, constantly, self contradictory. There is 
Wishrop, Amerindian (Chinese?), and Jennings the mechanic, Anglo-Saxon, mar- 
ried to the folk. And finally, there is Mariella, Shaman-woman ancient and yet 
youthful, as permanent as the stars. She appears at unexpected moments, every- 
where, constantly altering the environment and chemistry of associations in the 
pontoon. Ultimately, Harris tells us this is one spiritual incestuous family that 
dreamed up their different origins: 

Cameron's great-grandfather had been a dour Scot, and his great- 
grandmother an African slave mistress. Cameron was related to 
Schomburgh (whom he addressed as Uncle with the other members of 
the crew) and it was well-known that Schomburgh' s great- 
grandfather had come from Germany, and his great-grand mother was 
an Arawak American Indian. The whole crew was a spiritual family 
living and dying together in the common grave out of which they 
had sprung from again from the same soul and womb as it were. They 
were all knotted and bound together in the enormous bruised head of 
Cameron's ancestry and nature as in the white unshaved head of 
Schomburgh's age and presence (Harris 1960:39). 

Unlike the nineteenth-century realist novel of individual psychological interiority, 
the specific emotions and dispositions of each character are distributed among the 
other characters in the novel. Donne's superciliousness can be found expressed 
in the da Silva twins. He is like the river boy, Carroll, filled with fear and wonder 
in the face of the majestic waterfall the crew must cross as they take their perilous 
journey up the river. His craven materialism is reproduced in the obsessed and 
self-commercial Cameron. These characters on board the shallow pontoon on the 
journey of their hves are peculiarly flat or hollow entiUes — broken individuals 
who need each other to be fully complete. There is no depth or latency to them. 
They flash on the surface of the novel. They are in some ways 'parabolic' charac- 
ters, to use the language of the West African critic, Emmanuel Obiechina 1978. 
They introduce a symbolic motif that implicates themselves and the world. Their 
sharp edges fade and their personalities bleed into each other as the novel pro- 
gresses. Harris is doing his best to suggest that they are in fact one subject of his- 
tory, one community. We often find it impossible to tell these characters apart. At 
some point, their individual characteristics are diffused throughout the crew. One 
gets the picture of a painter furiously experimenting with an expanding rainbow 
of colors in an infinite palette. One is reminded here of Peter Greenaway strobic 

1 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

alternations of light and color in his film, Pwspero's Books 1991. Unlike Captain 
Ahab's Pequod, there is no deck in Harris' novel. These characters are anti-heroes 
fomented in the belly of the beast — clutching each other in fear and uncertainty 
as they struggle up river in their shallow dugout or pontoon. Nobody is traveling 
first class here. Their seven-day journey is demarcated by seven deaths, seven dis- 
solutions of the sovereign subject. This journey, is, in part, Harris' great effort to 
recreate the Carib resurrection myth. In Carib mythological structures, human ac- i 
tors have no trouble traveling from fife to death and back again, completing a 
mythical cycle of transformation. Of course, this corridor from life to death is also 
opened up in Toni Morrison's Beloved 1987 and Jazz 1992, in the fibn-making of 
Julie Dash in Daughters of the Dust 1992, in Jorge Amado's Dona Flor and her 
two Husbands 1969 and in the dramatic fables of Derek Walcott such as those in 
the collection of his plays. Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Stories 1972. 

Harris 1970 also points us to the Renaissance fusion of art and science in 
the practice of alchemy. The seven-day journey in The Palace of the Peacock 
may thus be compared to the seven stages of the alchemical process during which 
the massa confusa (the nigredo or chaos) is immersed (ablutio. a stage similar to 
Christian baptism or "death by water') and exposed to a series of chemical and 
physical changes - — through to a stage of purification {albedo), to the final au- 
rum non vulgi or Cauda Pavonis (the peacock colors), which represents a unity 
in diversity (This is what the Guyanese critic Michael Gilkes 1975 calls 'the wed- 
ding of opposites'). 

In The Palace of the Peacock, the crew exists in the original state of ni- 
gredo (chaos); their journey through the rapids {ablutio), leads to a creative life- 
in-death transformation, for which Carroll's role as Shaman is crucial: "Who and 
what was Carroll? ... the living and dead folk, the embodiment of hate and love, 
the ambiguity of everyone and everything?' (p. 69). All these references to medi- 
ated change point to a process of inner transformation. Here, again, we see Har- 
ris's use of parallel or overlapping time. Carib Resurrection mythology and Egyp- 
tian-derived renaissance alchemy come together to tell a story of the strange and 
the familiar in the 'infinite rehearsal' of the folk and colonizer in the rivers and 
forests of the interior of Guyana. The journey up the river and towards the ren- 
dezvous with Mariella leads to a series of transformations of the crew in the old 
pontoon. Each member of the crew is now partially freed from the self-governing, 
materiahstic, and particularistic fantasies that dominated his relationships with his 
crew-mates. This sense of growth in knowledge and understanding is the effect 
of shared responsibility, mutual liability, and the washing away of implacablef 
masks of sedimented identity and reason. The alchemical vision enlarges to con- 
tain the whole range of objects and persons in the novel. The action unfolds 
within a decentered and decentering sense of place and context. And the novel 
builds laterally but always furiously toward a final proliferation of images — 
fragments cobbled together in the Cauda Pavonis. This hollow but latent epiph- 
any which Donne and his crew experience at the top of the rapids as they face 
their symbolic deaths is a reworking of Odysseus's enchantment, resistance, and 

Cameron McCarthy : The predicament of cultures 1 3 

partial surrender to the voice of the Sirens — his primitive self and other. Harris 
breaks through the conventional one-dimensional attitudes and responses to 
color, light, darkness, touch, smell, sound, and taste that inform our common sense 
encounters with each other and the world. 

In his essay 'On Culture and Creative Drama', Richard Courtney 1988 talks 
about a resurrection myth associated with the Amerindian peoples. This myth is 
the creative foundation for the exploration of human predicaments of the type 
experienced by the characters in Harris' novel: 

Each of these Indian peoples have a major myth which tells how a 
young hero [heroine] leaves the actual world (dies) and seeks his 
spirit from whom he obtains 'power', returning with it to his village 
(resurrection) so that he can use this power on the people's behalf 
(Courtney 1988:6). 

In The Palace of the Peacock this subaltern or revolutionary power derives from 
an unflinching self-critique and openness to contradiction, discontinuity and dif- 
ference. What Donne and his crew see and experience at the top of the rapids is 
the tenuous links that connect them to each other and to hidden moral resources 
within themselves: 

The crew was transformed by the awesome spectacle of a voiceless 
soundless motion, the purest appearance of vision in the chaos of 
emotional sense. Earthquake and volcanic water appeared to seize 
them and stop their ears dashing scales only from their eyes. They 
saw the naked unequivocal flowing peril and beauty and soul of the 
pursuer and the pursued all together, and they knew they would per- 
ish if they dreamed to turn back (Harris 1960:62). 


The great task of teachers and educators as we enter the twenty-first century is to 
address the radical reconfigurations and rearticulations now taking place in edu- 
cational and social life brought on by the proliferation of diversity. As Harris sug- 
gests, we must find the 'subtle links' of affiliation across the self and other, across 
our insistent particularity and the imperatives of interdependence and multiplicity 
that define the modern world. 

In the curriculum field in education there has been a dangerous tendency to 
simplify these matters. For example, current curriculum debates over multicultural 
education and the Western canon too easily oppose the literature, traditions, and 
culture associated with the canon to the new literatures of minority and indige- 
nous groups. Western civilization to non-Western cultural practices, and so forth. 
It is assumed that since the dominant curriculum thrives on the marginalization of 
the culture of minorities that minority identities can only be fully redeemed by re- 
placing the Western and Eurocentric bias of the curriculum with non- Western mi- 
nority literature and cultural knowledge. The work of postcolonial writers such as 

1 4 DrASPORA, Identity, and Language Communities 

Wilson Harris directly challenges the easy opposition of the canon to non- 
Western and third world literature and the curricular project of content addition 
and replacement that now guides some multicultural frameworks. My point of 
departure in this essay, follows a theoretical and methodological line of thinking 
that draws on the historical and genealogical work of Michael Berube 1992, Ger- 
ald Graff 1987, and John Guillory 1990 who all in various ways argue for a non- 
canonical reading of the canon. In a strategy complementary to theirs, I have | 
sought to uncover the deep philosophical preoccupations that animate third 
world writers like Harris in their encounter with master narratives of the West. 
There is in fact in the postcolonial literature a vast project of rewriting that is well 
on the way — a project that I wish to suggest that teachers and students in 
American schools cannot any longer remain blissfully ignorant of. Such a project 
of rewriting guides us toward reading literature both intertextually and contextu- 
ally — reading literature 'contrapuntally' as Edward Said 1993 suggests. That is 
to say, we might now read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness by the light of 
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart; Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe through 
the eyes of J.M. Coetzee' Foe or Derek Walcott's Pantomime; William Shake- 
speare's Tempest nndtx the microscope of George Lamming's The Pleasures of 
Exile; Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own in concert with Jamaica Kincaid's 
Annie John; and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground within the 
knowing gaze of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. 

What I am pointing toward is the need for educators to begin to let the sen- 
sibiUty of a complex, interdependent world into the lives of students. To chal- 
lenge the tragic images of mainstream television and textbooks and to expand our 
own sensibilities in America by embracing the world. Postcolonial literature, it 
seems to me, works through a different set of propositions about human actors 
than the ones that seem to have taken hold in education lately: the origins claims, 
the centric claims, the West versus the rest, and so forth. These are all tired bi- 
narisms that have led to the regimentation of identities — each man turning the 
key on his own door. The great challenge of our time is to think beyond the 
paradox of identity and the other. This is a challenge to rejuvenate linkages of 
being and association among all peoples in these new times. It is also a challenge 
to follow the lost steps set in the cross-currents of history by those dwelling in 
the Hght of the Cauda Pavonis or the palace of the peacock — ■ the final rendez- 
vous with difference beyond the psychic interior of our human forests. 

I believe books Hke Harris' The Palace of the Peacock open up this new . 
terrain in which we find ourselves confronting the other in us. What postcolonial I 
literature such as The Palace of the Peacock point us toward is the need to re- 
think our approaches to issues of culture and identity in the curriculum field. 
Such a new approach to curricular knowledge must begin with rejecting the sim- 
plistic economy of the canon versus the Third World opposition which now 
dominates the debate over the issues of diversity and education reform. A new 
critical approach to curriculum must involve rethinking the linkages of knowl- 
edge, culture, and association among all people. It means thinking relationally and 

Cameron McCarthy: The predicament of cultures 1 5 

contextually. It means bringing back into the educational discourse all the ten- 
sions and contradictions that we tend to suspend and suppress as we process ex- 
perience and history into curricular knowledge. It means abandoning the auratic 
status of concepts such as "culture' and 'identity' for a recognition of the vital 
cultural porosity that exists between and among human groups in the modem 
world. It means foregrounding the intellectual autonomy of students and teachers 
by incorporating an open mindedness and a sense of inquiry that comes from let- 
ting traditions debate with each other. In this way, we leave ourselves as open to 
suggestion and transformative change as the characters in Harris' Palace ... 


' It might be helpful for the reader to take a look at some of the following articles 
and books in which these concepts of subaltern communities are discussed. 
Donna Haraway 1990 discusses the concept of 'cyborg' (or the subaltern, femi- 
nist actor who attempts to build communities of resistance across 'contradictory 
worlds' of interests, needs, and desires). Gloria Anzaldua 1987 talks about the 
people who exist between the colonizer and the colonized — people, who in- 
habit the 'third space' or, in her language, 'inhabit both realities' of a colonizing 
United States and a colonized Mexico (1987:37). Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 1970 
people of 'El Macondo' have to negotiate the ruptures generated in the transi- 
tion from their peasant world to a highly industrialized and modernized context. 
And, finally, Wilson Harris's 'Mariella' is both a site of colonial domination and 
the site of the new identities of the emergent peoples of Guyana and the Carib- 
bean. Mariella is the colonial/postcolonial outpost that is at the center of the nar- 
rative of The Palace of the Peacock 1976. 


Amado, J. 1969. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Trans, by H. Onis. New 
York: Knopf. 

Anzaldua, G. 1987. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: 

Awkward, M. 1989. Inspiriting Influences: Tradition, Revision and Afro- 
American Women's Novels. New York: Columbia. 

ASANTE, M. 1993. Malcolm X as Cultural Hero and Other Afrocentric Essays. 
Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press. 

Bennett, W. 1984, November 28. To reclaim a legacy: Text of the Report of Hu- 
manities in Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Education, November 

Berube, M. 1992. Marginal Forces/Cultural Centers: Tolson, Pynchon, and the 
Politics of the Canon. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 

Courtney, R. 1988. On culture and creative drama. Youth Theatre Journal 3:1.3- 

1 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communiiies 

D'SOUZA, D. 1991. Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Cam- 
pus. New York: Free Press. 

El Saadawi, N. 1985. God Dies by the Nile. Trans, by S. Hetata. London: Atlantic 

EPICA Task Force. 1982. Grenada: The Peaceful Revolution. Washington, D.C.: 
EPICA Task Force. 

Fraser, R. 1988. Wilson Harris: Palace of the Peacock. Handbook for Teaching . 
Caribbean Literature, ed. by D. Dabydeen, 8-16. London: Heinemann. 

Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, transl. by M.B. Ramos. New York: 

GiLKES, M. 1975. Wilson Harris and the Caribbean Novel. London: Longman. 

Graff, G. 1987. Professing Literature: Institutional History. Chicago: Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press. 

GuiLLORY, J. 1990. Canon. Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. by F. Lentric- 
chia & T. McLaughlin, 233-49. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Haraway, D. 1990. A manifesto for cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist 
feminism in the 1980s. Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. by Linda Nicholson, 
190-233. New York: Routledge. 

Harris, W. 1960. The Palace of the Peacock. London: Faber. 

.1962. The Whole Armour. London: Faber. 

.1970, June. History, fable, and myth in the Caribbean and the Guianas. Car- 
ibbean Quarterly. 16:2.1-32. 

.1975. Companions of the Day and Night. London: Faber. 

.1911. Da Silva da Silva's Cultivated Wilderness. London: Faber. 

.1977. Genesis of the Clowns. London: Faber. 

.1985. A note on the genesis of The Guyana Quartet. The Guyana Quartet, 

ed. by W. Harris, 7-14. London: Faber. 

.1989. Literacy and the imagination. The Literate Imagination, ed. by M. 

Gilkes, 13-30. London: MacMillan. 

Iyer, P. 1993, February 8. The empire writes back. Time. 68 -73. 

James, C. L .R. 1978. Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways. Detroit: Bewick /ed. 

Jameson, F. 1986. Third-world literature in the era of multinational capitalism. So- 
cial Text 15.65-8. 

Kjmball, R. 1990. Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Edu- 
cation. New York: Harper. 

KiNCAiD, J. 1990. Lucy. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 

Ladson-Billings, G., & A. Henry. 1990. Blurring the borders: Voices of African 
liberatory pedagogy in the United States and Canada. Journal of Education^ 

Marquez, G. G. 1970. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans, by G. Rabassa. 
Harper & Row. 

Morrison, T. 1987. Beloved. New York: Knopf. 

.1992. Jazz. New York: Alfred Knopf. 

Obiechina, E. 1978. Culture, Tradition, and Society in the West African Novel. 
London: Heinemann. 

Cameron McCarthy : The predicament of cultures 1 7 

Okri, B. 1992. The Famished Road. New York: Anchor Books. 

Ondaatje, M. 1992. The English Patient. New York: Vintage 

Paz, Octavio, 1990. In Search of the Present. Nobel Lecture, 1990. New York: 

Harcourst, Brace, Jovanovich. 
Phillips, C. 1992. Cambridge. New York: Knopf. 
Rushdie, S. 1981. Midnight's Children. London: Penguin. 
Said, E. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf. 
Walcott, D. 1972. London: Jonathan Cape. 



Edwin Thumboo 

This chapter is an attempt to conceptualize Uterary creativity 
within a historical context. The introduction summarizes major dias- 
poric experiences — for example, new visions, bicultural^ilingual ex- 
periences and their impact on class structure, sociocultural restruc- 
turing, and contributions to art, city planning, and architecture. These 
experiences are related to the spread of the English people and Eng- 
lish as a language. The second part of the paper discusses the impact 
of diaspora on creativity in various types of social, cultural, and lin- 
guistic contexts. The chapter emphasizes a need for flexibiUty in the- 
ory and methodology of diaspora studies. In that sense, the chapter is 
interdisciplinary, with multi-cultural perspectives. 


When adopted widely by surrounding disciplines, labels have a way of permu- 
tating beyond the territory they were originally intended to cover. Politics and 
hybridity are examples. And diaspora, which according to the Encyclopaedia 
Judaica (vol. 6) is: 

the voluntary dispersion of the Jewish people as distinct from forced 
dispersion ... As such, it confines itself to Jewish settlements outside 
Erez Israel during the periods of Jewish independence or compact 
settlements in their own land. 

The Judaica goes on to say that 

As early as the Hellenistic period the Sibyl could sing of the Jewish 
I nation 'Every land is full of you, and every sea,' and in reference to 

the first century B.C.E., the Greek geographer Strabo declared that it 
was difficult to find a place in the entire world to which the Jewish 
nation had not penetrated. 

The spread of Jews from about the exilic age differs sharply from the phenome- 
non covered by the current use of diaspora. Judaism was faith and way of life, as 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

it is with strict people of the book. The Temple in Jerusalem remained the center 
of a turning world. So strong was the idea of Jewishness, that they retained their 
religious and, therefore, essential cultural identity despite ethnic mutation. 

An example of an early diaspora, but one closer to the modern experience, would 
be instructive: Persian-Greek contact circa 330 BC. Xenophon (430-355 BC), the 
Greek historian, essayist, and early pupil of Socrates, and who led the 10,000 mer- 
cenaries to safety after the battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC described in his book Ana- 
bass, balanced his view of Persian weakness with an emerging ideal that included 
Greek elements. Here are quotes from Robin Lane Fox: 

By the 330s, this theme had gained a new depth in western Asia. Lo- 
cal rulers liked to patronize Greek technical skill. Like their own king, 
they kept Greek doctors. They had Greek prophets and soothsayers, 
poets, artists, soldiers, and physical trainers. They had some notorious 
Greek mistresses. In Caria, especially, Greek language and an outline 
of Greek political fonns had been spread by recent urbanization. 
Elsewhere, Greek culture was relished for being fun ... Bilingual Per- 
sians in the west were surely not uncommon. Bilingual Greeks were 
far rarer. (129-30) 

As Fox says, the textual evidence for this situation is comparatively slight, 
but only when compared with the art, especially the bas-reliefs. They tell almost 
as much as the pharonic tombs have. So powerful, so continuous was the influ- 
ence, that more than two thousand years later, the lama in Rudyard Kipling's Kim, 
was deeply, specially moved by the Buddha captured in the moment of apotheo- 
sis by Greek-influenced sculpture executed some five to six hundred years after 
Alexander. Kipling provides a careful build-up for this, the first cross-cultural con- 
tact in the novel. In so doing, he reminds us that the figures were done 'by for- 
gotten workmen whose hands were feeling, and not unskillfully, for the mysteri- 
ously transmitted Grecian touch.' (Said 1987) 

The Lord! The Lord! It is Sakya Muni himself." The lama half sobbed; 
and under his breath began the wonderful Buddhist invocation: 

To Him the Way, the Law, apart. 
Whom Maya held beneath her heart. 
Ananda's Lord, the Bodhisat. 

What probably struck the lama, as it has generations past and generations to 
come, is proportion and realism, brought into a single moment of style and execu-i 
tion, one so potent that art ceases to compete with life by becoming part of it. 

The dominant figure for my purposes at this point is Alexander. Unlike other 
Greeks including his teacher Aristotle who, incidentally, was born Macedonian, 
he did not think Persians barbarians. What he did, and what he got others to do, 
reveals the outline of his vision. Briefly, he sought to bring two cultures, Greek 
and Persian, together, through inter-marriage, the study of Greek, equal opportu- 

Edwin Thumboo: In such beginnings are my ends 2 1 

nities to the extent politically and militarily expedient, amalgamation of customs, 
re-organization of the royal court and army, and much else. It meant basic re- 
orientations in key sites of power, some of which, such as the increasing admis- 
sion of Persians to positions of authority, upset a section of his Macedonian and 
Greek followers. 

Like Achilles, Alexander had married a captive lady. But the marriage 
belonged with a wider theme in his politics. Sogdian nobles who had 
survived the reprisals were asked to leave their children in camp. At 
the same time orders went out for thirty thousand boys to be re- 
cruited from Iranian villages and brought up in a Greek style . . . Alex- 
ander is already said to have arranged Greek lessons for the Persian 
queen mother and her family. He had long enjoyed the company of 
Barsine and Bagoas, and other bi-lingual Persians. In 328 BC, he was 
already looking to the next generation. (299) 

This brief reference to history serves a number of purposes. History repeats 
itself where and when circumstances repeat themselves. So too the lessons 

*new vision — two cultures 

*long-term planning 

*top-down change 

*bi-cultural, bi-lingual program 

*revised socio-politico structure 

*class structure — creation of Greco-Persian upper-class 

*art, city planning, architecture 

Here is the first planned hyphenated culture and society, a point to which I wiU 
return. These Alexanderian initiatives — the hst is by no means complete — 
would have benefited from the tasks of educational linguistics that Braj Kachru 
proposed in 'The Speaking Tree: A Medium of Plural Canons', a fascinating, in- 
structive paper he gave at the 1994 George Washington University Round Ta- 
ble. In his words, 'these include 

*cross-cultural discourse 

*the bilingual's creativity 

*language contact and convergence 

^language acquisition 



^language, ideology, and power 

There was no Kachru in his time to be guru, but Alexander may well have heard 
of Panini, who wrote his grammar in about the 5th century BC, and at a place close 
to where he had fought a battle and camped. His early death in 323 BC robbed his 
vision of any serious chance for success. Had it been held on course, the hyphen- 
ated society Alexander envisaged. Persian-Greek/Macedonian, Greek/Mace don- 

2 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

ian-Persian, would have lost its hyphen in time with integration which does away 
with separations and seams. The Peranakans of Malaysia — Chinese who settled 
in the 17th century and adopted various Malay customs, and spoke a Malay- 
Hokkien patois while remaining essentially Chinese — are a classic example of 
such integration. 

Given the situation and the needed response, these are the main elements 
involved in the dynamics, the calculus of diasporic consequences. But with a dif- 
ference, namely between the spread of (i) the English as people and (ii) English as 
language. In the case of the first, there was identity-retention. A homogeneous 
group moved, lock, stock, and barrel. That diaspora was driven by voluntary exile 
on religious grounds, by white settlements which later turned into migration, and 
the founding of colonies that grew out of a desire for more trade and political and 
economic competition in Europe. In the first, people took their culture and opera- 
tional institutions — of which language is chief — into their new environments, 
in America, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. England was still 
the center of their world, providing intellectual, political, cultural, and other suste- 
nance. While less tight in guarding the borders of their identity, it was comparable 
to the Jewish experience. But in time and for a variety of reasons, links with 
England, which became Great Britain in the interim with the empowerment that 
came from her many colonies, loosened. 

What concerns us now is the diasporic spread of languages, mine with Eng- 
lish to the non-Anglo-Saxon parts of the world. That spread deepened its roots 
after colonies became independent and retained Enghsh because it was already 
there, firmly in place, and performed a number of functions, as a bridge between 
different language groups, a neutral and therefore 'safe' national language, edu- 
cation, administration, and as an instrument for rapid modernization. Its retention 
at times proved controversial, as it went against nationalist sentiment, which is 
generally most aggressive in the period immediately after independence. Yet 
English remained, actively cultivated as the instrument of modernization, and the 
keeping up with global developments. But whatever the specific politics, its con- 
tinued use was a challenge. The response depended on a number of factors, some 
of which will be considered shortly. They are not there in the Anglo-Saxon dias- 
pora which, given its identity-retention, felt no tension between language and 
user. There was no need for a hyphen: the people were English, the language was 
English. There is a need for a hyphen in the case of (ii), where there is cross- 
cultural contact. > 

Theory and practice 

It is prudent in these theory-driven days to start with a modest statement of pur- 
pose. Theory presupposes practice; otherwise, it ought to be hypothesis, or at 
least inclining to one. Practice presupposes an object upon which to operate, to 
establish itself, to earn credentials. The object could be particles in physics or the 
diffusion of cultures: it does not matter. What does matter is whether, given the 

Edwin Thumboo: In such beginnings are my ends 2 3 

object, the practice proves appropriate. It is a question of credibility, of whether 
the practice is able to explain the facts. These are large, far-reaching issues, made 
manageable by the reductive power of generalizations, a move that risks hoisting 
by our own petard. Generalizations are occasionally necessary, employable, pro- 
vided their hmitations are kept in view, even as we take what insight, what sap, 
they offer to nourish idea, line of inquiry. 

Generally speaking, theory in the sciences (SCS) tends to look at the pre- 
sent and the future. Theory in the humanities and the social sciences (HSS) tends 
to look at the present and the past. They both deal with facts, though differently. 
In SCS, facts equal knowledge; in HSS facts have to be interpreted into knowl- 
edge. In SCS, theories, if proven, become a law, which often hold for a consider- 
able time, providing common understanding, until another theory, usually the re- 
placement for the earlier theory in the field, gets proven. Not so in HSS, where 
fundamental concepts, paradigms and discourse change, shift and multiply almost 
unceasingly. And that should be the case. They are based on the interpretation 
of the facts as they arise in a particular time and place, say in India at the time of 
partition, or Kenya between 1950 and 1975, which included the Mau Mau 
movement, the 'neo-colonialism' and consequent failure of the government, all of 
which provided Ngugi wa Thion'go with themes for his fiction and insights for 
his critical essays. Or the degree to which Lloyd Fernando and K. S. Maniam 
share a pre-occupation with certain themes in Green Is The Colour and In A Far 
Country respectively, yet construct their significances so differently. 

The facts of — and consequently, knowledge in — SCS are universal. They 
are universal mainly because the facts regarding objects arrange themselves. 
Breaking the molecule into atoms, electrons, and protons, into ever smaller parti- 
cles, some with a life of one milUonth of a second, implies a descending order that 
is an arrangement. You could reverse that order. But the sequence of which is 
next to which is pretty much fixed. The same cannot be said of the HSS. In some, 
religion is paramount, a matter for the state; in others it is not, leaving it a matter 
for the individual. Genes causing this or that disease do so consistently from 
Kokoda to Kalamazoo. But the social consequences of the same disease — men- 
tal disorders, for example — is often perceived differently. Consequently, in SCS, 
the substantial discourse is substanfially denotative. The objects studied do not 
become metaphors. Hence the notion of scientific writing. A tree is a tree is a tree: 
it has certain basic characteristics, such as roots, a trunk, branches and leaves. In 
contrast, it is only within HSS that the tree turns image, enters metaphor, and be- 
comes symbol. It provides opportunities for analogies: family tree, the tree of life. 
There is interpretation, a making of meaning. Kachru's 'Speaking Tree' paper 
provides a good example. It opens with references to that Tree, and goes on to 
say that 

The trunk of the English language — the Inner Circle — evokes 
mixed responses, as did that of the Speaking Tree, but the branches 
are bearing delectable fruit. The linguistic speaking tree is blooming. 

24 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

for we believe it answers all questions. The questions relate to acces- 
sibility to knowledge, the questions of pragmatic functions, and those 
of creative functions. In short, we have a unique oracle with many 
faces (Kachru 1994:1). 

The key word here is 'many'. For English goes to sleep and wakes up with 
a greater variety of peoples, climates, and histories than does any other language. 
Far more than all past and recent imperial languages such as Greek and Latin, 
Spanish and Portuguese, French, Italian, and German, put together. Here is the 
prime challenge of — and in — diasporic studies. What makes it international is 
its use by many nations for whom it is an official, main, or only language, and 
therefore a national language, with all that the label implies. As Kachru (1997:11) 
puts it: 

the hnguistic center of the language has already moved . . . from its 
former major linguistic epicenter, from its traditional center of creativ- 
ity, of innovations ... of authority of codification. 

And now we — all of us — can use this key for crossing cultural and 
linguistic borders, but only if we make a distinction between English 
as a medium and English as a repertoire of pluralism, a repertoire of 
ideologies, of ways of life and living in distinctly different cultural 
contexts, and of thought patterns and creativities — and, indeed, of 
innovations which articulate various types of cross-overs: the African, 
the Asian, the South and North American, and the East European. 

Kachru is referring to the role and the spread of English across his well known 
Three Concentric Circles of English'. The first diaspora was when English — or 
what became English — moved with the expansion of the English into Scotland, 
Wales, and Ireland. This was followed by the Anglo-Saxon diasporas that took 
English to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. These 
constitute the norm dictating, code asserting, and canon defining Inner Circle. 
Kachru hsts examples of countries/nations in the Outer Circle and the Ex- 
panding Circle. It is in the Outer Circle that the issues of diaspora are defined, 
that confrontation and adaptation between old and new users take place. The old 
users tend to think — and feel — that they are the permanent custodians of the 
language and everything linked to it. It is embedded in their culture and environ- 
ment, both of which are in turn embedded in it. Languages have both diachronic 
and synchronic annotations. The first give it a history; the second, a contempo- 
rary flavor and relevance. English is inscribed by and with the diachronic 
annotations of her people's history, politics, sense of identity, the gifts of their 
temperament, genius, style, tone, tact, and the myriad elements of being and exis- 
tence. It is this that gives language resonance, vitality, and connotation. There is 
room for origins and antecedents, for being aware of the distance evolution — 
linguistic, hterary, scientific, and cultural, etc., — that has been traveled. So T. S. 
Eliot is able to relate 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' and F. R. Leavis to 
proclaim 'The Great Tradition'. 

Edwin Thlimboo: In .slk'h beginnings are my ends 25 

There is the assumption that where the language goes, its critical tradition 
and practice follow. To a large extent these are the cumulative responses to the 
literature, from the late 16th century on. The sense of the contemporary can bring 
together interesting hed-fellows. Eliot felt closer to John Donne than to the Victo- 
rians as a whole. Even if there is an ideological itch that needs satisfying, the 
changes are likely to be radical rather than revolutionary. There is something 
monolithic, a comforting centrality holding individual and society together. Non- 
conformity is a variation, not a departure, or a betrayal. There is, instead, a certain 
protectiveness, a considerable measure of internally generated self-approval, one 
especially dismissive of externally generated alternatives. For they do not accord 


The countries/nations in the Outer Circle have their own distinctive dia- 
chronic annotations. They are there in their languages: Sanskrit, Sinhala, Gikuyu, 
Bahasa Melayu, Tamil, Chinese (including the other languages, the so-called 
'dialects' ),Yoruba, Illocano, Urdu, and Ewe, for example. It is enshrined in their 
word-games, capacity for pun, irony, and hterary allusion; the traffic between 
metaphor and metaphor; court language. There is that creative sophistication de- 
manded, for example, by the kurruntokai, whose very conventions either shackle 
or free, depending on whether the pressures of restrictiveness lead to inventive- 
ness or tame conformity. Language has learnt to be lofty, far-reaching; sudden as 
thought; quick as feeling. 

To be nativized, indegenized: that should be the fate of English in this Outer 
Circle, if it is to be a language in its new home in the various — and varied — 
parts of the world. What happens is that it fu-st acquires synchronic annotations, 
through the pressures of daily use, in formal and informal occasions. It has to 
make its way among the other languages, each of which has been there, in occu- 
pation, for a considerable tkne. Their diachronic annotations, reflecting the his- 
tory of the country/nation, have to be transferred to English if it is to have the 
same or comparable creative potential, if it is to function with the same creative 
power. This is a challenge that every writer using English in the Outer Circle has 
to face. The challenges vary from place to place, depending on the culture and 
the intellectual, linguistic and other environments, the earlier national history, the 
present economic strength, and the linguistic and other policies in force for na- 
tional development. Below are some of the main situations, with broad indications 
of where there are examples. 

i) Oral societies — Africa south of the Sahara; Pacific islands 

ii) Islands — a) the West Indies 

b) Malta/Sri Lanka 

c) Pacific — e.g.. West Samoa 

d) Singapore — artificial creation — 'three -i- 
one' major traditions: Malay-Islamic, 

2 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Indian, Chinese + Western 


iii) Bilingual Sites Camaroons; Sri Lanka 

iv) Multilingual Sites a) Malaysia — indigenous population with 

Chinese and Indian immigrants; Singapore 

b) indigenous population + large/significant i 
Anglo-Saxon/other white population — 
South Africa 

c) large/dominant Anglo-Saxon/other white 
population with significant/increasingly 
significant indigenous population 

— America 

— Australia 

— New Zealand 

— Canada 

— South Africa 

v) Sub-Groups indigenous population are affected by arrivants. 

— Australia 

— New Zealand 

iv) India — old civilization — has seen it all; has powerful 

religious/philosophical traditions, classical Utera- 
tures, starting with Sanskrit 

v) Immigrants — Asian — > American 

— Euro- Asian -^ Australia 

— Asian — > Canada 

— Asian — > Britain 

Just to make life more interesting, what of (a) Indians and Chinese writing in all 
these sites? And (b) W. B. Yeats, Raja Rao, Octavia Paz and Carlos Fuentes, who 
are deeply immersed in their cultures, yet universalists? And (c) V. Nabakov and 
Muhammad Haji Salleh, who are bilingual? 

Although far from complete, this listing should convince us of the necessity 
of adopting an approach flexible enough to recognize and give weight to varia- 
tions in the literatures in English from these countries/nations. To see their na- 
tional and other differences is to understand their very different needs and, there- | 
fore, their very different responses. For Derek Walcott (1972:17) and others in a 
similar situation: 

What would deliver him from servitude was the forging of a language 
that went beyond mimicry, a dialect which had the force of revelation 
as it invented names for things, one which finally settled on its own 
mode of inflection, and which beaan to create an oral culture of 

Edwin Thumboo: In such beginnings are my ends 27 

chants, jokes, folk-songs and fables; this, not merely the debt of his- 
tory was his proper claim to the New World. 

There was no other point of reference than the life around them. English as lan- 
guage was a means which, together with black skin and blue eyes, would remain 
anomalies until they had to name, and so create. There was no other language, 
one whose diachronic annotations could be tapped, adapted and grafted. And 
the synchronic annotations have to be discovered and assembled. His English 
had to be forged, not fine-tuned in the way that Raja Rao did it in The Serpent 
and the Rope and Kanthapura. In his foreword to the latter, Rao says that: 

The telling has not been easy. One has to convey in a language that is 
not one's own the spirit that is one's own. One has to convey the 
various shades and omissions of a certain thought-movement that 
looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word 'alien', yet Eng- 
lish is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our in- 
tellectual make-up — like Sanskrit or Persian was before — but not of 
our emotional make-up . . . After language the next problem is that of 
style. The tempo of Indian life must be infused into our English ex- 
pression, even as the tempo of American or Irish life has gone into the 
making of theirs. {Kanthapura, Orient Paperbacks, New Delhi, 1994) 

The third, and last, example is from Nigeria. Oral traditions have their diachronic 
annotations, but differ from literate traditions in that the annotations are not 
traceable through the centuries. They are embedded in the synchronic, in the 
ever-moving contemporary energies of the tradition. Gabriel Okara is among the 
writers who have discussed the indigenisation of English, its re-orientation to suit 
the content and dynamics of a particular society and culture. 

Why should I not use the poetic and beautiful, 'May we live to see 
ourselves tomorrow' or, 'May it dawn', instead of 'Goodnight'? If I 
were writing a dialogue between two friends, one about to leave after 
visiting the other at night, I would do it this way: 
'Are you getting up now?' said Otutu as he saw his friend heaving 
himself up with his two hands gripping the arms of the chair he was sit- 
ting on. 

'Yes I am about walking now. The night has gone far', Beni his friend 
said, for he was a very fat man. 

'May we live to see ourselves tomorrow', Otutu said after seeing his 
friend to the door. 

'May we live to see ourselves tomorrow', his friend also said and 
walked panting into the night. 

What emerges from the examples I have given is that a writer can use the idioms 
of his own language in a way that is understandable in English. If he used their 
English equivalents, he would not be expressing African ideas and thoughts, but 
English ones. 

2 8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

'May it dawn for you'. Or 'May day break for you': Idiom and metaphor have 
their fact, in this case the point at which night yields to day. That is fact. It be- 
longs to SCS. The meaning it is assigned by linguistic culture belongs to HSS. 

Within HSS are occupations, pre-occupations, rather, which are deeply, ob- 
sessively connotative, to connote, which one dictionary, dryly defines as 'to sig- 
nify secondarily'. That is the basis of difference. That is the basis of hterary crea- i 
tivity. That is the basis of the 'Other', whose identity is often, and crucially, de- ' 
fined by the 'secondary'. It is the basis of what Okara rightly sees as primary. 
Speak that I may see thee. Large or small, gesture, idea and object in the HSS are 
defined, composed and maintained by the various institutions — and the values 
they represent — which characterize a society, a nation, giving it its identity. 
These are the particular versions of religion, ethics, folklore, myths, legends, his- 
tory, philosophy, language, literature, the performing and visual arts, the principles 
and practice of politics, economics, manufacture, education, management within 
the social contract that prevails, and the very social contract itself. These are 
found in all societies. As nouns, their values are universal. All societies believe in 
faith and charity. They are universal. But nouns do not shape life and contacts. 
Only verbs do. Abstractions versus actuality. It is in the doing that values are re- 
vealed, made manifest, promoted, transmitted. They may overlap. But it is in the 
verbs of each society that their content and traditions are shaped uniquely to fit 
that society. As Okara says , 'For, from a word, a group of words, a sentence and 
even a name in any African language, one can glean the social norms, attitudes 
and values of a people' (Okara, in Killam 1973:137). 

This leads to the hyphen of cross-cultural contact. SCS is intrinsically value- 
free. It is neither good nor bad, but only usage makes it so. HSS, on the other 
hand, is value-loaded. SCS is hard knowledge. Its processes can be repeated. Its 
content has general acceptance. When that is replaced by new discoveries, the 
replacement receives the same general acceptance. Moreover, the language used 
to describe this content is stable, universally understood, and understood in the 
same way. 

In contrast, HSS, whose facts need to be interpreted before turning 
knowledge, is soft knowledge. Nations want as much as they can get of SCS 
from any source; at the same time, they want to preserve their own HSS — con- 
tent, institutions, ways and means, relying on their internal dynamics to shift and 
censor foreign influences, especially those thought radically undermining. 

In such circumstances, the interpreter, who has an agenda shaped by his or C 
her history as a member of a particular profession, society, and nation, all of which 
have vested, permanent interests, is of particular importance. Hence, the Mau Mau 
national movement or rebellion; the Indian Mutiny or national movement; these 
core, permanent interests must vary, and vary enormously at times, given the po- 
litical, economic, technological, social, and other realities distinguishing nations. A 
few familiar labels do the work of reminding: First, Second, and Third Worlds; de- 
veloped, developing, and under-developed nations; North/South. What is sauce 

Edwin Thumboo: In such beginnings are my ends 2 9 

for the goose is not sauce for the gander. This must be stressed. For, as we have 
noted — all too briefly — there is a history behind the fact of nations using the 
same international language. 

That history, if it is to be seen steadily and whole — if its impact on life, and 
therefore experience, on the material that shapes us, our outlook, etc., must be un- 
derstood in specific terms of the country/nation and the individual. As an histori- 
cal phenomenon, diaspora deals with large movements, with generalizations — 
which 1 have myself resorted to — while the literature, in the final analysis, is the 
product of individuals. What can directly help advance the subject are studies of 
major and significant writers, and themes. The need for an essential flexibility, 
suggests that the spirit and methods of comparative literature should prove most 
rewarding, especially if it taps the insights of linguistic studies of the kind pio- 
neered by Professor Kachru. It will help us discover hyphens, and help chart the 
content of each half, and how they relate, and the possible direction they are 
taking. Complexities and differences should be seen and understood for what 
they are, and not leveled by generalizations or the limits imposed by inadequate 
or inappropriate concepts and terminology. After all, we will be dealing with lit- 
eratures using varieties of one language, each inhabiting and thriving in its own 
culture and environment, all adding to the challenge and richness of the coming 


Alatis, James E. 1994. Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and 
Linguistics. Encyclopaedia Judaica vol. 6, 1971. Keter Publishing House: 

Lane, Fox Robin. 1980. The Search for Alexander. Little, Brown, & Company: 

JAL96. 1997. Crossing Borders. 1997, Tokyo. 

Kachru, Braj B. 1994. The Speaking Tree: A Medium of Plural Canons. George- 
town University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics J 994, ed. by 
James E. Alatis, 6-22. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 

. 1997. Opening Borders with World Englishes: Theory in the Classroom. On 

JALT 96: Crossing Borders. The Proceedings of the 23 Annual JALT In- 
ternational Conference, Hiroshima, Japan, 10-20, Tokyo: The Japan Asso- 
ciation for Language Teaching 

KiLLAM, Douglas. 1973. African Writers on African Writing. London: Heine- 

Okara, Gabriel. 1973. African speech ... English words. African Writers on Afri- 
can Writing, ed. by Douglas Killam. 137-9. London: Heinemann. 

Rao, Raja. 1994. Kanthapura. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 

Said, Edward. Ed. 1987. Kim. Penguin. 

Walcott, Dercck. 1972. Dream on Monkey Mountain. London: Jonathan Cape. 





Shirley Lim 

The essay argues against triumphal readings of 'diaspora' creative 
writing estabUshed upon theories that understand diasporic identities 
as dispersed cultural unitariness. Instead, through a reading of John 
Okada's novel No-No Boy, the essay examines a different, more trou- 
bled representation of the relationship between an 'original' or dias- 
poric Japanese identity and a present national 'American' identity. 
Ideals of essentialized cultural beings connected to territorial place 
come to crisis when time and space shifts dislocate subjects. Asian 
American literary works offer opportunities for studying such subjects 

Nobody heard him, the dead man. 
But still he lay moaning: 
I was much further out than you thought 
And not waving but drowning. 

Poor chap, he always loved larking 

And now he's dead. 

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way. 

They said. 

Oh, no no no it was too cold always 

(Still the dead one lay moaning) 

I was much too far out all my life 

And not waving but drowning (Smith 1988:67). 


Casting about for a title for a paper on diaspora and creative writing, I could think 
only of Stevie Smith's famous poem. Not waving but drowning. 'Oh no', my 
husband groaned when I admitted this to him, 'there are dozens of papers already 
out with this title'. In short, I was forewarned, I had stumbled upon a critical cli- 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

3 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

che. Perhaps that is the lesson to be drawn from my insistence on the title as the 
unavoidable trope for a mediation on diasporic creative writing: What can be said 
about such creative writing that is not already a cliche? 

In the last fifteen years or so, a number of theoretical and critical works have 
appeared on what is becoming generally categorized as 'diaspora' writing. While 
it is well-known that the term 'diaspora' was first used for the dispersion of the 
Jews from Israel, and has primary reference to the maintenance of Jewish religious | 
and cultural identity across temporal and territorial distances (see Chapter 2), the 
term has taken on a larger generic function, to signify any community of people 
coming originally from one political territory and settling down in another. Dias- 
poric hterature, or writing produced by Iranians living in London, Palestinians 
resident in Chicago, or Chinese exiled in New York, for example, has significant 
varying meanings from related terms such as immigrant, emigre, refugee, settler, or 
expatriate writing, although these terms are often used interchangeably, and may 
also be confused or fused with the senses of transnational, cross-cultural, postna- 
tional, cosmopolitan, metropolitan, and travel, encounter, or contact literature. 
James Clifford offers an exhaustive discussion of these various meanings: 

An unruly crowd of descriptive/inteipretive terms now jostle and con- 
verse in an effort to characterize the contact zones of nations, cultures, 
and regions: terms such as border, travel, creolization, transcultura- 
tion, hybridity, and diaspora (as well as the looser diasporic) (Clif- 
ford 1994:303). 

For Clifford, citing Khachig Tololian: 

the term that once described Jewish, Greek, and Armenian dispersion 
now shares meanings with a larger semantic domain ... [which] is the 
domain of shared and discrepant meanings, adjacent maps and histories, 
that we need to sort out and specify as we work our way into a com- 
parative, intercultural studies (Clifford 1994:303). 

According to Clifford, diaspora is distinguished from, if not in opposition to, 'the 
old localizing strategies — by bounded community, by organic culture, by re- 
gion, by center and periphery' (Clifford 1994:303). Like Roger Rouse 1995, he 
sees 'transnational migrant circuits' as exemplifying 'the kinds of complex cul- 
tural formations that current anthropology and intercultural studies describe and 
theorize' (Clifford 1994:303); and diasporic literature as constituting and eviden- 
tiary of 'diaspora discourses' that 'represent experiences of displacement, of con- ^ 
structing homes away from homes' (Clifford 1994:302). ■ 

For this topic, I could engage, cultural studies-wise, with issues of a Malay- 
sian-Singapore diaspora as constituted through creative work, seen in Chinese 
Malaysian writers who left for Australia in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, such as 
the playwright Lee Joo For, the poet Ee Tiang Hong, and the novelist Beth Yap. 

Or I could consider the Chinese Malaysian/Singapore women poets, Wong 
May, Hillary Tham, and me, who came to the United States in the 1960s and 

Shirley Lim: Not waving but drowning 33 

1970s. Examining the work of Malaysian-Singapore-bom creative writers who 
left for two different versions of the West, Australia, and the United States, I could 
arrive at a number of interpretations concerning the experience of nativization or 
deracination, of departure, relocation, or removal, and of arrival, contact, memory, 
nostalgia, identity devolution or involution, of identificatory or alienating forma- 
tions, dis-identification or dis-alienating disavowals, and so forth. 

My paper picks up, instead, one thread in the many braided conceptualiza- 
tions of the term; that is, the theoretical identification of individuals and groups 
with fixed, totalizing, original identities. As Clifford notes in an ironically oxymo- 
ronic subtitle. Diaspora's Borders, 'Diasporas are caught up with and defined 
against 1) the norms of nation-states and 2) indigenous, and especially autoch- 
thonous claims by "tribal" peoples' (Clifford 1994:303). These diasporic identi- 
ties have also taken on quite dizzying collective shadings. Hence, not simply a 
Nigerian diaspora but an African diaspora; not an Irish diaspora, but a European 
diaspora; not a Chinese-Malaysian, but an Asian diaspora. The many and pro- 
found differences and complexities among individuals or micro-groups traversing 
political boundaries in response to very different causes — calamities, social- 
economic forces, plain idiosyncratic dissatisfactions in some particular location, 
and desires for change — are elided in the category of diaspora; a categorization 
whose reference to single collective identities may in fact have been the totality 
refused by the diasporic individual in the first place. I argue that while clear, fixed, 
bounded identities may help in the mapping of large social movements, poets and 
fictionists contend against these abstract social theories in the very particularity, 
concretion, and specificity of their themes, styles, and addresses. Creativity and 
diasporic identity, as twentieth-century Western concepts, are in epistemological 
tension with each other, the first viewed as fundamentally related to a subject's 
agency, activated against restrictive and prescriptive forces of totahtarianism that 
assume fixity, essence, primacy, original order, and purity; and the other, a collec- 
tive social construction received and augmented by critics and readers, shaping 
through the force of reception, and itself shaped by individual authors. 

Constructing identities 

These antinomies, whose identities I am constructing in antipathetic relation to 
each other, shape a disabling theoretical model. In my recent readings across the 
United States, I have been approached by first-generation immigrants from Asian 
nations who have read my memoir. Among the White Moon Faces (Lim 1996), as 
a model of a shared narrative of creative writing imperiled in a diasporic space. 
Some pressed on me their self-published chapbooks or their poems. The few who 
have had poems published in U.S. magazines tell me of the gap between their 
identities and that of mainstream America; rather, the gap within their identities 
produced by the absence of an audience for their work in mainstream America. 

These writers have not yet gained an audience in the U.S., and even those 
who do publish, caught in the split between Asia and America, leave hardly a 

3 4 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

trace on the critical horizon. In the late twentieth century, such diasporic writers 
appear to exemplify the burden of double-consciousness, which W. E. B. Du Bois 
in The Souls of Black Folk had theorized as the condition of the American Negro: 

born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world. 

— a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only let 
him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a pecu- 
Har sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking 
at one's self through the eyes of others .... One ever feels his twoness, 

— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled 
strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged 
strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (Du Bois 1957:45). 

In contrast to Du Bois's argument on the disabling nature of such double- 
consciousness, some critics of Asian-American writing call attention to the in- 
creasing double notice received by Asian-American writers. Read as both ethnic 
American and diasporic Asian writers, such double-conscious reception arguably 
operates less to disadvantage their reception than to ensure a double, if not a mul- 
tiple reception. A major part of this literature is being written by green-card hold- 
ers (permanent residents), new immigrants, or children of first-generation Ameri- 
cans; and increasingly, studies of their works focus on the manifold relations of 
the identities of the authors to the texts' variously different audiences. The 
Philippines-born novelists Bienvenido Santos, N. V. M. Gonzalez, and Jessica 
Hagedom, the Burmese-born novelist Wendy Law-Yone, the Indonesian-born 
poet Li- Young Lee, Malaysian-born authors like me, the Korean-born poets such 
as Theresa Cha and Myung Mi Kiin, the South Asian-born writers Bharati Muk- 
herjee, Bapsi Sidwa, Vikram Seth, and so forth, are received as Asian-American 
and also as diasporic writers who must be read in a non-US-nation-bound con- 

Reviewers and critics are increasingly announcing the emergent presence of 
Asian-American literature in the U.S. Harold Bloom sees the turn in U.S. culture 
toward an Asian-American literary ascendancy: 

the life of the mind and spirit in the United States will be dominated by 
Asian-Americans in the opening decades of the twenty first century. 
The intellectuals — the women and men of literature and the other arts, 
of science and scholarship, and of the learned professions — are 
emerging from the various Asian- American peoples (Bloom 1997:xv). 

Time and Newsweek, The Los Angles Times and The New York Times have pro- 
claimed the success of Asian-American literature in mainstream American pub- 
lishing. Janice C. Simpson, writing in Time, attributed the 'enthusiasm among 
publishers for Asian-American writing ... to the growth of the country's Asian 
population, which nearly doubled, from 3.5 million to 6.9 million, over the past 
decade' (Simpson 1991:66). Like the observer in Smith's poem, Harold Bloom, on 
the American shore, views the diasporic Asian- American writer in the act of writ- 


Shirley Lim: Not waving but drowning 3 5 

ing as waving; a gesture interpreted not simply as one of survival but of trium- 
phant individual mastery of the oceanic space of the American literary nation. 

I offer a different interpretation of that act of writing/waving, in reading that 
act as a typology of aesthetics. If aesthetics is defined as what moves us, the 
reader/viewer, then we might be able to imagine a viewer like Bloom, whose gaze 
on the diasporic writer is a form of objectification; the waving is enjoyed or con- 
sumed through the 'scopic' desire of the casual passer-by who wishes to have his 
notion of happy security confirmed. The ignorant watcher from the safety of the 
shore speculates on, or interprets, the swimmer's gesture as that of waving, shar- 
ing a moment of enjoyment of communication, from the ocean to the shore, from 
the swimmer out at sea to the shore-grounded viewer, reading the swimmer/writer 
as agent, and his act of swimming/writing as a sign of active progressiveness; a 
communication of his playful mastery of the ocean. But this is the view from the 
outside. Stevie Smith's poem (Smith 1988:57) reinstates the knowing ironic point 
of view of the swimmer. The pathos of the reversal — not swimming but drown- 
ing — is framed by the temporal and spatial distance between viewer and swim- 
mer; reader and writer. The swimmer speaks now from a different present — the 
present of his death. The communication was not one of existence but of dying. 
The swimmer is viewing the shore-grounded spectator as much as he is being 
viewed. From his perilous position of drowning he interjects his denial of the 
reader's misreading. The passer-by and the swimmer view each other across the 
distance between safety and danger, stable ground and unstable water. The poem 
offers no holistic vision; both views are partial and fragmented; the communica- 
tion and the interpretation do not cohere or signify. The final condition is that of 
the necropolis, the condition of death, and the poet/speaker/swimmer speaks as a 
dead man, from the domain of what is already dead. 

Diasporic creativity 

My meditations on diasporic creativity take up this challenge of speaking from 
the necropolis of diasporic identity, in the place of a speaker from the dead whose 
creativity expresses the conditions of danger, detachment from a secure shore, 
fear of loss, and dying, which I argue are the major subjects of the diasporic 
imagination, in contrast to the subjects of the immigrant imagination that encom- 
pass new life, settlement, strenuous adaptation, and attachment to a new land. I 
wish to defamiliarize the idealized condition of separation from an original natal 
familias, communitas, and territory, to examine the constructions of nostalgia 
I skeptically; to force, as it were, a literal accounting of the relation between crea- 
tivity and diaspora. For Michel Foucault, history is meaningless 'if one means by 
that writing a history of the past in terms of the present' (Foucault 1979:31). I as- 
sume that Foucault is critiquing a presentist approach to history; urging that his- 
tory is to be abrogated when the past is to be understood only in present terms. 
Instead, Foucault argues for an interest in history 'if one means writing the his- 
tory of the present' (Foucault 1979:31); that is, history is significant when it leads 
to an understanding of why, how, and where we are in the present; what it signi- 

3 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

fies to be caught in present institutions, present ideas, and present conundrums. 
Taking Foucault's distinction of two types of history, one to be explained by pre- 
sent ideology and the other to explain present ideology, I argue that the creative 
writer who persists in writing, for example, from within an Asian diaspora lacks 
the tools and resources that are available only from a history of the present, that 
is, a history of America. Writing with another identity, from another past than the 
American past in which she is contingently juxtaposed, she cannot appeal to the 
history of that contingent American present, unless she gives up her diasporic his- 
tory. The two histories — Asian history and present American history — are radi- 
cally and politically differentiated, if not epistemologically incommensurable. 

Further, I argue, the flexible and comprehensive categories popularized to- 
day, categories such as transnational, multicultural, and binational, undermine the 
fixity of diasporic identity, for they instate notions of dynamic process, change, 
movement, multiplicity, and so forth that are missing in the freezing of identity as 
dispersed unitariness. I may go so fai" as to interrogate the very definition of 'di- 
aspora', if within this category we are going to include immigrants, nationals, and 
citizens whose very political subjectivities have been formed within a non- 
diasporic territory, and 1 wish to trouble the apparent ease with which the modi- 
fier 'diasporic' is now attached to broad swathes of creative writing by turning 
first to Japanese- American literature and thence, very briefly, to my own work. 

In John Okada's 1957 novel No-No Boy, the author-narrator opens the 
work with a preface that marks the troubled sign of the diasporic. The dropping 
of 'Japanese bombs' (Okada 1957:vii) on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 
what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called 'a day of infamy', also ruptured 
the uninterrogated boundary between diasporic Japanese and non-diasporic 
Japanese-American. As the preface describes it: 

The indignation, the hatred, the patriotism of the American people 
shifted into full-throated condemnation of the Japanese who blotted 
their land. The Japanese who were born Americans and remained Japa- 
nese because biology does not know the meaning of patriotism no 
longer worried about whether they were Japanese-Americans or 
American- Japanese. They were Japanese, just as were their Japanese 
mothers and Japanese fathers and Japanese brothers and sisters. The 
radio had said as much (Okada 1957:x-xi). 

In the space of a few paragraphs, Okada maps out the trajectory of a diasporic 
Japanese community in the United States in 1941, a trajectory made tragic by then 
increasing obliteration of emergent identities that fall outside the polarities of^ 
American and Japanese nations. The first subset of the Japanese-American com- 
munity to be removed is composed of 'real Japanese-Japanese', that is, Japanese 
nationals temporarily abroad on errands of diplomacy, business, and academia: 

First, the real Japanese-Japanese were rounded up. These real Japa- 
nese-Japanese were Japanese nationals who had the misfortune to be 

Shirley Lim: Not waving but drowning 3 7 

diplomats and business-men and visiting professors. They were put on 
a boat and sent back to Japan. 

The second, less clearly marked, are 'the alien Japanese', the non-citizens who, 
despite decades in the U.S., are "found to be too actively Japanese': 

Then the aUen Japanese, the ones who had been in America for two, 
three, or even four decades, were screened, and those found to be too 
actively Japanese were transported to the hinterlands and put in a 
camp (Okada 1957:xi). 

Finally, 1 1 2,000 Japanese- Americans, about two-thirds of whom are Ameri- 
can citizens by right of their birth in the country, are sent to remote internment 
camps in the West and Mid-West: 

By now, the snowball was big enough to wipe out the rising sun. The 
big rising sun would take a litde more time, but the little rising sun 
which was the Japanese in countless Japanese communities in the 
coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California presented no 
problem (Okada 1957:xi). 

The snowball serves as an effective metaphor for American war hysteria and hos- 
tility; white, cold, and 'big enough' to destroy the diasporic Japanese community, 
'the little rising sun', on the West Coast. 

Okada does not tell the reader — although, publishing the novel in 1957, he 
must have assumed that at least his Japanese-American readers knew — that the 
right of naturalization and a small immigration quota were granted to Japanese 
immigrants only in 1952 (under one clause of the McCarran-Walter Act); and that 
California's alien land laws were repealed only in 1956. The identity of 'the alien 
Japanese', the preface suggests, is open to subjective interpretation. Who screens 
this identity; and who has the power to decide if a subject is 'too actively Japa- 
nese'? What surveillance and policing mechanisms operate to arrive at such cru- 
cial distinctions and discriminations? 

The passage explicates the relentless course of such mechanisms: 

The security screen was sifted once more and, this time, the lesser lights 
were similarly plucked and deposited. . . . The whisking and transport- 
ing of Japanese and the construction of camps with barbed wire and 
ominous towers supporting fully armed soldiers in places like Idaho and 
Wyoming and Arizona, places which even Hollywood scorned for 
background, had become skills which demanded the utmost of Amer- 
ica's great organizing ability (Okada 1957:x). 

The Japanese-American subject enters this discourse unambiguously only in his 
capacity as 'an American soldier' (Okada 1957:x), but it is an identity that is inte- 
grally confused with a different natal identity: 'the Japanese-American' has 'folks 
[who] were still Japanese-Japanese, or else they would not be in a camp with 
barbed wire and watchtowers with soldiers holding rifles' (Okada 1957:x). 

3 8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Okada's preface is historically ironic, for the Japanese- Japanese identity of 
Issei parents of Nisei or American-born Japanese-Americans was constructed 
through the white-only naturalization laws of the U.S. That is, their alienness was 
a construction of a racist state-apparatus whose maintenance of identity bounda- 
ries served the political and economic purposes of a ruling group. Moreover, the 
passage is heavily sarcastic, for the phrase 'or else they would not be in a camp' 
repeats the canard of alien identity for the more than 1 12,000 who were interned 
in the camps. The internment of U.S. citizens, although sparked by war and race 
hysteria, could only have been carried out through exploiting the conceptual 
confusion inherent in the construction of a diasporic identity. 

No-No Boy focuses on American injustice in its incarceration of Japanese- 
Americans from 1942 to 1945; but more, it focuses on the internal struggles within 
this community between a diasporic Japanese and a Japanese-American identity. 
True, the struggles arose out of, and were exacerbated by, white American racism 
and by the racist pressures for Americans of Japanese descent to demonstrate 
their assimilation into U.S. citizenship; but the novel constructs the conflict, the 
bitterness, violence, and divisiveness brought about in the community by the 
struggle between the two different identities as partly self-generated and self- 

Arriving home to his Japanese-American community in Seattle after serving 
a prison sentence for refusing the draft during the war, Ichiro Yamada is trauma- 
tized by feelings of guilt and unworthiness. He has accepted the verdict that his 
refusal to be drafted is a sign of his lack of patriotism — that is, lack of love for 
America, and hence of 'Americanness'. He woiTies obsessively over his failure to 
prove himself an American: 

Why is it that I am unable to convince myself that 1 am no different 
from any other American? Why is it that, in my freedom, 1 feel more im- 
prisoned in the wrongness of myself and the thing 1 did than when I 
was in prison? Am 1 really never to know again what it is to be Ameri- 
can? . . . There is no retribution for one who is guilty of treason, and that 
is what I am guilty of (Okada 1957:82). 

The post-internment Japanese-American enclave is imagined solely through 
this conflictual paradigm; characters are screened as either 'too actively Japa- 
nese' or coming to another identity in which 'Japanese-ness' is assimilated or lost 
to an American identity-formation. 

The novel defamiliarizes the diasporic Japanese figure through the eyes of a 
viewer who is both an insider and outsider in this community. Moreover, it sites 
the crisis in Japanese-American identity-formation on a gendered masculine sub- 
jectivity. To become American is also successfully to achieve manhood through 
coeval bonds with other men. Ichiro, as protagonist, third-person point-of-view, 
and narrator, is the consciousness through which the reader screens the other 
characters for signs of identity as American or Japanese. Himself divided between 
American and Japanese, Ichiro constructs himself and is constructed by others as 


Shirley Lim: Not waving but drowning 3 9 

a traitorous, un-American coward. He despises his initial act of refusal of Ameri- 
can-identity-formation, the draft into the U.S. mihtary, and he sets up Kenji, the 
Japanese-American veteran, wounded in the war, whose gangrenous leg con- 
demns him to a lingering death in peacetime, as the counter-hero to his own narra- 
tive of failure to qualify as an American. Kenji's voluntary act of military service 
confirms and categorizes his otherwise unstable confused identity as American 
and as male: 

It was because he was Japanese that the son had come to his Japanese 
father and simply state that he had decided to volunteer for the army 
instead of being able to wait until such time as the army called him. It 
was because he was Japanese and, at the same time, had to prove to the 
world that he was not Japanese that the turmoil was in his soul and 
urged him to enlist. There was confusion, but underneath it, a convic- 
tion that he loved America and would fight and die for it because he 
did not wish to live anyplace else (Okada 1957:121). 

The diasporic Japanese identity has to be disavowed in order for the avowal 
of an American soldier-citizen to emerge. That moment of crisis in U.S. history en- 
gages the issue of national subject-formation in a crass duaUsm that today — in a 
moment of peacetime between Japan and the U.S. — ■ would be viewed as theo- 
retically inadequate. 

Okada, through the hyper-sensitized consciousness of a subject who plays 
and replays the dilemma of diasporic Japanese versus U.S. national identity forma- 
tion, displays little sympathy for the diasporic imagination. Ichiro instead searches 
for his place in America in the everyday practices of American life: 

In time, he thought, in time there will again be a place for me. I will buy 
a home and love my family and I will walk down the street holding my 
son's hand and people will stop and talk with us about the weather 
and the ball games and the elections (Okada 1957:52) . 

Home, family, son, weather, ball games, elections. These are the icons of American 
space - — beginning with family but culminating in communal, social and institu- 
tional practices, with the right to vote in elections as the chief identity marker of 
the American national. 

This novel has usually been read as an indictment of American racism to- 
ward those of non-European origins, and some passages strongly suggest that it 
is the context of white racism that sets the frame for Ichiro's agonistic return to 
his community. In pondering the symbol of the slide rule, a signifier for the level- 
ing power of technological learning in the U.S., Ichiro recalls his younger days as 
an engineering student. But he also recognizes that the power symbolized by 
'the slide rule ... which hung from his belt like the sword of learning' (Okada 
1957:53) was inadequate in the face of American anti-Japanese war hysteria, for 
'being American is a terribly incomplete thing if one's face is not white and one's 
parents are Japanese of the country Japan which attacked America. It is like be- 

40 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

ing pulled asunder by a whirling tornado and one does not think of a slide rule 
although that may be the thing which will save one' (Okada 1957:54). 

The slide rule, imaged as the phallic 'white sword', is later re-figured as the 
emblematic white father in the character of Mr. Carrick, who offers Ichiro a posi- 
tion in his company despite Ichiro's status as an ex-prisoner jailed for refusing the 
draft. In contrast to this promise of redemption through the forgiving white 
American father, Ichiro's mother is associated with the destructive energy of the 
tornado and viewed as the maternal force that pulls his fragile American identity 
asunder. Okada imagines Ma as a conventional type of diasporic character: 'a 
Japanese who breathed the air of America and yet had never lifted a foot from the 
land that was Japan' (Okada 1957:1 1). From the moment of Ichiro's reunion with 
Ma, the fiction makes it clear that Ma is what Ichiro's trouble is: 'the way he felt, 
stripped of dignity, respect, purpose, honor, all the things which added up to 
schooling and marriage and family and work and happiness. [His fate] was to 
please her' (Okada 1957:12). Ichiro views his mother as 'the rock ... determined, 
fanatical ... until there is nothing left to call one's self, and he lays the responsi- 
bility for his refusal to serve on her: 'It was she who opened my mouth and made 
my lips move to sound the words which got me two years in prison" (Okada 

According to the anthropologist Sylvia Yanagisako, traditional Issei society 
attempted to replicate the separate spheres of gender roles that had been held up 
as the model for social organization in Meiji Japan (Yanagisako 1985:29). In the 
division of the domestic from the public or political life, the name for the wife is 
uchi no koto, that is, 'inside of things'. Ichiro, as the fu"st son, is also the chorion, 
the one who bears the responsibility for filial duty to his parents. The novel, how- 
ever, consistently represents the mother as transgressing all the social roles of the 
patriarchal-ruled woman. An angular and breastless female (see Okada 1957:10, 
20), she works in the store, walks for miles to shop for cheaper bread, and domi- 
nates her husband and sons. In contrast. Pa is round, soft, giggly, and passive; he 
stays indoors and cooks for Ichiro (Okada 1957:6-7, 1 15-6). 

More significant than this gender role reversal, in Ma's diasporic vision, the 
place of origin, Japan, is the central teleological referent. Although the U.S. has 
won the Pacific War, she continues to believe that Ichiro's future lies in a victori- 
ous Japan, and urges him to go back to school because then 'your opportunities 
in Japan will be unlimited' (Okada 1957:13). Ma's conviction that '[t]he boat is 
coming and we must be ready' (Okada 1957:13) is the faith of the diasporic sub- 
ject whose gaze toward the return is forward backward. In Ma's case, this dias- 
poric gaze is phantasmagoric, delusional, psychogenic, and characteristic of the 
imagination associated with the diasporic subject: 'The day of glory is at hand ... 
What we have done, we have done only as Japanese ... Hold your heads high 
and make ready for the journey, for the ships are coming' (Okada 1957:14). 

Ma is crazy precisely because her imagination is diasporic, despite the mate- 
rial history in which she is embedded. The history of her present is the history of 


Shirley Lim: Not WAVING BUT DROWNING 41 

U.S. resettlement, of American victoriousness, and Japanese marginality, but the 
diasporic imagination lives in the history of another past, of Japanese settlement, 
ascendancy, and centrality. For Ichiro, his childhood lay in diaspora formation: 'it 
was all right then to be Japanese ... even if we lived in America' (Okada 
1957:15). His legal status as an American-born citizen, however, does not confer 
on him the metaphysical condition of American-ness: 'it is not enough to be only 
half an American and know that it is an empty half (Okada 1957:16). In his di- 
vided struggle between a Japanese identity, which his mother has shaped for him 
from birth, and a social identity as American, which is achieved through living and 
acculturation in America, Ichiro's dilemma illustrates the impossibiUty of second- 
generation diasporic imagination. In the novel's narrative of American identity 
formation, American-ness is a sacred quality to be achieved teleologically, 
through a sacrification of America as the idealized subject. In Kenji's father, Mr. 
Kanno, the novel imagines the successful transformation of the diasporic subject 
into the American national: 

He had long forgotten when it was that he had discarded the notion of 
a return to Japan but remembered only that it is was [sic] the time when 
this country which he had no intention of loving had suddenly begun 
to become a part of him because it was a part of his children and he saw 
and felt in their speech and joys and sorrows and hopes that he was a 
part of them. And in the dying of the foolish dreams which he had 
brought to America, the richness of the life that was possible in this for- 
eign country destroyed the longing for a past that really must not have 
been as precious as he imagined or else he would surely not have left it 
(Okada 1957:123). 

The error in the inclusion of both present and past tense in the passage ('it is was 
the time') underlines the tentative and contingent nature of this project of sub- 
ject-transformation. Unlike Ma's intransigent and essentialist-nationalist subjec- 
tivity, Kenji's father displays the flexible and de-essentialized structure of Ameri- 
can citizenship in a more pluralistic ideology of the nation. Kenji's heroic military 
service is endowed by the sacrifice of an original Japanese identity, while Ichiro's 
refusal of the draft has branded him as 'no-no boy', a failed male and citizen, re- 
leased from prison and shunned both by white America and by other Japanese- 
American men who had claimed their American identity through miUtary service. 

Approach to diasporic identities 

Floya Anthias 1998 argues that the approach to diasporic identity overlaps with 
that of ethnic identity in that both depend on a notion of deterritorialized ethnic- 
ity with the primordial bonds of homeland as a central referent. As an emergent 
'American' subject, Ichiro finds Ma's insistence on his diasporic Japanese iden- 
tity a hateful obscenity and lunacy. But Ma sees Ichiro's rejection as endanger- 
ing the authenticity of the diasporic Japanese self which she is struggling to pre- 
serve. Their two struggles are not along the same plane. One can see in Ma a nar- 

4 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

cissistic quest to affirm the superiority of an original national self. Ma exhibits the 
narcissism of a 'homelander' nationalist. Her reified Japanese nationalism engulfs 
her husband and sons, who are viewed as extensions of her national self. Their 
refusal in this construction finally brings her to the inevitable acknowledgment of 
the delusionary in her diasporic identity, and hence to her psychological break- 
down resulting in her suicide when she drowns herself in the bathroom. 

Ichiro's struggle is two-fold. Asian-American critics usually construe the 
narrative as voicing an oppositional struggle against racism in America, whether 
enacted by whites, blacks, Chinese or Japanese-Americans. But on the narrative 
level it foregrounds chiefly a narcissistic struggle for the survival of an American 
self against the claims of a diasporic superior Japanese identity and culture, fig- 
ured in Ma's character. If we read the position of a diasporic Japanese subject in 
the U.S. in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s as doubly problematic, as in-between Japanese 
and U.S. imperialisms, both Ma's and Ichiro's psychological dilemmas can be said 
'to articulate the problems of narcissistic value-production within — rather than 
in negligence of — the larger context of cultural imperialism', as Rey Chow 1993 
notes of diasporic Chinese intellectuals in the West. To Ma, Ichiro's status as her 
son confers on him a central Japaneseness. When she brings him to visit the Ku- 
masaka family, it is in order to contrast the Kumasaka's loss of their son Bobbie, 
an American soldier killed by German fire, with Ichiro, the Japanese son, released 
from an American prison. Ma says to Mrs. Kumasaka, "If he [Ichiro] had given his 
life for Japan, I could not be prouder" (Okada 1957:27), setting into contrast her 
diasporic Japanese nationalism against the Kumasakas' acculturated immigrant 
Americanness. As if bonded by Bobbie's sacrifice to America, Mr. Kumasaka tells 
Ichiro that he and his wife, ' finally decided that America is not so bad. We like it 
here' (Okada 1957:27). 

Ichiro initially sees his mother's resistance to American acculturation as a 
stubborn strength, but his father understands it as a 'sickness' (Okada 1957:37). 
Diasporic idenUty, essentialized and paralyzed in an Imaginary located in a past 
that forms an absent present, is an abstraction that is removed further and further 
from the material world of the real. The focus on an authentic origin threatens the 
subject at the place of arrival; and the mystique of pure origin evacuates the mys- 
terious desfined present, robbing the subject of agency and self. It is Ichiro the 
son who passes this judgment on Ma: 

Dead ... all dead. For me, you have been dead a long time, as long as I 
can remember. You . . . tried to make us conform to a mold which never 
existed for us, because we never knew of it, were never alive for us in 
the way that other sons and daughters know and feel and see their 
parents. But you have made so many mistakes. It was a mistake to have 
ever left Japan. It was a mistake to leave Japan and to come to America 
and to have two sons and it was a mistake to think that you could keep 
us completely Japanese in a country such as America (Okada 1957: 

Shirley Lim: Not waving but drowning 43 

The repeated words and syntax, 'mistake ... it was a mistake', hammers the lesson 
home. Ichiro instructs the mother's spirit. 'Go back quickly. Go to the Japan that 
you so long remembered and loved' (Okada 1957:186). But for the American- 
born son, reconciliation between a diasporic origin and an American place is inv 
possible: 'Had you lived another ten years or even twenty ... my hatred for you 
would have grown' (Okada 1957:187). For the Yamada father and son, the dias- 
I poric maternal figure, whose message is not of waving but drowning, is a hateful 
spirit, to be exorcised. 

Released from the marriage, the father is able to emerge into a communal 
space: 'drunk with the renewal of countless friendships ... Women were con- 
stantly hovering over the stove, cooking meals for the bereaved' (Okada 
1957:192). For Pa, the fantasy of Japan as homeland dissipates, and he can begin 
to 'live in the real world .... live naturally' (Okada 1957:212). But the death of 
the diasporic mother does not result in any satisfactory narrative resolution for 
the son. When he goes with Emi to dance at a roadhouse the night after the fu- 
neral, and when he looks for work at the "Christian Rehabihtation Center' the 
next day, Ichiro is attempting to recover a normative notion of a real and natural 
world. Freddie, however, serves here as Ichiro's double, as a figure of male trou- 
ble. The Nisei males' history of internment and military service, the concluding 
chapter suggests, makes Americans out of diasporic Japanese, but it makes these 
identities through hatred, self-hatred, pain, and violence. Like Ichiro at the begin- 
ning of the novel before Kenji has helped him come to terms with his confused 
American identity, Freddie is viewed as hating 'the complex jungle of unreason- 
ing that had twisted a life-giving yes into an empty no, blindly [seeking] relief in 
total, hateful rejection of self and family and society' (Okada 1957:241-2). The 
'yes' to the draft is the affirmative to a virile masculinity; the 'no' places both 
masculinity and American identity in crisis. The fight between Bull and Freddie 
and Freddie's violent death are the cathartic agents to Ichiro's development. His 
tenderness is reserved not for Ma or Emi but for Bull, the Nisei veteran; the male 
diasporic subject resolves his crisis of American manhood through homosocial 
bonding rather than through maternal birthing: 

Ichiro put a hand on Bull's shoulder, sharing the empty sorrow in the 
hulking body, feeling the terrible loneliness ... He gave the shoulder a 
tender squeeze, patted the head once tenderly (Okada 1957:250). 

Four decades later, Rey Chow 1993, in Writing Diaspora, offers a different 
^ interpretation of the diasporic Chinese intellectual. Loosening the reified space of 
P diasporic origin and teasing apart the elements that had structured diasporic iden- 
tity in a polarized duality of origin/destination. Chow argues 

'being Chinese' as a cultural identity ... can no longer be confined to 
national boundaries alone ... the Chinese population in Diaspora 
whose claims to cultural identity ai'e rooted in 'being Chinese' are the 
ones who must consolidate the groundwork for future change. Future 
change as such is, of course, imaginary. Its possibility is that of provid- 

4 4 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

ing an alternative to what is currently being severely dismantled and 
demolished (Chow 1993:92). 

Chow cautions that 'the clinging to an unquestioned ideal of being "Chi- 
nese", together with its hierarchized ways of thinking about the rest of the world, 
ought to be the first to be removed' (Chow 1993:93). That is, there is no place for 
a formation like Ma's national-Japanese-in-diaspora in postmodern diaspora iden- 
tity. Rather, Chow places her hope precisely in the recognition that: 

The imposed exile from China, to which many now cannot return, ef- 
fects a discontinuity, a rupture, which may in due course give rise to the 
emergence of a critical mass. This critical mass will address 'China' 
without the privilege of the land. The denial of the illusion of one's ex- 
istence on 'Chinese soil' may in due course force Chinese intellectuals 
to use the rhetoric of patriotism and nationalism differently . . . For Chi- 
nese intellectuals to deal with contemporary Chinese history as the 
specific constitution of a people's democratic struggle, it will become 
increasingly necessary to move outside 'Chinese' territory, geographi- 
cal and cultural ... It is at the same time a self-conscious moving into 
the global space in which discursive plurahty inevitably modifies and 
defines cultural identity rather than the other way around (Chow 

In place of Ma, crazed by the disconnection in her illusion of Japanese identity on 
American territory. Chow constructs an identity of self-reflexive unsentimental 
post-Tienanmen-Square Chinese diaspora intellectuals whose occupation of 
'global space' turns them into 'a privileged class vis-a-vis the women in China' 
(Chow 1993:109). 

The postmodern intellectual class of late twentieth-century Asian diaspora 
is, of course, radically different from the early twentieth-century Asian diaspora 
working class, and the creative imaginations expressed in their figures are inevi- 
tably set apart. However, if we agree with Chow that the 'diasporic postcolonial 
space' that we academics speak from today is 'neither the space of the native in- 
tellectual protesting against the intrusive presence of foreign imperialists in the 
indigenous territory nor the space of the postcolonial critic working against the 
lasting effects of cultural domination in the home country' (Chow 1993:171), 
then what would we foreground as the theoretical unity for such a diasporic 
identity? I contend that the diasporic identity that we postcolonial critics and 
writers play with resembles more and more the dead space of illusionary identity 
that Okada had imagined in the denatured, degendered figure of the mad mother 
whose diasporic vision finally drowns her. 


Yes, there are practices for the creative writer in diaspora. My presentation so far 
has sought to suggest that some kinds of creativity in diaspora share the desper- 
ate or isolated or already historically irrelevant qualities of subjects entering their 


Shirley Lim: Not waving but drowning 45 

deaths. What may emerge from the death of the diasporic subject is the question 
that now seizes my imagination. Two poems, both grounded in forms of dying, in 
my recently pubUshed collection of poems. What the Fortune Teller Didn 't Say, 
(Lim 1998) gesture toward the shapes of backward/diaspora-generation/Asian 
and forward/second-generation/American identity-formations that I have been 
mapping in this essay. The first, which opens the collection, looks back toward 
the mother as the sign of Asian origin; the .second, in the last section of the collec- 
tion, looks to the son as the sign of American destination. 

1. What the fortune teller didn't say (Lim 1998:3-4) 

When the old man and his crow 
picked the long folded parchment 
to tell my fortune at five, 
they never told about leaving, 
the burning tarmac and giant wheels. 
Or arriving — why immigrants 
fear the malice of citizens 
and dull shutterings of those 
who hate you whatever you do. 

My mother did not grip my hand 
more possessively. 
Did I cry and was it corn 
ice-cream she fed me because 
the bird foretold a husband? 
Wedded to unhappiness, 
she knew I would make it, 
meaning money, a Mercedes, 
and men. She saw them shining 

in the tropical mildew 

that greened the corner alley 

where the blind man and his 

molting crow squatted 

promising my five-year-old hand 

this future. Of large faith 

she thrust a practical note 

into the bamboo container, 

a shiny brown cylinder 

I wanted for myself, for 

a cage for field crickets. 

With this fortune my mother bought, 
only the husband is present, 
white as a peeled root, furry 
with good intentions, his big nose 
smelling a scam. Sometimes, 
living with him, like that 
black silent crow I shake 
the cylinder of memory 

4 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

and tell my fortune all over again. 
My mother returns, bearing 
the bamboo that we will fill 
with green singing crickets. 

2. Learning to love America (Lim 1998:74) 

because it has no pure products j 

because the Pacific Ocean sweeps along the coastline " 

because the water of the ocean is cold 
and because land is better than ocean. 

because I say we rather than they 

because I live in California 

I have eaten fresh artichokes 

and jacarandas bloom in April and May 

because my senses have caught up with my body 
my breath with the air it swallows 
my hunger with my mouth 

because I walk barefoot in my house 

because I have nursed my son at my breast 

because he is a strong American boy 

because I have seen his eyes redden when he is asked who he is 

because he answers I don't know 

because to have a son is to have a country 

because my son will bury me here 

because countries are in our blood and we bleed them 

because it is late and too late to change my mind 
because it is time. 


Althusser, Louis. 1971. Ideology and ideological apparatuses. Lenin and Phi- 
losophy: Notes Towards an Investigation. Translated by Ben Brewster, 
123-71. London: New Left Books. 

Anderson. Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the 
Origins and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso. 

Anthias, Floya. 1998. Evaluating 'diaspora': beyond ethnicity. Sociology 32:3 
(August). 557-81. M 

Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural econ- ^ 
omy. Public Culture 2:2.1-24. 

Bloom, Harold (ed.). 1997. Introduction. Asian American Women Writers. Phila- 
delphia: Chelsea. 

Chan, Sucheng. 1991. Asian-Americans: An Interpretive History. Boston: 

Shirley Lim: Not waving but drowning 47 

Chin, Frank, et al,. eds. 1983. An introduction to Chinese- and Japanese- American 
literature. Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers xxi-xlviii. 
1974. Washington, D.C.; Howard University Press. 

Chow, Rey. 1993. Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary 
Cultural Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Clifford, James. 1994. Diasporas. Cultural Anthropology 9:3.302-39. 

deCerteau, Michael. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven 
F. Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt. 1957. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: The New 
American Library, Inc., 1969. 

Featherstone, Mike. 1990. Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization, and 
Modernity. London: Sage. 

Foucault, Michel. 1979. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage Books. 

GiDDENS, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford 
University Press. 

Lim, Shirley Geok-hn. 1998. What the Fortune Teller Didn't Say. Albuquerque, 
Arizona: West End Press. 

. 1996. Among the White Moon Faces. New York: Feminist Press. 

MiYOSHi, Masao. 1993. A borderless world? From colonialism to transnationaHsm 
and the decline of the nation-states. Critical Inquiry 19:4.726-52. 

Okada, John. 1957. No-No Boy. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976. 

Radway, Janice. 1988. Reception study: Ethnography and the problems of dis- 
persed audiences and nomadic subjects. Cultural Studies 2:3.359-76. 

Rouse, Roger. 1995. Questions of identity: Personhood and collectivity in trans- 
national migration to the United States. Critique of Anthropology 15:4.351- 

Simpson, Janice C. 1991. Fresh voices above the noisy din. Time 137:22. (June 3). 

Smith, Stevie. 1988. New Selected Poems. New York: New Directions Books. 

Takaki, Ronald. 1989. Strangers From a Different Shore. Boston: Little, Brown 
& Company. 

Weglyn, Michi. 1976. Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concen- 
tration Camps. New York: Morrow. 

Yanagisako, Sylvia Junko. 1985. Transforming the Past: Tradition and Kinship 
Among Japanese- Americans. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 









Salikoko S. Mufwene 

Is there an Ebonics language variety that can be recog- 
nized anywhere in the Anglophone Black diaspora? To what 
extent are the English varieties that developed out of the con- 
tacts of the English and African populations in Africa and in 
the New World related? How are they related? What is the 
role of substrate influence in shaping the structural pecuHari- 
ties of English in the Black diaspora? Why are its different 
new varieties not structurally identical? How does the role of 
substrate influence in language compare with that of sub- 
strate influence in music? What light does the comparison 
shed on the evolution of English in Africa and the New 

I argue in this chapter that cross-territorial variation in the 
peculiarities of both English and music in the Black diaspora 
underscores the determinative role of local ecology in shaping 
new systems. In the case of language, that ecology includes 
the particular form of the lexifier that the Africans were ex- 
posed to and targeted, and the particular colonial set-ups that 
brought English and the African languages into contact. The 
ecologies were not identical from one setting to another, 
hence the cross-territorial variation among the new varieties 
that developed. The new varieties are unified more by the 
kinds of English that lexified them, by the similarities of the 
colonial experiences that produced them, and by the racial 
identity of their speakers than by structural features peculiar 
to them all. 


Among the best-known consequences of contact between the English and the 
Africans in both Africa and the New World is the development of new English 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

5 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

varieties whose structural and pragmatic systems are assumed to have been influ- 
enced by African languages. The new varieties fall into four categories: 

1) PIDGINS, typically associated with West Africa, the best known of 
which are Nigerian Pidgin English, Cameroon Pidgin English, and Kru 
Pidgin English (in Liberia); 

2) CREOLES, typically associated with the Caribbean (e.g., Jamaican and 
Guyanese Creoles), but also identified in North America (Gullah) and in 
Africa (Krio); 

3) African-American vernacular English (AAVE) and its offshoots 
in Nova Scotia, in Samana, and in Liberia (Liberian Settler English); and 

4) INDIGENIZED (nattvized) ENGLISHES, associated with those who have 
been schooled in English in all former British colonies in Africa (e.g., 
Nigerian or West African English, Kenyan or East African English, 
South African Black English). 

I justify lumping all these categories together as Englishes in Mufwene 1997a by 
arguing that pidgins and Creoles have been disfranchised from the lot of English 
dialects for reasons that are not consistent with the established practice in genetic 
Unguistics, namely to posit genetic ties based primarily on the sources of lexical 
materials. The vocabularies of these new language varieties happen to originate 
overwhelmingly in English, especially in the case of Creoles, for socio-historical 
reasons highlighted below. The criteria behind the four categorial distinctions are 
elusive (Mufwene 1994, 1997a). Nonetheless, they reflect standard practice in the 
scholarly literature, most of which has been written exclusively on one category 
or another — except for pidgins and Creoles, which are typically discussed to- 

There has also been a trend to treat all these new varieties as a continuum of 
Black speech of some sort, as they are all by-products of the contact of English 
with sub-Saharan African languages. For instance, Williams 1975 and Smith 1998 
treat them as continuations of African communicative traditions. I focus below on 
this view, in an attempt to articulate more adequately the nature of diversity 
among them. They are unified more by their common lexifier, by the similarities of 
their colonial experiences, and by the racial identity of their speakers than by 
structural features peculiar to them. 

A diverse diaspora 

If we assume for the sake of this discussion that administrative colonization of Af- 
rica did not start till after the Berlin Treaty in 1885, it is accurate to speculate that 
the pidgin varieties developed in pre-colonial days — being based on sporadic 
trade or business contacts which the English had with the Black populations — 
on the West African coast, and that they are, therefore, the oldest English varieties 
in Africa. Creoles are more typical of the New World, associated with those set- 
tings that Chaudenson 1979 identifies as "exogenous,' i. e., those in which both 

Salikoko S. Mufwene: English in the Black diaspora 5 3 

the ruling and the subordinate populations were foreign to the colony. Both Cre- 
oles and pidgins also share the peculiarity of not being associated with the school 
system. Both were lexified by nonstandard English varieties spoken by sailors, 
traders, and especially indentured servants (native and nonnative speakers) — 
the Europeans that the African traders or slaves interacted with, sporadically in 
the case of pidgins, but fairly regulaily in the case of Creoles, particularly during 
the founding periods of the New World colonies (see Mufwene 1996). 

AAVE has a similar genetic explanation, except that it has its roots on the 
tobacco plantations of the Chesapeake Bay (USA) and the cotton plantations of 
the American Southeast, where people of African descent were seldom the major- 
ity and where racial segregation was institutionalized much later than in Africa, in 
the late 19th century, after about two centuries of regular and intimate, though 
discriminatory, contacts with English speakers of European descent (Mufwene 
1999). Extensive similarities between AAVE and White Southern English (see, 
e.g., Bailey & Cukor-Avila 2001) are evidence of this peculiar history, which has 
encouraged a greater categorical distinction between it and Gullah (a by-product 
of population and language contact in rice fields) than may be justified on struc- 
tural (phonological, morphosyntactic, semantic), and pragmatic grounds (Muf- 
wene 2001). Otherwise, AAVE shares with Creoles the peculiarity of having de- 
veloped in exogenous settings from the contacts of nonstandard English ver- 
naculars with African languages. 

However, Creoles have typically developed in settings in which descendants 
of Africans have been the majority, which has encouraged creoUsts to include 
Gullah in the Creole category, although it is in some structural respects closer to 
AAVE and other North American varieties of English than Jamaican and Guy- 
anese Creoles are (Alleyne 1980). To be sure, there ai'e varieties such as Saramac- 
can and Sranan which have developed in settings where regular contact with the 
English lexifier was severed early — within 15 years of the foundation of the Su- 
rinam colony, in this case — and which aie hardly intelligible to speakers of not 
only non-creole Englishes but also of other creole Englishes. They are said to be 
'radical' Creoles, either because they have putatively been the most influenced by 
the African substrate languages formerly spoken by those who developed them 
(Alleyne 1980), or because they supposedly developed by processes that are the 
most drastically different from those assumed in historical linguistics: creations by 
children (Bickerton 1984). For more extensive discussions of related issues, see 
Mufwene ( 1996, 1997a, 1998). 

Because of the settings of their developments, indigenized Englishes share 
with their pidgin counterparts the peculiarity of being endogenous, having de- 
veloped in the home countries of their speakers. However, they are by-products 
of Africans" exposure to scholastic English, both as a subject and as a medium of 
instruction. Functioning also as markers of social class identity, they are conse- 
quences of the appropriation of scholastic English by the educated as a lingua 
franca, less for communication with the former British colonists and other expatri- 

5 4 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

ates than for communication among themselves. Such ethnographic conditions 
led these new varieties to become autonomous, developing their own local norms 
and normalizing as (somewhat) independent from the British metropolitan norms. 
Consistent with some accounts in, for instance. Pride 1982 and Kachru 1992, they 
reflect both substrate influence and adaptations of the foimer colonial language 
to local cultural realities and communication needs, as may also be observed in 

Black music diaspora: Why diversity matters 

Parallels to the differing by-products of language contact outlined above can be 
observed in some other outcomes of Euro-African culture contacts. For instance, 
the mixing of European technology with African rhythms has definitely not 
yielded the same outcomes everywhere. High Life is a West African phenomenon. 
Reggae is a Jamaican invention, and Calypso developed in Trinidad first. Al- 
though these distinctions are geographically-based, the names serve primarily to 
differentiate distinctive music styles. As much as they may be said to be related by 
some African element, they vary from each other. A musician must recognize, for 
instance, that each style operates on a different beat, just as a dancer knows that 
different steps and body moves are required for each one. One might even sus- 
pect influence from the universe of Franco- African culture in the case of Trinidad, 
where input from Latin cultures in its history justifies the significance of the Car- 
nival tradition, which has been adopted only as imitation on other Anglophone 
Caribbean islands. Support for this guess can be adduced from the total absence 
of the Carnival tradition in Anglophone North America, as opposed to Louisiana. 

In more or less the same vein, the Blues and Spirituals in North America have 
their roots on the plantations. Jazz emerged in cities like New Orleans (being more 
or less the counterpart of Classical Music), and varieties of Rhythm and Blues are 
inner-city phenomena. In a way, one may say that High Life is Anglophone West- 
African, associated linguistically with West African pidgins; Reggae and Calypso 
are Anglophone Caribbean, associated with Caribbean English Creoles; and the 
Blues, Jazz, the Spirituals, and Soul Music are all North American phenomena, as- 
sociated with AAVE and Gullah. And despite the recognition of Rhythm and 
Blues influence in both Jamaican Reggae and Louisiana Zydeco, one may also 
say that the latter carries influence from Francophone colonial folk music. 

All in all, one may say that cultural phenomena in the Black diaspora have 
resulted through interesting selection processes from encounters between diverse 
cultures. Different selections in different cultural ecologies have yielded different 
musics, undoubtedly with African elements in them, but they leave us with the 
following questions: What is the African element? Is it the same one from one cul- 
mral setting to another or from one music style to another? If it is the same, does it 
have a uniform manifestation? Or could it be that different African elements have 
been retained in these different music styles, subject to the settings of their devel- 

Saukoko S. Mufwene: English in the Black diaspora 5 5 

Take, for instance, the Spirituals, which are associated with church services. 
They are predominantly vocal, and one may say that their basic musical accompa- 
niments are clapping and the rhythmic and synchronized ground tapping with 
the singers' feet. These African elements, which exert special rhythmic constraints 
on the new music style, are undeniable; but equally incontrovertible are the con- 
straints imposed by the church tradition in terms of what lyrics may be sung in 
their contexts. On the other hand, the Blues, which are more secular, are more 
permissive in their lyrics. The harmonica, a non- African instrument which plays a 
central role in this style, certainly imposes its own constraints on the kinds of 
melodies that can be produced. In yet a different way. Jazz is predominantly in- 
strumental, based on European string and brass instruments. The African contri- 
bution to it was very much constrained by the kinds of music that these particular 
instruments allow. One may safely conclude that these cultural phenomena of the 
Black diaspora were all invented in specific ecologies, addressing specific needs, 
and that all these ecological conditions shaped their respective morphologies. 

On the unity of English(es) in ttie Black diaspora 

It should be intellectually rewarding to investigate whether selection constraints 
similar to the domain of music applied to language development in the Black di- 
aspora. The question for this chapter is whether definitions such as the following, 
proposed for Ebonics by Williams (1975:vi), are valid: 

the linguistic and paralinguistic features which on a concentric contin- 
uum represents the communicative competence of the West African, 
Caribbean, and the United States slave descendant of African origin. It 
includes the various idioms, patois, argots, ideolects [sic], and social 
dialects of black people especially those who have been forced to 
adapt to colonial circumstances. Ebonics derives its form from ebony 
(black) and phonics (sound, the study of sound) and refers to the study 
of the language of black people in all its cultural uniqueness. 

Williams proposes a notion of 'Ebonics' that is more inclusive than its present as- 
sociation with African- American English, lumping together all English varieties of 
the Black diaspora. He does not suggest that all of them are mutually intelligible 
— and indeed they need not be, but he claims that they all share "linguistic and 
paralinguistic features.' 

As in the case of music styles, one may probably invoke a number of fea- 
tures that can be attributed to African influence, though most of this influence 
may amount to the role played by African languages in favoring one of the vari- 
ants available already in colonial or metropolitan varieties of English themselves 
(for discussion, see Mufwene 1993). There are certainly a number of phonological 
features that can be invoked to argue that English varieties of the Black diaspora 
are different from other English varieties. For instance, they are generally non- 
rhotic, in most of them the phonemes /a/ and /ae/, /t/ and /9/, and /d/ and /3/ have 
merged, respectively, into /a/, /t/, and /d/. The vast majority of them do not have a 

5 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

schwa. In all these respects, AAVE is exceptional and Gullah comes close to it, as 
it has a schwa and does not have a pronounced merger of /a/ and /ae/. As a matter 
of fact, despite the tradition that lumps Gullah structurally with Caribbean Creoles, 
pronunciations such as /ayl/ for oil, /plie / for play, /gwot/ for goal, /towe/ for 
tower, and /abawt/ for about are not as common in Gullah as in Caribbean Creole 
Englishes. Even representations of words like very as /Beri/ are more stereotypical 
than the facts can support as valid analyses (see Mufwene 1986). 

Prosodically, English varieties of the Black diaspora are quite different from 
each other. Overall, one can say that a Black Caribbean speaker of English 
sounds more like a White Caribbean than like an African American in any register 
— with the exception of basilectal Gullah speakers, who are often misidentified 
by other African Americans as Bahamians. Speakers of African varieties of Eng- 
lish also sound different from those of diaspora varieties, and their prosodic fea- 
tures often make them unintelligible to AAVE speakers. 

Questions of mutual intelhgibility aside, one must wonder what the meaning 
of Ebonics as defined by Williams 1975 is. There are undoubtedly some morpho- 
syntactic similarities among Englishes of the Black diaspora — for instance, the 
fact that dem is used as a nominal plural marker in pidgins, Creoles, and AAVE, as 
in dem boys. But one must also note that this is not a feature of the indigenized 
Black varieties. Also, in Jamaican Creole, the combination for plural only is di + 
Noun -I- dem, whereas dem + Noun has the meaning 'those' + Noun. On the 
other hand, in AAVE the combination dem + Noun has the same meaning as in 
white nonstandard vernaculars in North America. Yet, AAVE is closer to Creoles 
and pidgins in its associative plural, as in John an' dem 'John and his associates'. 

We may also consider a verbal feature such as preverbal bin/been in AAVE, 
Creoles, and pidgins. In the respects that are relevant to this essay, morphosyntac- 
tic use of been/bin/ben without an auxiliary have is not typical of indigenized 
Englishes. Also, while it is used as an anterior marker in Creoles and pidgins, as 
in mi bin kom 'I came' or 'I had come', it is rarely used with this grammatical 
meaning in AAVE. In this vernacular, it functions as regular perfect marker, as in 
/ bin home all morning. This usage is as in other nonstandard English vernacu- 
lars. In AAVE. bin is also used as a remote phase marker to denote a state of af- 
fairs that, subjectively, started a long time ago, as / bin six/knowing you 'I have 
been six [for quite a while now]' and 'I have known you [for a long time]'. Win- 
ford 1993 argues that such uses are attested in mesolectal Caribbean Enghsh, but 
not in their basilects. 

Something similar may be observed about the consuetudinal aspect marker 
be, which AAVE and Gullah share with Irish English, as in Malcolm be sick/jivin ' 
whenever I see him, with be sick/jivin ' denoting repeated unbounded states 
rather than simple repetitions of states or events. This marker, which occurs per- 
haps also in Bajan (the English variety of Barbados) is different from the simple 
habitual marker [daz] in Gullah ([doz] in Guyanese Creole), as in how you duhz 
cook fish? 'how do you cook fish?'. These features are not universally shared by 

Salikoko S. Mufwene: English in the Black diaspora 5 7 

English varieties in the Black diaspora. In particular, the African varieties do not 
have them, nor does Jamaican Creole. 

I could go on illustrating such cross-variety variation with more grammatical 
features and local lexical semantic peculiarities to show that the alleged similari- 
ties among Englishes of the Black diaspora are partially real, but partly disputable. 
They are disputable because it is probably difficult to find peculiarities which 
they share universally which are not phonological and non-prosodic, more spe- 
cifically segmental. At the grammatical level, the similarities may obtain more 
within specific subcategories of language varieties. For instance, Creoles may 
share more features among themselves than they do with indigenized Englishes, 
and varieties lexified by nonstandard vernaculars probably share more features 
among themselves than they do as (sub)groups with varieties lexified by scholas- 
tic varieties. Thus, pidgins and Creoles share quite a few grammatical features, 
such as the omission of the copula in some grammatical environments, usage of de 
as a locative verb, of done as in im don gon 'he has left (already)' as perfect 
marker, and of bin as an anterior marker. 

However, Englishes of the Black diaspora also differ among themselves, in 
the same ways that music styles such as Reggae and North American soul music 
differ despite the common influence of Rhythm and Blues on them. Thus, Jamai- 
can Creole distinguishes between the locative verb de and the equative copula a, 
while Gullah, Guyanese Creole, and West African pidgins use only one phonetic 
variant of de ([de], [di], or [da]) in both functions. And we can also note that 
those varieties that developed in settings where descendants of Africans were 
minorities and could interact fairly regularly with descendants of Europeans, such 
as in the hinterlands of the North American Southeast, the Black and White varie- 
ties are quite similar, just like there are indeed similarities between the Spirituals of 
African Americans and those of European Americans. 

The kinship of Englishes in the Black diaspora: Some conclusions 

The kinship of Englishes of the Black diaspora, in the Wittgensteinian family-re- 
semblance model, is undoubtedly as real as the kinship of all English varieties, 
with the understanding that varieties that developed under the agency of speak- 
ers of African languages are bound to have some features that distinguish them as 
a group from other English varieties. The problem is whether there is any robust 
subset of structural features attributable to (convergent) African linguistic influ- 
ence that can justify thus singling them out as a category of Englishes, or whether 
we should be content with identifying them ideologically, most obviously by the 
color of their speakers or by the kinds of colonial experiences that produced 
them. Can we single out such varieties by the culture of their speakers? Is there 
such a thing as a culture of the Black diaspora, as opposed to the colonial experi- 
ence of people in the Black diaspora? Is there a sense in which one can argue 
that the Nigerian Pidgin vernacular used by Chinua Achebe 1967 in A Man of the 
People is the same language as used by Toni Morrison 1987 in Belovedl The di- 

5 8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

versity of linguistic materials is such that scholars who subscribe to Williams' 
1975 definition of Ebonics may want to articulate more explicitly what is meant 
by 'the language of black people in all its cultural uniqueness'. 

All in all, this discussion does not prove that African languages did not play 
a role in shaping the English varieties of the Black diaspora. As a matter of fact, I 
have not dealt with questions of origins, which ai-e a more complex topic, and 
their discussion would have to periodize contacts and tease apart mechanics of i 
the restructuring process in varying ecological settings. Nor does this discussion 
dispute the fact that the relevant English varieties seem to be related structurally 
in the family-resemblance model. In this respect, this essay suggests that the varie- 
ties that developed under similar sociohistorical conditions are more like each 
other than they are like any other variety. There is probably a sense in which Ni- 
gerian Pidgin English is very much like Jamaican Creole, at least in its morphosyn- 
tax, although it also shares features with its endogenous kin, Nigerian English. 

This essay also highlights similaiities between the developments of contact- 
based music styles and the developments of contact-based English varieties in the 
Black diaspora. In the same way that differences among High Life (in West Af- 
rica), Zulu Jive (in South Africa), Reggae (in the Caribbean), and Soul Music (in 
North America) may be correlated with the specific settings of their developments, 
so may differences among West African pidgins, Caribbean Creoles, and AAVE be 
correlated with the differing sociohistorical ecologies of their evolutions (see 
Mufwene 1999). In the same way that differences between Jazz and the Blues 
were determined in part by at least the kinds of European instruments that were 
adopted, so too were differences between indigenized Englishes and English 
pidgins determined in part by the kinds of Englishes that the Africans were ex- 
posed to (Mufwene 1997a). After all, in their adaptive efforts, the Africans meant 
to speak English (of whatever kind they came in contact with), and it is through 
their communicative acts that the new varieties developed, consistent with the 
usual patterns of language diversification in genetic linguistics. 

In all such cases, too, the timing and nature of the contacts between popula- 
tions of European and African descent were critical factors, as much as the extent 
to which the ensuing linguistic system has autonomized from the alternative 
models in the dominant or ruling community. For instance, having been declared 
separate languages for over a century now, pidgins have enjoyed a lot of norma- 
tive autonomy from their lexifiers, most of all from standard English. Likewise, 
having been isolated from native English-speaking populations from the time of A 
their inceptions as new vernaculars (most likely in the early 18th century), the ^j 
Creoles of Suriname have also enjoyed greater autonomy and have diverged the 
most drastically from their lexifiers. On the other hand. AAVE is perhaps the latest 
to have achieved linguistic autonomy among New World Englishes, coming into 
its own just since the institutionalization of race segregation in the North Ameri- 
can Southeast in the late 19th century. Indigenized Englishes have yet to win full 
autonomy, given the ongoing debate over whether scholastic English should 


Salikoko S. Mufwene: English in the Black diaspora 5 9 

follow local or external norms (i. e., British or American English) through the me- 
diation of nonnative speakers, as observed by Kachru 1996. That is, scholars and 
others take different sides on the question of whether indigenized Enghshes of 
Africa, as of Asia, are deviations from the so-called 'native Englishes' or 'more 
legitimate' varieties in their own right, with their own norms that can and should 
be taught in schools. 

The latter considerations aside, it is true that there is a Black diaspora which 
came about from the dispersal of sub-Saharan African populations in the New 
World and islands of the Indian Ocean. A subset of this diaspora can be defined 
by the use of English as either a vernacular or a lingua franca. As anywhere else 
where English has likewise been adopted, it has undergone adaptive evolutions, 
the outcomes of which have been claimed to be new languages in the cases of 
pidgin and Creole varieties. Although African substrate influence can be claimed 
to be a common cachet of the Anglophone Black diaspora, we have no evidence 
that such influence has been the same everywhere, nor that there is one Black 
language that may be called Ebonics for the whole dispersal area. What we need 
are more elaborate studies of these diaspora English varieties as autonomous sys- 
tems. Subsequent research will reveal in what specific ways they are related to, 
and different from, each other. Much more sophisticated studies, based on how 
substrate influences operate, will inform us about what proportion of these com- 
mon and unshared peculiarities are due to African languages. 


ACHEBE, Chinua. 1967. A Man of the People. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Hard- 
cover original edition. The John Day company, 1966. 

Alleyne, Mervyn C. 1980. Comparative Afro-American: An Historical- 
Comparative Study of English-Based Afro-American Dialects of the New 
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Enrique (Henry) T. Trueba 

This chapter discusses the issues related to language and iden- 
tity for Latinos in the complex political, economic, and social contexts 
of the United States. The situation becomes more complex given fre- 
quent fragmented bicultural family experiences. In the study these is- 
sues are discussed specifically with reference to language and immi- 
grants, race and ethnicity, within the historical and social-economic 
contexts of Mexican immigration. The central concern of this chapter 
is the concept of terquedad ('resiliency') of Mexican families and 
communities: its intimate involvement in the collective to maintain 
language and serve the community. 


The expression 'diaspora,' in Latino terms, means a bicultural and binational exis- 
tence with a complex, fragmented home economy, which is the result of unpre- 
dictable employment. It often implies the capacity of Latinos to adopt new identi- 
ties on the two sides of the Mexico-U.S. border, and to develop new conceptions 
of ethnic loyalty, patriotism, and family networks. The significance of the new 
immigration patterns in the U.S., in particular the predominance of young Latino, 
especially Mexican, immigrants, has had enormous demographic, social, and cul- 
tural consequences for this country. This chapter explores the role of language in 
the survival of Mexican immigrants and in the formation of their new identities. 

The relationship between language and identity for Latinos in the U.S. is 
complex and is situated within a politically and economically unstable binational 
existence whose complexities are further compounded by a fragmented bicultural 
family experience under conditions dictated by poverty. The internalization of 
the 'American dream' is not a fantasy created thousands of miles away (as it is in 
the case, say, of Chinese immigrants), but one that is configured from day-to-day 
encounters of Mexicans with migrant workers returning to their Mexican home 

Diaspora. Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

6 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

villages. There is romanticization of possible success, fictions of the imagination in 
the form of mountains of gold in the streets of America (Trueba & Zou 1994; 
Trueba 1999). There is the palpable reality of Uncle Jose visiting Tangancfcuaro, 
Michoacan (central Mexico) with his brand-new Ford truck, his expensive boots 
and hat, and a wallet full of dollars. Yet this attractive image is often tempered by 
Uncle Jose's narrative of degrading incidents while crossing the border, and of 
working in the fields of Modesto, Santa Maria, or Texas. Uncle Jose is also less 
anxious to share his tales of the abuses by the patron who would pay him less 
than the minimum wage, the exposure to pesticides, the subhuman living condi- 
tions in the shantytown, the long nights of homesick nostalgia, and the anxiety 
associated with not being able to communicate in English. But Latinos are ex- 
tremely resilient and tough, even in the most desperate situations. They under- 
stand that building a future for their children goes beyond simply going north 
looking for work, and that the commitment to their children's future welfare de- 
mands profound change and unexpected sacrifice. As Paulo Freire (1993:9) has 
eloquently stated, 'Nao ha mudan^a sem shonho como nao ha sonho sem es- 
peran9a [There is no change without a dream, as there is no dream without 

What keeps Latinos hopeful is their daily struggle for equity, a deep under- 
standing of the nature of oppression, and their fight to regain control of their 
lives. Latino immigrants soon discover their race and their ethnicity and become 
experts in survival by adapting to new life styles, as in acquiring second and third 
languages (many Mexican Indians speak as their first language Nahuatl, Otomi, or 
any of the Mayan languages, and learn Spanish as their second language). Amer- 
ica's obsession with race and ethnicity is a function of anxiety about the in- 
creasing waves of 'color' immigrants, especially Asians and Latinos. Thus, race 
and ethnicity continue to be at the center of public discourse and of passionate 
political debates in the Americas, including Latin America. The more elusive so- 
ciocultural definitions of race take on new dimensions in the daily lives of mem- 
bers of pluralistic societies that have become de jure integrated, but de facto eco- 
nomically and socially segregated and stratified. 

McLaren (1995:117) speaks about the American 'predatory culture' that 
configures modern life on the exploitation of less technologically developed 
countries and individuals: 

In our hyper-fragmented and predatory postmodern cuUure, democracy 
is secured through the power to control consciousness and semioticize 
and discipline bodies by mapping and manipulating sounds, images, 
and information and forcing identity to take refuge in the forms of 
subjectivity increasingly experienced as isolated and separate from 
larger social contexts. 

Modern anthropology essentially discards 'race' as an operational concept 
because there is an infinite number of combinations and permutations of human 
characteristics beyond eye and skin color, bone structure, weight and stature, dis- 

Henry Trueba: Language and identity among Mexicans 6 3 

tribution of fat, and overall appearance. Anthropologists today regret the 'crimes 
of anthropology' and the role of European anthropologists in the Nazi regime, in 
which they became 'race experts' and decided the lives of thousands of villagers 
in Poland and in other ways contributed to the crimes of the Third Reich. Files in 
Beriin, Koblenz, and Krakow show clearly how Nazi anthropologists were in- 
struments of a racist regime (Schafft 1999:56). The miscegenation between Euro- 
peans and Meso-American Indians, and between European North Americans and 
mestizos from Mexico is of such proportions that we all need to consider this is- 
sue beyond the chemical and physiological structure of internal organs, blood 
types, and genes, to understand the non-biological foundations of race. Latinos 
are products of physical and human environments played out in the binational 
arenas of the Southwest, in the dynamics of rapidly increasing waves of immigra- 
tion from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries. Socially defined concepts 
of race are vital in human relations because they determine norms of appropriate 
interaction, judgments about intelligence, and expectations about behavior. The 
social concept of race remains elusive until it is fleshed out in specific inter- 
actional (often conflictive) contexts: black versus white, brown versus white, 
black versus yellow, and others. This elusiveness is compounded by the fact that 
we tend to abuse the concept of race by bringing ethnicity into the picture, even 
to the point of using both terms interchangeably. The word ethnicity comes from 
ethnos (Greek 'people'), and it has been the center of anthropological studies for 
over a century. Ethnographers have dedicated millions of hours collecting de- 
scriptions of ethnic groups around the world: their language, culture, environ- 
ment, occupations, marriage patterns, family life, kinship system, property, law, and 
so on. 

Language and immigrants 

The importance of language facility for immigrants into new ethnic matrices can- 
not be overemphasized. Their very ability to retain a measure of self-idehtity and 
personal integrity, to communicate and pass on to the next generation their val- 
ues and lifestyle, depends on their ability to retain the home language. Therefore, 
in the study of Latinos in diaspora, we need to focus on factors that make lan- 
guage maintenance possible at least for the collectivity, the community that is 
trying to survive in the U.S. Studies of ethnic groups in the U.S. and other West- 
em societies focus on socially and culturally stratified immigrant groups who are 
recognized as collectively retaining unique characteristics different from those of 
L mainstream people (see Trueba, Jacobs, & Kirton 1990; Delgado-Gaitan & Trueba 
M991; Trueba, Rodriguez, Zou, & Cintron 1993; Trueba, Cheng, & Ima 1993; 
Trueba & Zou 1994; Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994; Trueba 1999 and Trueba [Forth- 
coming]). Their language, culture, religion, art, values, lifestyle, family organization, 
children's socialization, and world view are seen by the members of the group as 
uniquely linked to their home country and ancestors. At times, physical appear- 
ance separates them from the rest of society and from other subgroups in the 
larger society. Consequently, ethnicity refers to that complex set of characteristics 

6 4 DiASTORA, Identity, and Language Communities 

of groups who share historical or mythical common ancestors and maintain their 
own identity in contrast or opposition to mainstream society. An iinmigrant of 
color in the United States, i.e., a nonwhite person who might be a second- or 
third-generation immigrant — even one who has a perfect command of the Eng- 
lish language — is often asked, 'Where are you from?' 

Race and ethnicity determine a person's relative status and chances for suc- 
cess. Race and ethnicity can predict residential information, and residence can 
predict educational achievement, income, school-dropout and suspension rate, 
size of family, mortality trends, likelihood of incarceration, tendencies to violence, 
use of welfare, and so on and on. As Ladson-Billings & Tate (1995:48-9) have 
emphasized, social class and gender considerations alone 'are not powerful 
enough to explain all the differences? (or variance) in school experience and per- 
formance'; consequently, we must conclude that 'race continues to be a signifi- 
cant factor in determining inequity in the United States.' The penalties of exclu- 
sion and prejudice explain the rapid assimilation of Latinos who can pass for 
mainstream citizens, the changes in names and dressing patterns, loss of the home 
language, and overall efforts to hide ethnic and linguistic identities in certain con- 
texts. Ainsle points out the profound mourning that increases in immigrants' 
hearts the more they try to assimilate, and, using Freud's words, characterizes this 
acute state of mourning as a way of 'perpetuating that love which we do not 
want to relinquish,' knowing that 'we shall remain inconsolable and will never 
find a substitute' (Ainsle 1998:285). 

Schools in the American society of the 20th century are viewed as respon- 
sible for assimilating ethnics and making them full Americans. The fear (somewhat 
latent) is that the new immigration waves of Latinos and Asians are not 'assimi- 
lable'. This fear goes in cycles and determines the waves of tolerance and intoler- 
ance for ethnic diversity, language diversity, and cultural diversity (especially re- 
ligious and socio-economic) manifested now in our streets and institutions. The 
fact that elementary and secondary-school performance is affected by linguistic, 
racial, and ethnic diversity intensifies the xenophobic tendencies in school and 
society. Additionally, racial and ethnic prejudice is not confined to public schools. 
It is also present in higher education, and clearly present in hiring, promotion, and 
retention policies and practices. 

Race and ethnicity 

The use of the terms 'race' and 'clannish race' is indicative of the historical con- 
fusion between race and ethnicity. White European immigrants were not physi- 
cally different from other Americans. There is also nothing new in the recent ef- 
forts to 'close our borders' and do away with illegal immigration. The impact of 
xenophobia is subtle and does not have the dramatic effect of the high-tech flam- 
boyant cavalry of INS officers riding along the border between Tijuana and San 
Diego. Latinos continue to face difficult years, as other immigrants suffered from 
the turn of the century until the mid- 1920s, when they were accused of moral 

Henry Trueba: Language and identity among Mexicans 6 5 

turpitude and were socially ostracized only because they used their home lan- 
guage to communicate with one another and with some students. And the use of 
the home language continues to make an enormous difference in the adaptation 
of immigrant populations to the host country. Although immigration trends have 
changed drastically since the 1920s with the dramatic increase in Hispanic and 
Asian populations, the working conditions and exploitation of many immigrants 
remain the same. Many immigrant and migrant workers (for example, farm workers 
in California) are willing to sacrifice their lives working in the fields at low wages 
and in unhealthy conditions because they need work and want to open up edu- 
cational opportunities for their children. Education is the only hope they have of 
getting their families out of poverty. In this context, racial and ethnic intolerance 
in higher education profoundly affects the access to and quahty of education for 
racial and ethnic minority students. 

Critical theory experts have continued to denounce the ethnocentrism of 
schools and their reluctance to meet the needs of linguistically different children. 
Their assumption is that prejudice begins in the school-setting with the way chil- 
dren are socialized into academic achievement (See Freire 1973, 1993, 1995; 
Freire& Macedo 1987; Apple 1989 & 1993; Aronowitz & Giroux 1991; Gadotti 
1996; Giroux & McLaren 1994; McLaren 1997; Ladson-Billings & Tate 1995; 
and Leistyna, Woodrum. & Sherblom 1996). 

Historical and socio-economic contexts of Mexican immigration 

The struggle of Mexicans, in what is United States territory today, did not stop 
with the tens of thousands who came to do unskilled labor in the late 1800s. Cer- 
tainly, some Mexicans were living in the Southwest prior to the annexation of 
Mexican territory by the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty of 1848, but many more have 
come since. Mexicans have been coming to find employment in increasing num- 
bers from the beginning of this century. In 1900 the U.S. Census estimated that 
there were 103,393 Mexican immigrants. By 1910, there were 221,915; by 1920, 
486,418; and by December 31, 1926 the official count was of 890,746 (Gamio 
1930:2). The exploitation of so-called inferior people and the accepted practice of 
depriving them of certain rights was common during the last century and the first 
decades of this one. The residential segregafion of Mexicans, fmnly established 
on the West Coast at the turn of the century, became the foundafion for the 
widespread segregation of the 1920s and 30s; Mexicans were not allowed in 
public facilities such as schools, restaurants, swimming pools, and theaters (Men- 
chaca & Valencia 1990:230). 

Recently, scholars have emphasized the significance of Mexican immigra- 
tion in the overall immigration patterns of modern America. The rising numbers of 
legal and unauthorized immigrants, refugees, and asylees represent a pattern that 
is changing the face and texture of American democracy and ethnic/racial compo- 
sition in the U.S. The Mexican-origin population has grown at a steady and fast 
pace since 1980. Part of this growth is understandable because of the numbers of 

6 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

children in Mexican families. Without immigration, however, in 1990 the Mexi- 
can-origin population (the total Mexican-origin is the sum of the Mexican-born 
population and U.S. natives of Mexican parentage) would have been about 14 
percent of its current size. Its increase is primarily the result of immigration (Gon- 
zalez Baker, Bean, Escobar Latapi & Weintraub 1998:81-6). 

Primarily for economic reasons, there is a steady stream of immigrants from 
Mexico that, along with other Latino inimigrants, has become the single largest 
continental proportion (nearly 38 percent) of legal immigrants, and over 80 per- 
cent of undocumented immigrants. In addition to the role of Mexico in modem 
migration movements into the United States, Mexico's economic and political im- 
portance was demonstrated by the U.S. government's role in pursuing the North 
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the diligent response to Mexico's 
1994 economic crisis. This flow of Mexican immigrants will continue at a rapid 
pace. Foreign-bom persons of Mexican origin in 1980 constituted 15 percent of 
all legal immigrants; in 1990, 20.7 percent; in 1994-1995, 28.4 percent. 

Of all Latino immigrants, 78 percent came between 1970 and 1989 (6.5 mil- 
lion or one-third of all immigrants), and 50 percent came in the 1980s; only 27 
percent of the Latinos have become citizens of the United States, which is under- 
standable, given their recent arrival, their types of work, their rural backgrounds, 
and the limited assistance available. Sixty percent of Mexican immigrants live in 
Califomia. As has been recognized, a person's educational level seems to predict 
economic level and employment. The highest rates of poverty are found among 
the populations with the least education — Mexicans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, 
and Dominicans. New immigrant children face many difficult problems in their ad- 
aptation (Bureau of the Census 1996). In 1990, after 140 years of predominantly 
white enrollment, 50 percent of the California public school students belonged to 
ethnic and racial subgroups. There is already no longer a numerical majority of 
whites. By the year 2030, white students will constitute only about 30 percent of 
the total enrolhnent, while Latino students will represent the largest group (44 
percent of the total enrollment; Valencia 1991:17). Other demographic projections 
suggest that the white school-age population will decrease for the country at 
large, while the Latino school-age population will continue to increase. Tables 1 
and 2 and Figures 1 and 2 in the Appendix summarize data of segregation and 
enrollment growth. 

Latino parents' naive notions about the politics of employment, organiza- 
tion, and poUtics in schools, their perception of societal demands for cultural ho- 
mogenization, and the acceptance of an inferior status are not shared by their 
children, who feel an ethical responsibility to react and fight back. Much of what 
happens in gang struggles and street violence is related to marginalization (Vigil 
1989, 1997). Many Mexican families reflect in their new lives a change not only 
from one country to another, but from a rural to an urban setting. Of course, the 
added dimension in this country is, that in order to acquire the necessary socio- 
political knowledge of appropriate conduct in urban settings, immigrants must 

Henry Trueba: Language and identity among Mexicans 


first acquire the communicative skills to function in a second language. Unfortu- 
nately, Mexican immigrants are forced to take jobs that are physically exhausting 
and leave them little time to acquire communicative skills in English. Conse- 
quently, their children (as soon as they learn some English) must play adult roles 
in making momentous decisions for their parents. Mexican immigrant children are 
socialized in a new linguistic and cultural environment without help in the devel- 
opment of their second-language skills and cognitive abilities required for high 
school achievement 

Table 1: Growlh of Latino enrollments 1970-1994 



Change 1970-94 















New York 




















New Mexico 





New Jersey 





Source: Orfield. Bachmeier, James, & Eitle 1997. 

Table 2: State rankings in segregation of Latino students by three measures, 
1994-95 school years 

% in majority 

% in 90-100% 

% Whites in school 

White schools 

minority schools 

of typical 


New York 


New York 


New York 




New Jersey 










New Mexico 




New Jersey 


Rhode Island 










New Mexico 


New Jersey 














New Mexico 


Rhode Island 








Source: Orfield, Bachmeier. Jaines, & Eitle 1997. 


Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Figure 1: Growth of Latino enrollments, 1970-94. 
States with more then 1 00.000 Latino students 

■ 1970 01994 



r 1,000,000 






J1 i1 il 11 i^. n 







Source: Gary Orfield, M. Bachnieier, D. James, & T. Eitle: Deepening segregation in 
American public schools. Equity and Excellence in Education 30:2 (Seplember 1997). 

Figure 2: Latino segregation by region. 1994-95 
Percent of Latino students in region in schools 

JBO-50% Minority □ 50-1 00% Minority 90-100% Minority 



2 40.0 




Border Northeast Midwest 


Source: Gary Orfield, M. Bachnieier, D. James, & T. Eitle: Deepening segregation in 
American public schools, Equity and Excellence in Education 30:2 (Seplember 1997). 

A number of scholars argue that the education of Latinos is worse now than 
in the previous decade (Portes 1996; Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco 1995a and 
1995b; M. Suarez-Orozco 1998a, 1998b; Valencia 1990, 1997). Recent studies, 
however, document the academic success of Latino students in high school and 

Henry Trueba: Language and identity among Mexicans 6 9 

their continued efforts to succeed in their adult lives, and argue that the family 
and home environment provides them with strong support (Diaz Salcedo 1996). 
These narratives of academic achievement in the midst of social and economic in- 
equity represent a surprising degree of success where failure was expected. It 
seems that the retention of the home language and the acquisition of the second 
language, if accompanied by high literacy levels in both English and Spanish, 
constitute a powerful factor affecting the successful adaptation of Mexican immi- 
grants and their understanding of the complex U.S. social, economic, and political 
systems. Their very ability to handle text related to those systems necessary for 
the well-being of the family (contracts, government documents, bank documents, 
hospital documents, immigration papers, and so on) is contingent upon their bilin- 
gualism and biliteracy. On the other hand, the rapid marginalization of some 
Mexican families is accelerated by their problems in understanding American in- 
stitutions (indeed, any complex systems in both countries), accompanied by the 
lack of literacy and language proficiency in either Spanish or English. This mar- 
ginalization often starts long before they arrive in this country. Their naive no- 
tions about the politics of employment, the organization of schools, the demands 
of society, and the U.S. legal and economic system often result in tragic conse- 
quences (unwarranted incarceration, loss of income, ignorance of civil rights, and 
various sorts of abuses). The lack of linguistic and literacy skills may reflect an 
abrupt transition from rural to urban settings, from simple village life to Ufe in large 
metropolises. This transition is accompanied by cultural shock and deterioration 
in mental health. In order for immigrants to acquire the necessary sociopolitical 
knowledge to exhibit appropriate behavior in urban settings, they must first ac- 
quire the communicative skills to do so in a second language. 

There is an intimate relationship between the successful adaptation of 
Mexican immigrant families to U.S. society and the academic success of their chil- 
dren. For example, recent studies in central California (Trueba 1999, and Trueba 
[Forthcoming]) show that the most serious problem faced by the children of im- 
migrants on the West coast is the alienating experience of schooling, the rapid 
marginalization of these children, and their confusion regarding personal identity, 
cultural values, social acceptance, ability to achieve, and self-worth. However, if 
children manage to retain a strong self-identity and remain part of their sociocul- 
tural community, they can perform well in school. 

Sometimes a Mexican family takes drastic measures to salvage the moral 
character and overall well-being of a young family member by taking him or her 
back to Mexico for a period of time to complete his or her education, to re-acquire 
Spanish, to work under supervision, and even to marry a 'good' local person. 
Sometimes the entire family returns to Mexico for as much as two or three years in 
order to re-educate teenagers in family values. This repatriation is often associated 
with the dilemma faced in assessing their financial and moral risks if they continue 
to live and work in the United States. There are numbers of repatriated former 
U.S. farm workers in central Mexico (in Colima, Michoacan, Jalisco, and other 
states). In contrast to them, many alienated Mexican immigrant children in major 

7 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

metropolises (in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston, and other U.S. cities), 
cannot manage to retain their home language and culture, or their familiar cultural 
institutions and networks. Some seem to survive the trauma of American school- 
ing and to achieve well. This, of course, is the result of a carefully executed plan 
of education engineered primaiily by the mothers, who monitor schooling, and 
create vast support networks on both sides of the border. 

The secret of resiliency: Immigrant women in California 

The terquedad — resiliency — of Mexican families and communities is a central 
consideration of this paper. The socio-cultural and psychological basis of ter- 
quedad, and its intimate involvement in the collective is profoundly linked to its 
members' commitment to maintaining their language and a sense of 'community'. 
Without this terquedad, their children would never understand the importance of 
their ethnic identity and their historical relationship with their ancestors. Mexican 
workers are proud of retaining their language and culture. The women's role in 
this retention requires endurance and determination, as shown not only in their 
daily agricultural labor but also in their capacity to organize themselves into a po- 
litical force in order to negotiate with schools to work for their children's educa- 
tion. They seem to learn quickly how American society functions. They also 
know how to motivate their children to achieve academically. Their daily oppres- 
sive work in the fields and packing houses stands in clear contrast to their own 
sense of self-worth and their enormous prestige in their home villages in Mexico. 
While they must work hard under precarious conditions that affect their health 
significantly (they suffer from arthritis, bronchitis, allergies, malnutrition, and high 
blood pressure), this oppression does not seem to break their spirits or to jeop- 
ardize their determination to succeed. Neither economic problems (often associ- 
ated with the lack of steady employment) nor the frequent verbal abuse and 
prejudice of bosses and neighbors deter them. And when their husbands lose 
hope and start drinking or otherwise misbehaving, the women take over the con- 
trol of their finances and the entire management of family affairs. Mexican migrant 
women know they are tough and determined, and they are proud of their survival 
in the worst of circumstances. These physically and spiritually strong women 
speak with their own voices and feel important, individually and collectively. 


As a dear friend and famous scholai-. Dr. Jorge Gonzalez, from Colima, Mexico, 
commented once: 'The center of gravity of Comala — a small town in rural 
Colima — is in Pomona, California.' Why was Professor Gonzalez able to make 
this statement? Because all the funds for the village activities, the politics and the 
economic life of Comala depend on their children in exile who send money home 
from the U.S. Indeed, the annual amount sent to Mexico from Mexican workers in 
the U.S. is estimated at over $5 billion. The mid-nineteenth century reflected in 
the repugnant statement of T. J. Farhan, a traveler to the west coast in 1855, still 
hurts us (Cited in Menchaca & Valencia 1990:229): 


Henry Trueba: Language and identity among Mexicans 7 1 

Californians [i.e., Mexicans] are an imbecile, pusillanimous, race of men, 
and unfit to control the destinies of that beautiful country . . . The Old 
Saxon blood must stride the continent, must command all its northern 
shores . . . and in their own unaided might, erect the alter of civil and re- 
ligious freedom on the plains of the Californias.. 

Crimes against people have multiplied not only abroad but in the U.S. Jasper, 
Texas, saw a man dragged to death behind a truck, only because he was black. 
The killers, three white boys, belonged to white supremacist organizations com- 
mitted to the destruction of people of color. The subtle racism in corporations, 
businesses, and even in academia keeps up myths about race and ethnicity that 
are fed by the anxiety of an aging white population concerned with controlUng 
wealth, military power, and technical superiority over the rest of the world. 

The role of women and people of color in the military under the leadership 
of 'liberaF white bosses is changing in front of our eyes. The presence of Blacks 
and Latinos in academia, in the medical professions, and in businesses is now a 
reality, but a reality still shocking many mainstream Americans from European an- 
cestry. The reality of a democracy in transition, a somewhat misrepresented model 
of democracy for the world, will in the next few decades become transformed to 
accommodate a new social, ethnic, and economic reality in this country. The real- 
ity will be of a population that is multi-ethnic, multicultural, and perfectly compe- 
tent to handle the institutions of this country, and to pursue the goals of techni- 
cal, economic, and mihtary superiority of the United States, with conditions: re- 
spect for people's differences, improving the ability to work across color, linguis- 
tic, and cultural lines, and doing away with prejudice of all sorts. Will America be 
able to succeed? The answer to this difficult question will manifest itself in in- 
creasing numbers of interracial and interethnic marriages, in the discovery of com- 
fortable working relationships between mainstream people and 'ethnics', and in 
the ability of our intellectual leaders (university professors, teacher educators, and 
school teachers) to prepare our children of tomorrow to hve and work in peace 
with anyone with whom they come in contact. 

One of the implied conditions for the success of our democratic experiment 
in America is the ability of ethnic groups, especially the Latinos, who are growing 
the fastest and increasing most rapidly, to adapt to American society, to discover 
new identities which permit them to overcome prejudice and to achieve in school. 
I contend in a recent book (Trueba 1999) that Mexican immigrants and other La- 
tinos develop new identities (beyond their ethnic identity) to cope with the chal- 
lenges of living in American society, and that they create these identities as both 
genuine Latinos (Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, etc.) and genuine Americans — 
i.e., competent participants in American political and economic institutions, pre- 
cisely because they are resilient and determined, capable of handling rough expe- 
riences, hunger, abuse, prejudice, and poverty. They find their strength in the 
creation of new communities that replicate their original communities in rural vil- 

7 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

lages, their original kin systems, and the family ties they had in their countries of 

Resiliency and multiple identities are parts of a dynamic psychological living 
environment that demands a very flexible personality, a strong character, and su- 
perb physical and psychological well-being. The secret of resiliency is illustrated 
in the life of an immigrant woman, Lupita, who has recently decided to take 
American citizenship, knowing that she will be allowed to retain her Mexican 
rights and Mexican identity. She has also organized her family and friends, who, 
like her, have worked in this country for many yeai's, to study for the citizenship 
examination. Why is she engaged in this way? To protect the community's chil- 
dren, the next generation, and to give them a chance to become educated and re- 
spected in this country. As Lupita told her children in front of me: 'Me ven asi. 
llena de lodo y cansada? Me ven enfeiTna y fregada? Bueno. pues estudien y 
estudien duro para que Uds. no sufran como yo; pero no se dejen. Con su 
aprovechamiento ensenenles a los Bolillos que Uds. si pueden, y si saben [You 
see me like this, muddy and tired? You see me sick and messed up? Well, now you 
study and study hard so you don't suffer as I have; but don't let them (the 
whites) beat you. With your school achievement, show the Bolillos (whites) that 
you can [learn] and that you know].' 

This is the expression of terquedad that resounds throughout U.S. Latino 
communities; it is an expression that we will be hearing more and more in the fu- 


' Portions of this chapter appeared in Latinos Unidos: From Cultural Diversity 
to the Politics of Solidarity by H. T. Trueba (New York: Rowman & Little- 
field, 1999). 


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A ley a Rouchdy 

This empirical study focuses on Arab-American communities in 
and around Dearborn, Michigan. These include Palestinian, Egyptian, 
Iraqi, and Yemeni groups. A major question is whether Arabic in its 
American diaspora follows the linguistic path of other diasporic con- 
texts of the language, such as Moroccan Arabic in Holland or Alge- 
rian Arabic in France. The paper discusses the major features of 
change under borrowing and interference, attrition, and post- 1960s 
attitudes toward ethnicity. Arab-American students (total seventy- 
nine) gave the following as their reasons for studying standard Ara- 
bic: ethnic identity (38%), religious affiliation (34%), fulfilhnent of 
academic language requirements (33%), importance of Arabic from a 
global perspective (24%), and influence of parental advice (5%). The 
conclusion sums up the major changes in diasporic Arabic in these 
Arab- American groups. 


As an Arab-American and a linguist, I have been interested in the spoken lan- 
guage used by Arab-Americans in Detroit for some time. Detroit is a unique labo- 
ratory for the study of Arabic as an ethnic minority language because the Detroit 
metropolitan area has the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Arab world. 
Their number has been estimated at between 260,000 to 350,000 in the south- 
eastern part of Michigan, which consists of Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland coun- 

The sociolinguistic approach of this paper examines the ways in which lan- 
guage contact and conflict situations explain changes that have occurred in the 
Arabic spoken by first-, second-, and third-generation Arab-Americans. 

Arab immigration to the U.S., and to Michigan specifically, began in the 19th 
century. The majority of immigrants came from what was then called Greater 
Syria. They were mostly unskilled males and, for the most part. Christians. The 
second wave of immigration occurred after World War II. Among these new im- 

Diaspara. Identity, and Lcinf>uage Caniinunities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

7 8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

migrants were Muslims from Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen, as well as Christian 
Iraqis, mostly Chaldeans (Abraham & Abraham 1981:18). 

In the 1950s and 60s, a third wave of Arab immigration landed in the U.S.; 
many of these new residents were students and professionals. They were Egyp- 
tians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians (El Kholy 1969). A fourth wave 
of immigrants consisting mostly of Lebanese and Palestinians occurred in the 
1970s and 80s, owing to the war in Lebanon, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 
Finally, in the 1990s, a fifth wave came to the U.S., consisting of Palestinians, 
Lebanese, Egyptians, and Iraqi Muslims. According to the Immigration and Natu- 
ralization Service (INS), from 1988 to 1990, approximately 60,000 Arabs took up 
residence in the Detroit area alone. 

At first, the early-comers took up residence in the Dearborn area, which is 
located southwest of Detroit. Like any group of immigrants who first come to the 
U.S., Arab-Americans upon their arrival congregated in a neighborhood where 
they could mix with other Arab-Americans. They lived in this first community 
among people who try to maintain psychological, social, cultural, and linguistic 
support with their original homeland. 

Some of Arab immigrants have remained within these early-established 
communities. Others, when they became economically better off, established 
themselves in different parts of the Detroit metro area. But, whenever possible, 
Arabs still congregate and establish specific speech communities whose members 
share common linguistic, social, and cultural features. For example, there is a Pales- 
tinian community in Livonia, on the west side of Detroit; an Egyptian group in 
Troy, on the east side of Detroit; and a large Iraqi community on Seven Mile 
Road, east of Detroit. A second Iraqi community was established in West 
Bloomfield, which is one of the most affluent suburbs in the Detroit metro area; 
and there are two Yemini communities, one in Hamtramack, north-east of Detroit, 
and a larger one in the Dearborn area. There are also Arab- American professionals 
that are scattered in the various suburbs around Detroit. 

The Arab- Americans who have lived for years in the Dearborn area have re- 
cently been coming into contact with a steady flow of new Arab immigrants from 
the Arab world. After the Gulf war in 1990-91, many Iraqi Shi'a (40,000) were 
given refuge in the U.S., most of them coming to Michigan. This group consists 
largely of people who opposed the Iraqi regime and defected, first going to Saudi 
Arabia. But since the Saudis refused to give them permanent residence, they were 
allowed into the U.S. Another 15,000 to 20,000 Iraqis working for the CIA were 
also given refuge in the U.S. The majority of this group has settled in the 
Dearborn area. Actually, these refugees were first settled by the U.S. government 
in different parts of the country; but many decided to move to Michigan because 
of the large number of Arab-Americans already established in the area. This re- 
cently-arrived group consists of Shi'a as well as Sunni Kurds all of whom speak 
Arabic. Their children, who spoke only Arabic on arrival in the U.S., are presently 
attending American public schools. Taking into account these new iurivals and 

Aleya Rouchdy: Language conflict and identity 7 9 

the older members of the Arab community, 70% of the students in the Dearborn 
school system are of Arab-American background. Thus, all members of the well- 
established Arab-American community in Michigan, young and old, are coming 
into daily contact with the newly arrived Arabic-speaking immigrants. 

It is commonplace to refer to "Arab-Americans' as an entity. It should be 
noted, however, that the Arab-American community is a microcosm of the Arab 
world with all its varieties and divisions: politically, economically, religiously, and, 
of course, linguistically. 

Thus, in the Detroit metro area there is an interesting double language- 
contact situation. In the first contact situation, different Arabic dialects come into 
contact, and in the second situation, different languages come into contact: Ara- 
bic, a minority language, is in contact with the dominant language, English. 

The question is, then: What will the future of Arabic as an ethnic language 
in the Detroit metro area be? Or: How generally-representative is language con- 
tact within the Ai-ab-American community in Michigan? Furthermore, one may 
ask whether Arabic in its American diaspora follows the linguistic path other lan- 
guages in contact, such as Moroccan Arabic in Holland, or Algerian Arabic in 
France, have taken. With regard to any such questions the diglossic nature of 
Arabic is a factor that must be taken into consideration. 

Data and focus 

Most of the data presented in this paper was obtained from specific neighbor- 
hoods in Detroit, from my interviews during my visits to schools, during family 
gatherings such as weddings and other celebrations, and from a set of tape- 
recorded interviews conducted by my colleague May Seikaly for her research on 
an oral history of Palestinian Americans. Seikaly' s interviews were not intended 
to examine the language situation of the speakers; however, they have been an 
interesting source of information for my research. These taped interviews consist 
of natural conversations between Seikaly and the mostly elderly participants. In 
these interviews, I was able to observe phenomena of code-switching and bor- 
rowing under very natural conditions. In Labov's terms, it was an observation of 
the vernacular: 'the style that is most regular in its structure and its relation to the 
evolution of language ... in which minimum attention is paid to monitoring 
speech' (Labov 1972a:112; 1972b:208). 

► I have categorized the speakers on the basis of their competence and per- 
ormance in whatever language they speak. At one extreme, there are those who 
speak only Arabic. They live in neighborhoods inhabited mostly by newly- 
arrived Arab immigrants, so they rarely need English. People in this category have 
developed a pidginized variety of English, which they use in their Umited dealings 
with monolingual English speakers. They are, for example, storekeepers, garage 
mechanics, or small grocers, and they use this pidginized variety mostly for busi- 
i ness transactions. However, this form of pidginized speech is not acquired by the 
J speakers' children, who learn Standard English at school for more informal inter- 

8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

actions with peers. Hence, this pidginized foiTn evolved only for temporary use 
and has not creolized. 

At the other extreme are those Arab-Americans who use only English. These 
monolingual English speakers have a very limited Arabic vocabulary, which con- 
sists mainly of lexical items related to food, or curse words. For example, one of 
the women Seikaly interviewed spoke English fluently and no Arabic whatso- 
ever; however, she used a specific insult she remembered her father having used, 
to refer to a woman of ill repute {sharmuta — 'slut' ). 

Between the two extremes, there are those speakers who use English for as 
many functions as they do Arabic. These communicatively bilingual speakers are 
categorized here according to their degree of bilingualism, based on the author's 
judgment of their competence and performance in Aiabic and English. They are 
well-educated newcomers, or Arab-Americans married to Americans, or first- 
generation immigrants who have kept in touch with their parents' original home- 

As mentioned previously, Detroit's Ai'ab- Americans have immigrated from 
different parts of the Arab world; hence, they spoke different dialects of Arabic. 
They constitute a diverse linguistic community that incorporates many different 
speech subcommunities. Gumperz (cited in Hudson 1985:26) defined speech 
community as being 'any human aggregate characterized by regular and frequent 
interaction by means of a shared body of verbal signs and set off from similar ag- 
gregates by significant differences in language use.' 

As a sociolinguist I am interested in examining the 'body of verbal signs' 
within the different speech communities to determine the choice of languages 
made by the speakers. In doing so, I will be looking into both the 'social re- 
straints' as well as the 'grammatical restraints' (Gumpers 1964:138) that result 
from the language or dialect-contact situations. 

Whenever languages are in contact three linguistic phenomena occur: code- 
switching, borrowing, and interference. 

Code-switching occurs in the speech of competent bilingual speakers when 
both speaker and listener know the two languages involved well enough to dif- 
ferentiate items from either language at any moment during their speech. The 
speakers, when code-switching, alternate their use of the two languages within a 
single sentence or more. Linguistically speaking, as Michael Clyne stated, 'it 
{CS} often occurs within structural constraints which may be language specific ^ 
or even universal.' (cited in Coulmas 1997:313) Sociohnguistically, Carol Myers- ^ 
Scotten defined code-switching as '... an in-group mode of communication, rather 
than one used with strangers.' (cited in Coulmas 1997:232) In other words, code- 
switching occurs when the speakers share the same channels of communication ij 
and feel at ease with the two languages. The definition of code-switching I find 
clear and indicative is that of Einar Haugen (1973:521) who defined code- 
switching as 'the alternate use of two languages including everything from the 

Aleya Rouchdy: Language conflict and identity 8 1 

introduction of a single, unassimilated word up to a complete sentence or more in 
the context of another language'. 

Borrowing, on the other hand, involves the transfer of lexical items from one 
language to another, not the alternating use of two languages. The borrowed 
items are either unchanged, or inflected like words of the same grammatical cate- 
gory in the borrowing language. The speaker is not necessarily a competent bi- 
lingual. He or she borrows from the socially dominant language and not from the 
language he or she knows best. 

Interference occurs when grammatical rules of the dominant language affect 
grammatical rules of the subordinate language or borrowing language. Scotten 
explains convergence as a 'rearrangement of how grammatical frames are pro- 
jected in one language under the influence of another language.' (cited in Coul- 
mas 1997:229) Borrowing and interference are closely related. When borrowing 
occurs without interference, it is usually considered a code-switch. 

Borrowing and interference 

There are different points of view on borrowing and interference in the literature. 
Weinreich 1963 stresses the fact that differences in linguistic structures play a 
major role in the quantitative and qualitative aspects of borrowing and interfer- 
ence. Bickerton 1981 states that 'languages ... are systems, systems have struc- 
tures, and things incompatible with those structures cannot be borrowed' 
(1963:50). Meyers Scotton & Okeju emphasize the importance of the 'sociocul- 
tural context' in borrowing. They maintain that the sociocultural context, not the 
structure involved, seems to be more important. In their study of Ateso (spoken in 
Uganda and Kenya), they wrote that 'the languages from which Ateso has bor- 
rowed so heavily all have very ahen structures' (1973:889). This same idea is ex- 
pounded by Thomason and Kaufman who observed that 'it is the social context, 
not the structure of the languages involved, that determines the direction and the 
degree of interference' (1988:19). 

I am of the opinion that both the linguistic systems of the languages in- 
volved and the social context determine the amount and the types of borrowing 
and interference that occur when languages are in contact. For example, if we 
consider the structure of Arabic, a Semitic or Afroasiatic language, and that of 
English, an Indo-European language, such incompatible systems will not allow 
any borrowing, according to Bickerton. This statement can be refuted based on 
the research conducted on Arabic-English contact situations. Borrowing occurs 
easily on all linguistic levels in spite of the incompatibility between the structures 
of Arabic and English. 

In examining the process of borrowing in the speech of Arab-Americans, I 
tried to answer the following questions: what can be borrowed, why is it bor- 
rowed, and how does interference, at the different linguistic levels, occur? 

8 2 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

It was apparent in my data that the process of borrowing occurs in both di- 
rections, from Enghsh to Arabic and from Aiabic to English. The process follows 
the pattern that has been observed in other borrowing situations. For instance, 
the largest number of borrowings, from English into Ai-abic. occurred in the cate- 
gory of nouns (Rouchdy 1992:39). They are nouns borrowed for items that are 
new to the speakers, or nouns that already exist in Arabic, but for which the ex- 
isting word does not convey the same idea as the English noun: e.g., (1) is-sitizen. 
'the citizen'; // livin mum, 'the living room". Other borrowed nouns are consid- 
ered unnecessary borrowing such as: (2) ikkaar, 'the car'; iddoor, 'the door'; 
ikkoot, 'the coat'; ishshooz, 'the shoes'; where the definite article al/il is usually 
attached to the borrowed noun and the process of assimilation is applied. Thus, 
the Arabic phonological rules are applied to the borrowed English lexical items. 

There are differences in the patterns of borrowing between the educated 
and semi-educated or less-educated speakers. For instance, a semi-educated per- 
son would say: 

(3) tabax 'ala-l-stuuv 'he cooked on the stove' 

(4) tarakitha bi-k-kaar 'she left her in the car' 

An educated speaker would be more likely to convey the same meaning by say- 

(5) tabax on the stove 'he cooked on the stove' 

(6) tarakitha in the car 'she left it in the car' 

In (3) and (4), the prepositional phrase consists of an Arabic preposition and Eng- 
hsh derived noun. This is an example of borrowing. In (5) and (6), an English 
preposition is used with the English noun. It is a code-switch. 

An additional difference between the linguistic performance of educated 
and semi-educated bilinguals, is the pronunciation of borrowed English lexical 
items. The semi-educated person pronounces English lexical items as closely as 
possible to the English phonotactic system. For example: 'dirty' is given as (7) 
dary, 'water' as warer. Intellectuals tend to borrow foreign words through their 
eyes, while others borrow through their ears' (Higa 1979:284). 

Scotton & Okeju have observed that 'borrowed verbs are relatively few; in 
general they stand for new concepts' (1973:887). In my data, this did not prove 
to be the case; and verbs constituted the second largest category of borrowing. 
For example; i 

(8) fakkasna assayara 
'We fixed the car' 

(9) kalniit il-beet 
'I cleaned the house' 

Aleya Rouchdy: Language conflict and identity 8 3 

(10) kolmi biikre 

'call me tomorrow' 

These concepts are not new to the speakers. These items are an 'unnecessary' 
borrowing resulting from the strong contact between Arabic and English, among 
these speakers. 

Nicholas Sobin, in his study 'Texas Spanish and lexical borrowing', de- 
scribed borrowed lexical items in terms of "semantic/syntactic features,' meaning 
'features of lexical items which play a role in syntactic (transformational) behav- 
ior of sentences containing these items' (1982:167). He found a restriction in the 
English verbs borrowed into Texas Spanish. Such verbs can be 'freely replaced 
by a form oi do so... and only Vs replaceable by ... do so in English .... have been 
borrowed' (1982:168-9). 

In the case of U.S. Arabic, speakers borrow both types of verbs, the do so 
and the non-Jo so verbs. However, there are restrictions that shape the borrow- 
ing process with each type; some of these restrictions are syntactically deter- 
mined, others semantically determined. For instance, the do so verbs in the fol- 
lowing example take an object that can be replaced by a pronoun; that pronoun 
is never borrowed. The Arabic object pronoun is always suffixed to the borrowed 
English verbs: 

(11) kalneet id-daar 
'I cleaned the house' 

(12) haraknaa-ha 
'We parked it' 

It would be ungrammatical to say: 

(13) barakna-it 
'We parked it' 

Here the English verbs are adapted to the phonological patterns of Arabic gram- 
mar, but most importantly, the morphological patterns of Arabic grammar are also 

The non-Jo so verbs follow a different pattern. 
For example: 

' (14)1 see inti sayra muthaqafa 

'I see you became educated' 

(15)1 swear inti majnuuna 
'I swear you [are] crazy' 

(16) I know Inti ju9ana 

I know you [are] hungry 

8 4 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

The verbs, see, swear, and know are not adapted to the Arabic morphological pat- 
tern. The restriction results from the syntactic characteristics of the verbs; the 
non-do so verbs in the above examples have complement-clause boundaries 
rather than the strict noun-phrase boundaries of the do so verb sentences. In the 
case of non-do so verbs, the speakers transferred the English verb and pronoun 
into the Arabic structure without modification: these are instances of code- 

In addition to this syntactic restriction on the process of verb borrowing, 
there is a semantic restriction. The non-Jo so verbs used in the speech of Arab- 
Americans expressed a state of mind; this was not characteristic of do so verbs 
(typical examples are see, believe, swear, understand, etc.). Furthermore, these 
verbs in context are not easy to translate into Arabic. A literal translation does not 
convey the exact meaning. For example, 

(17) I swear inti majniiuna 
T swear you [are] crazy 

The phrase / swear would be translated literally into Arabic as Hhlif. How- 
ever, the statement (17) *aHlif inti majniiuna is unacceptable. The correct trans- 
lation would be 

i\S)wallahi inti majnuuna! 
'By God, you [are] crazy' 

Where the underlying structure is: 

'1 swear by God that you are crazy!' 

Thus, when borrowing, the bilingual speaker automatically conducts a linguistic 
analysis: verbs with a literal equivalent in Arabic ai"e easily borrowed. For exam- 

(9) kalneet id-daar 
T cleaned the house 

The verb to clean has the Arabic equivalent nathaff' with similar semantic features 
The sentence kalneet id-daar, T cleaned the house,' is semantically acceptable in 
the speech of Arab-Americans. This is a simple verb with no restrictions on its se- 
lection. But verbs with complex restrictions are code-switched. Cases where 
Arab- American speakers use unacceptable structures such as (17) ahlif inti ma- 
jnuuna!, to translate the Enghsh, '1 swear you [are] crazy,' reflect in Nancy^ 
Dorian's words, 'asymmetry' (1981:155). Asymmetry occurs when the Unguistic' 
skills of a speaker are unbalanced; such a speaker is a noncompetent bilingual, or 
'semi-speaker,' whose linguistic production is similar to other reductive language 
systems, such as the language of children or pidgin language. 

Adjectives are usually not easily borrowed but are code-switched. Nicholas 
Sobin found only one adjective borrowed from English into Texas Spanish (to- 
fudo for 'tough'). According to Sobin, the Texas Spanish speaker did not con- 

Aley A Rouchdy: Language conflict and identity 8 5 

sider it an adjective and added the 'adjectivalizing suffix -udo (1982:169). In an- 
other study on Australian English and German, Clyne noted that 'transferred ad- 
jectives are almost invariably left uninfected'C 1967:35-6). 

My interpretation of the Arabic spoken by Ai'ab-Americans supports those 
mentioned in the above studies (Rouchdy 1992). Arab- American speakers use 
borrowed English adjectives without inflecting them, unlike Arabic adjectives, 
which must agree with the noun they modify in gender, number, and definiteness. 
For example, 'you (fem) [are] lucky' would be given as: 

(19) inti laki 

(20) inta leezi for 'you (ms) [are] lazy' 

It would be ungrammatical to use Arabic morphology and say: 

(21) *inti lakiyy-a 

(22) *hiyya beautiful-a, 'she (is) beautiful' 

Why are adjectives switched rather than borrowed? Do adjectives and verbs 
share similar semantic features in this regard? This point has been discussed by 
Lakoff 1966 and Sobin 1982. 

Adjectives such as beautifiiL cheap, lazy, and so on, denote a state of mind, 
they are restricted like non-do so verbs and cannot be borrowed: they are 
switched. During my observation, one of the speakers made the following state- 

(23) nayselhth 
Nice-you (mas)-to-him 
'Say something nice to him' 

In this case he makes a verb out of the adjective nice. The hypothetical sentence 
'John nayselu and Bill did so, too' would be accepted by the speaker involved. 
Thus, the verb created from the adjective nice is a do so verb, which can be bor- 
rowed and adapted to the Arabic grammatical pattern. Additional research on the 
borrowing of adjectives in other situations of language contact will contribute 
greatly to the analysis of restrictions on borrowing. 

Attrition of ethnic languages 

Most studies of minority languages or ethnic languages are consistent in their 
conclusions that the use of ethnic language gradually decreases with successive 
generations due to a process of assimilation. There are certain events, however, 
that might lead to an ethnic revival. In an article entitled 'The third generation in 
America', Marcus L. Hansen (1952:496) points out that ethnic identity takes 
place in the course of three generations, and that there is a return to ethnicity in 
the third generation. Nahirny & Fishman on the other hand, maintain that 'the 
ethnic heritage, including the ethnic mother tongue, usually ceases to play any 
viable role in the life of the third generation.' (Nahirny & Fishman 1965:311). In 

8 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communittes 

general, both views are correct. In order for the third-generation Americans to re- 
turn to their ancestral ethnicity, there are certain social events that must take 
place. Subsequently, this rise in ethnicity might lead to the learning of the ethnic 

Fishman (1985:114) wrote about the attrition of ethnic languages such as 
French, German, Italian. Polish, Spanish, and Yiddish in the United States based on 
1960 and 1970 census data, and stated that most who claim non-English mother- 
tongues no longer use them. Except for Spanish, the attrition rate of the other 
languages is 36%, while for Spanish it is 19%. This is, of course, due to the large 
number of those who claim Spanish as mother-tongue, and due also to the con- 
tinuous waves of new immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. 

Arabic speakers in the Detroit metro area share with Spanish speakers these 
two factors: first, the continuous arrival of new immigrants in their neighbor- 
hoods. Second, a large number of Arab-American speakers maintain that Arabic is 
their mother-tongue. 

How and why do Arab-Americans become so inclined toward their heritage 
language, especially since this has not always been the case? Early in this cen- 
tury, the idea of maintaining minority languages or enhancing "cultural plurahsm' 
was not favored by politicians, academicians, or the public in general. Gleason 
(1984:222) stated that the fear that immigration in the U.S. could affect 'national 
culture' led to the 'espousal of the idea of assimilation and amalgamation. As- 
similation was then used interchangeably with Americanization.' 

The earliest group of Arab-Americans who immigrated after World War n 
tried to disassociate themselves from their ethnic heritage, especially its language, 
because of the way they were viewed by others. Actually, as a reaction to the 
prevailing anti-ethnic feeling and the pressure for conformity and assimilation, 
some Arab-Americans went as far as to Anglicize their names to escape discrimi- 
nation at work, or when applying for a job such as: Mohamad became Mike, 
Saleh became Sally, Bushra became Bouchard, and Asham became Ashman 

A quotation from Gregory Orfalea's 1988 book. Before the Flames: A Quest 
for the History of Arab- Americans, reflects the attitude of Arab- Americans to- 
wards their ancestral language or heritage language in the early part of this cen- 

It was for this generation, ... the most Americanized of all, that Arabic 
was a tongue whispered in warmth or shouted when a glass was bro- 
ken at the dinner table. It was not the language thai made friends or se- 
cured work, and it certainly was not useful in assembling a field rifle in 
the army (Orfalea 1988:107). 

This quotation vividly reflects Arab-American attitudes, at that time, towards the 
use of Arabic. Where was Arabic used? It was used secretly within one's home. It 
was used to express one's emotion, 'a warm whisper of love', or 'a shout' to rep- 
rimand a loved one. But it was not considered an appropriate language to be 

AleyaRouchdy: Language conflict and identity 87 

used outside the sanctity of one's home. It was not the 'language that made 
friends,' and Lf used it would isolate and alienate its speakers who will never be 
accepted in American society at large, not make friends, nor become good patri- 
ots, since 'it certainly was not useful in assembling a field rifle in the army.' 

Later, however, there were some social factors that had an impact on the use 
of Arabic in the American diaspora, and altered the feeling of paranoia that pre- 
vailed among Arab-Americans. These factors affected the maintenance of the lan- 
guage, and led to its transmission to subsequent generations. 

Post- 1960s attitude toward ethnicity 

Since the mid-1960s, there has been a shift towards an acceptance of ethnicity, 
although somewhat hypocritical. This shift is due to three major social changes, 
both in the U.S. and the Arab worlds. These social changes have had an impact 
on the use of minority languages in general and led to the revival, or rebirth, of an 
ethnic pride and identity. 

First, the civil rights movement in the U.S. during the latter part of the 1950s 
and in the 60s encouraged the assertion of racial and ethnic identity and the re- 
jection of the traditional concept of the melting pot. This led to the promulgation 
of legislation prohibiting discrimination based on race, ethnicity, rehgion, and 

Second, the convoluted political realities widespread in the Arab world 
continue to provide strong reasons for immigration from Arabic-speaking coun- 
tries. Hence, the number of fluent speakers, many of whom are well educated, is 
increasing in the U.S. and there is a larger social context within which it is appro- 
priate to speak Arabic. 

Third, the revival of a Muslim identity in the Arab world and among Arab- 
American Muslims, has created a need for the language with which they can fulfill 
their religious duties and a pride in their identity as Muslims. In other words, this 
revival of Mushm identity created a special function for Arabic — a religious 
function, because only Arabic can be used to fulfill the obligation of the most im- 
portant pillar of Islam, the prayer. 

This revival of a MusUm identity is apparent on Fridays in Dearborn, where 
.mosques are full at the fime of the noon prayer, and where many women walk to 
fhe mosques wearing their Islamic attire. In fact, the wearing of Islamic attire by 
Muslim women in the Dearborn area has been on the increase. It is noticeable in 
the streets and in some schools. 

In an article entitled 'Divided loyalties: Language and ethnic identity in the 
Arab world'. Holt stated that 'Given that language is probably the most powerful 
symbol of ethnicity, it therefore fonns a basis of identity for millions who are po- 
litically separated' (cited in Suleiman 1994:11-24). In other words, language dis- 

8 8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

tinguishes one person from another, and one group from another group. This is 
quite true, but Holt's remark was in connection with ethnic languages in the Arab 
world where minority languages are indigenous to the area — languages such as 
Kurdish, Berber, or Nubian. These are indigenous minority languages that are in 
contact with a dominant language, Arabic. In these situations of language con- 
tact, the ethnic-minority language might erode, and such an erosion might lead to 
language death. 

Arabic, on the other hand, as an ethnic language in the diaspora, faces a to- 
tally different fate. It might be affected linguistically by English to the point 
where it ceases to be used among some Arab-Americans, but it will never die. 
Hence, the difference between these two cases of language contact and conflict 
is that in the first case the ethnic language might be totally eroded, but in the sec- 
ond case the language is only attrited and can be retrieved and learned at any 

In reference to ethnic languages in 'Ethnic Unit Classification', Narroll 
(1964:283-312) stated that there is a 'mouth to mouth' and 'mind to mind' 
transmission between different generations of both ethnic groups and speech 
communities. This statement expresses well the situation of Arabic in the diaspora. 
'Mouth to mouth' refers to the transmission of the dialect spoken at home, while 
'mind to mind refers to the transmission of ideas. The idea of the Arabic language 
is what we refer to as the standard of classical Arabic language. It is this aspect of 
Arabic that acts as a unifying force among all speakers of the language. It is a 
common denominator that is bringing Arab speakers together, whether in the 
Arab world or among ethnic groups in the diaspora. It is an expression of identity. 
One might use here the defunct term of 'Pan- Arab' identity. 

Thus, the classical/standard form of Arabic creates a sense of ethnic identity 
among Arab-Americans who belong to different speech communities. Suzanne 
Romaine, when referring to the sociolinguistic variation in speech communities, 
said the 'individuals [in a community as a whole] may share the same Sprach- 
hund without necessarily sharing the same SprechhuncF (1982:24). Classical 
Arabic is the Sprachbund that acts as a symbol that differentiates or identifies not 
only those who use it, but also those who understand it, as being different from 
others, the non-Arabic speakers. It is a language from which members of the dif- 
ferent speech communities draw support and upon which they build their Arab- 
American ethos in the diaspora. Hence, it creates a bond of solidarity and an eth- 
nic identity that raises a feeling of 'us versus them'. 

There is another factor that comes into the picture in which the 'us versus 
them' feeling is also expressed, and that is the diversity of dialects. Using Ro- 
maine's terminology, Arab-Americans do not share the same Sprechbund, since 
they came from different parts of the Arab world. They have different dialects, 
which they use in their daily contact with each other. This situation also erects a 
barrier between 'us' and 'them', them being those from other dialect areas. 
Hence, this multiple dichotomy between Arabs and non- Arabs, and between Arab 

Aleya Rouchdy: Language conflict and identity 8 9 

speakers of different Arab dialects, shapes the expression of the Arab-American 
identity. It is a dichotomy that has both a negative and a positive linguistic im- 
pact. It is negative in the sense that the language can go through a process of at- 
trition, and a positive impact in the sense that a new linguistic form can develop 
that is understood by members of the different Arabic speech-communities. 

In The Arobic Language in America (Rouchdy 1992), there are reports of 
three studies in which the fate of Arabic in the diaspora is viewed differently. 
First, Badr Dweik in his study of 'Lebanese Christians in Buffalo: Language 
maintenance and language shift' concludes by saying that 'Arabic was aban- 
doned because it had no religious or nationalistic value to these Lebanese.' 
(Dweik 1992:117) 

On the other hand, Linda Walbridge, in her study 'Arabic in the Dearborn 
Mosque', discusses the relationship between Islam and the retention of Arabic in 
Dearborn. As she points out. the long-term future of Arabic depends on its sur- 
vival as a medium of religious ritual (Walbridge 1992). Third, Sawaie in his article 
entitled 'Arabic in the Melting Pot: Will it survive?', states that the large number 
of Arab immigrants who came to the U.S. from 1900 to 1910 were determined to 
protect the mother tongue' (Sawaie 1992:94). Arabic seems to be the social glue 
that bonded the community together at that time, reinforced by its use in some 
churches, mosques, and community newspapers. However, with the change in the 
political climate and the incessant attacks on Arabs in the West, the second gen- 
eration of Arab-Americans gave up their loyalty to their heritage-language, stan- 
dard or dialect. Sawaie predicts that the language of the Arabic-speaking immi- 
grants who have recently arrived in the U.S. will erode. I disagree with Sawaie's 
prediction and with Dweik' s assessment, especially in a city such as Detroit for 
the following reasons. 

Recently, in Detroit, there has been a revival in the use of Arabic among 
Arab-Americans. This revival is reflected in the increasing number of Arabic TV 
programs, Arabic newspapers, and cable networks that transmit directly from the 
Arab world. Furthermore, national religious academies have been established and 
private schools in which Arabic and Islamic studies are taught have been opened. 
Arabic as a foreign language is taught in some public schools. Moreover, there is 
a definite increase in enrollment in Arabic classes in the different universities in 
Michigan. This has also been pointed out in New York (New York Times Sunday, 
November 8) where there are 13 Arabic schools with an enrollment of 2,400. and 
in New Jersey there are at least 10 private Islamic schools. 

1 recently conducted a survey of 79 Arab-American students studying stan- 
dard Arabic as a foreign language at Wayne State University: 77 out of the 79 
stated that Arabic is very important to them. The subjects gave the following 
categories of reasons for their interest: 

38% Ethnic identity 

34% Religious affiliation 

9 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

33% Fulfilling a language requirement 

24% The importance of Arabic from a global perspective 

5% The influence of parental advice 

The students who responded to the questionnaire belonged to different speech- 
communities: they have different dialect backgrounds. They are studying stan- 
dard Arabic as a foreign language. TTius. it is standard Arabic that bonds these 
students together. Furthermore, it is standard Arabic that also bonds non-student 
Arab-Americans in the different speech-communities to form one large linguistic 
community referred to by everyone as the Arab- American community in Detroit. 

The diglossic nature of the Arabic language itself creates a strong relation- 
ship between the learning of standard Arabic as a foreign language, and the main- 
tenance of the different dialects. This association is what differentiates Arabic 
from other ethnic nondiglossic languages in the diaspora. The question to ask 
here would be: Does the learning of standard/classical Arabic as a foreign lan- 
guage help maintain the spoken language that is used at home among Arab- 

Indeed, the formal learning of standard Arabic might revive the student's 
ethnic identity and spiritual motivation, which could lead to a retrieval of the 
spoken language. However, the learning of standard Ai'abic will not prevent the 
changes that occur whenever the different dialects or languages come into con- 

As a result of this language-contact situation, an ethnic language develops, 
a language that is used among speakers in the diaspora. It does not correspond to 
any specific dialect variety, nor does it correspond to standard Arabic. It is a situa- 
tion of language-shift that creates an ethnic language, or a lingua franca, under- 
stood only by members within this specific linguistic community and that has a 
specific functional use. 

This lingua franca is not understood by Arab iminigrants outside the U.S., as 
in France, or Holland, or Germany. Comparative research of the use of Arabic in 
different parts of the diaspora will be of great value to the field of sociolinguistics. 
For instance, how does Arabic, a language in contact in the U.S., differ linguisti- 
cally and sociolinguistically from Arabic in different non-Muslim Western coun- 
tries, on the one hand, and in Muslim non-Western countries, on the other hand? 


To sum up these thoughts about Arabic as an ethnic language in the diaspora and 
its future, I would like to stress two points. First, there will always be skill-attrition 
in the Arabic spoken in the diaspora because of constant contact with a dominant 
language. However, when skill-attrition occurs, it is only in the immigrants' lin- 
guistic repertoire, and such attrition can easily be reversed for the language to be 
learned. Usually, it is the standard Arabic language that is formally learned. Such 


Aleya Rouchdy: Language conflict and identity 9 1 

learning of the standard, in many cases, leads to the acquisition of a specific dia- 

Second, the changes that occur in the ethnic language, because of contact 
with the dominant language, should not be considered as an erosion of the 
speaker's competence in Arabic, but rather as an accomplishment of performance 
resulting in an ethnic language, or a lingua franca, that acts as a bond among 
Arab-Americans and that might also help toward the learning or maintenance of 
one's ancestral language. 


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Elabbas Benmamoun 

In Morocco, four languages occupy the linguistic space: Classical 
Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Berber, and French. The complex interplay 
among these languages is driven by religion, ethnicity, and issues of 
identity, education, and development. This chapter provides the his- 
torical background of the current linguistic situation and how it 
evolved over the last fourteen centuries and discusses the factors 
that are relevant to the current debate about language policy in Mo- 


Issues of language and identity usually arise when more than one language com- 
petes for space, be it cultural, political, educational, or economic. In such situa- 
tions, adoption of a particular language as official or standard to the exclusion of 
any other gives political legitimacy and prestige to one variety and leads to feel- 
ings of exclusion, marginalization, and alienation of speakers of the excluded lan- 
guage who claim it as part of their identity. 

In the Arab world (i.e., countries that are members of the Arab League), the 
recent demonstrations in Algeria by Berber speakers against the policy of Arabi- 
zation are but one manifestation of this interplay of language and identity. What 
is significant, but was not discussed by observers of the situation, is that the pres- 
ence of French in Algeria or Morocco may not necessarily arouse the same emo- 
tions in the same people who are protesting Arabization. To an outsider, this may 
seem puzzling, but once we understand the linguistic history and reality of the 
Maghreb (the area that traditionally includes Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) we 
can start to appreciate the dynamics of the linguistic situation as it relates to ques- 
tions of identity. Some languages may not be in competition because of the roles 
they serve. 

Critical issues pertaining to the linguistic situations in countries where Ara- 
bic is the official language have not received adequate attention outside those 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 200 1 ) 

9 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

countries. Most people are familiar with the phenomenon of diglossia in the Arab 
world, where two varieties of the same broad language family exist side-by-side 
with separate roles and degrees of prestige (Ferguson 1959 and subsequent 
work). However, in these countries, particularly in the Maghreb but also in Iraq 
and the Sudan, this phenomenon is but one part of a complex linguistic problem 
that involves religion, issues of education, development, and ethnicity. 

In this chapter, I would like to provide a historical background to the lan-| 
guage situation in the Arab world and to its social and political dimensions. This 
background will be useful in understanding the specific issue of Arabic in the di- 
aspora. This historical survey will hopefully help shed some light on the relation 
between Arabic and identity in the countries from which the diaspora communi- 
ties of the Maghreb in Europe originate. To understand the questions that relate 
to Arabic within these diaspora communities, it is useful to understand the com- 
plexities of the language situation in the country or area of reference, something 
that is usually missing in the debates about Arabic in diaspora. 

Area of focus: The Maghreb 

I will focus on the Maghreb with special attention to Morocco. The issues and 
interpretations raised here will not automatically extend to the Middle East and 
the Gulf (see Suleiman 1994), because of their different ethnic and linguistic 
make-up and colonial history. I have chosen to separate the two areas because 
their linguistic situations are different, despite the fact that all the countries use 
Standard or Classical Arabic as the official language. The two areas are different 
in their historical experiences, which have led to different linguistic realities. For 
example, the Maghreb was a French colony, which radically altered the linguistic 
balance in the three countries, namely Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Secondly, 
the countries of the Maghreb, particularly Algeria and Morocco, have sizable 
populations that use Berber as a mother tongue, often in addition to the local 
colloquial Arabic dialects. In both areas, Islam is the majority religion which, in 
turn, gives Classical Arabic a prominent position, as we shall see below. However, 
religion is not the factor that relates these two areas, but rather language and its 
cultural heritage. 

If one wants to define who 'an Arab is', a possible definition would be one 
who claims Arabic as his or her mother tongue and claims to share a cultural heri- 
tage with the inhabitants of other Arab countries. In other words, somebody from 
Morocco would claim as part of his or her heritage and culture the sociologist Ibi^ 
Khaldun (1332-1406) from Tunisia, the Andalusian Ibn Rushd/Averoes (1 126-98j| 
the Persian born philosopher and physician Ibn Sina/Avicenna (980-1037), and 
the contemporary Egyptian Nobel laureate Najib Mahfuz, to name but a few. The 
same heritage could be claimed by anyone from Oman, Yemen, or Saudi Arabia. 
There is no question that there has always been a common bond (though not 
necessarily political in nature) among the inhabitants of the Arab countries. For 
example, in the 14th century one could travel from Fes in Morocco to Baghdad 

Elabbas Benmamoun: Language identities in Morocco 9 7 

via Qairawane in Tunisia, Cairo in Egypt, and Damascus in Syria and still feel that 
he or she shared his or her identity with the inhabitants of those countries (Hou- 
rani 1991). 

From this brief introduction, one can start to see the complexity of the situa- 
tion. For example, while the Berbers complain about the dominance of Arabic, 
they are all Muslims; therefore, their religion gives a special place to Arabic. Arab 
nationalists or Arabists, on the other hand, see a purely linguistic and cultural di- 
mension to Arabic that unifies Muslims and Christians. In this view, the Islamic 
heritage is considered only part of the larger Arab heritage that Muslims share 
with Christians. 

The current linguistic situation in Morocco 

There are four main languages that occupy the linguistic space in Morocco. Some 
are in direct contention for the same space, others occupy a different space or are 
trying to make their own space. The four languages are Classical Arabic, Moroc- 
can Arabic, Berber, and French. 

(1) Classical Arabic is a written language used mainly in formal edu- 
cation, media, administration, and religion. It is the official language, 
dominant in written literary forms, though there are also newspapers, 
media broadcast, and literary words in Moroccan Arabic. Classical Ara- 
bic cannot be claimed to be anyone's native language on par with, say, 
Moroccan Arabic. It is learnt only through formal instruction. 

(2) Moroccan Arabic is the native language for the majority of the 
population. It is the language of popular culture but, as just indicated, 
there are also works of literature and the arts (TV and cinema) and 
newspapers produced in this medium. Like other colloquial dialects of 
Arabic, Moroccan Arabic shares many properties with Classical Arabic 
that point to a common background; but there are also significant dif- 
ferences between the languages at the lexical, phonological, morpho- 
logical, and syntactic levels. 

(3) Berber is the language of the original people of Morocco. It is the 
native language of about 40% of the population (estimates vary). It is 
not recognized as an official language, but it is nonetheless a language 
of a vibrant culture. 

(4) French is not an official language, but it is dominant in higher 
education, particularly in the sciences, in some sectors of the media, and 
in some industries, such as banking. There are also cultural activities in 
French (usually referred to as Francophone literature). 

98 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Historical background of the current situation 

The Arab conquest and the process of Arabization 

Berber, the original language of Morocco, is a member of the Afroasiatic branch 
that includes also the Semitic and Cushitic languages. At the dawn of the Arab 
conquest in the second half of the 7th century, its space stretched from Morocco 
to Egypt, including Mali and Niger. 

The Arabs brought with them Islam and Arabic. The conversion of the Ber- 
bers was so swift, in some areas at least, that a militaiy force made up mostly of 
Berber soldiers under the leadership of a Berber commander was assembled to in- 
vade Spain and establish a Muslim state that produced some of the great works of 
literature, sciences, and philosophy by Arab, Berber, and Jewish scholars, all writ- 
ten in Arabic. The first dynasties that ruled Morocco were Berber dynasties, the 
Almoravids (1056-1147), the Almohads (1130-1269), and the Marinides (1196- 
1464). Subsequent dynasties were considered Arab, or at least this is how they 
defined themselves. 

The Arabs brought with them two varieties of Arabic. The first was Classical 
Arabic, the language of Islam. Indeed, Islam gives a privileged position to Arabic. 
It is the language of the Qu'ran and prayers are conducted only in Arabic. Thus, it 
is not surprising that those who want to maintain the position of Arabic in 
spheres other than religion rely on verses of the Qu'ran and sayings attributed to 
the Prophet that explicitly proclaim the unique position of Classical Arabic. 

The second variety brought to Morocco by the Arabs was colloquial Ara- 
bic. The fact that diglossia (in the sense of Ferguson 1959 and subsequent work) 
always characterized the societies where Arabic was spoken has been docu- 
mented in one form or another for the early centuries of Islam. The most complete 
evidence comes from Spanish Arabic (Coriente 1977) and the colloquial dialects 
of Arabic spoken in the Maghreb in the Middle Ages. Those dialects, which bear 
a close resemblance to the modern dialects in the Maghreb, were clearly different 
from Classical Arabic on all linguistic levels: lexical, phonological, morphological, 
and syntactic. 

Arabization of the Maghreb intensified with mass immigration from the east, 
particularly of Banu Hilal and Banu Maaqil in the 12th century (Hourani 1991). 
Though these waves of immigration were not in massive numbers, particularly in 
Morocco, they did play a role in Arabizing the coastal areas. A more important 
factor in the Arabization process, however, was the influx of Arab speakers from 
southern Spain (Andalusia) after the end of the Arab-Muslim rule in Spain to- 
wards the end of the 15th century, and the persecution of the Arabic-speaking 
Muslim population, which intensified during the Spanish Inquisition (Boukous 
1995). We know that most of the major cities in Morocco, such as Fes, Meknes, 
Tetuan, Rabat, and Marrakech, had sizable Arab populations, but most of the 
countryside, particularly in the mountainous areas and the South, remained pre- 
dominantly Berber up to the French colonial period early in this century. 

Elabbas Benmamoun: Language identities in Morocco 9 9 

Another factor for the relatively speedy Arabization of the Maghreb is the 
fact that Berber did not have a standard writing system and had not established 
itself as the language of scholarship (particularly religious scholarship) or admini- 
stration. Similar to the situation in the educational institutions in the East, in the 
main learning centers in the Maghreb, particularly the Al-qarawiyyin mosque in 
Morocco and the Al-Zaytuna mosque in Tunisia, Classical Arabic was the only 
language of teaching and scholarship. 

The presence of French in Morocco 

When the French officially occupied Morocco in 1912, the linguistic map com- 
prised the three languages mentioned above: Classical Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, 
and Berber. 

Before the French occupation, the educational system for the Muslim com- 
munity consisted of traditional Islamic education, essentially Qur'anic (religious) 
schools. In the old university of Qarawiyyin in Fes the education system was in- 
adequate; mostly it involved old methods of education, under which students 
spent years, if not decades, memorizing works of grammar and fiqh (jurispru- 
dence). The sciences were virtually neglected. A letter from King Mohammed ben 
Abdellah (1757-1790), quoted in Al-Jabiri 1985, illustrates the situation clearly. It 
decreed that: 

Anyone who wants to engage in logic, the sciences of philosophy, and 
the books of Sufism should do that at home with his friends who do 
not know what they are talking about. Anybody who engages in those 
studies in the mosques will be punished and will have only himself to 
blame [translation EB]. 

I provide this quote to show vividly how easy it was for French as a language to 
establish itself firmly as a serious contender for linguistic space. The ground was 
ripe for the French to introduce a completely alien system of education that did 
not need to build on the traditional Arabic educational system. The graduates of 
the French system naturally ended up reproducing it. 

The system of education under French colonial rule consisted of five main 
components (Jabiri 1985). 

(1) A European system for the French and other Europeans. 

(2) A Jewish system for the Jewish community 

(3) A Muslim system, but predominantly French in scope. 

(4) A limited traditional Islamic system. 

(5) Free schools system. (Set up by private organizations, these schools 
were nationalistic in focus). 

The main objective of the French schools was to produce professionals with lim- 
ited education who could not challenge the French occupation. The declared aim 

1 00 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

was to keep the majority of Moroccans within a narrow and hmited horizon so as 
not to endanger the colonial system. 

On the other hand, the schools for the Moroccan elite were intended to give 
children of high Moroccan government officials and wealthy families a French 
education so that they would not feel obliged to go to the Middle East where 
they would be exposed to pan-Arabic and pan-Islamic ideas. 

With respect to the Berbers, the French had an entirely different agenda, \ 
which backfired. The plan was to set up Berber schools where the children could 
be shielded from Arabic and Islamic culture because the French administration's 
interests '[oblige them] to help the Berber evolve outside the framework of Is- 
lam,' in the words of Lyautey (arguably the most influential French administrator 
in Morocco). As Roger Gaudefroy-Demombynes, a high-ranking officer of the 
colonial administration explicitly said: 

... [it is] dangerous to allow the formation of a united phalanx of Mo- 
roccans having one language. We must utilize to our advantage the old 
dictum 'divide and rule.' The presence of a Berber race is a useful in- 
strument for counterbalancing the Arab race. 

The linguistic dimension of this educational policy was to avoid giving any 
prominent position to Arabic within the Berber community, since Arabic was the 
language of Islam, the faith of both Arabs and Berbers, and also the linguistic an- 
chor that linked the Maghreb to the East. As the French official Marty put it: 

[The Franco-Berber school is] French in its instruction and life, Berber 
in its pupils and environment... Therefore, there is no foreign intermedi- 
ary. AU Arabic instruction, all institutions by the fc/ih [Koranic school 
teacher], every Islamic manifestation will be resolutely avoided. 

Piquet 1918 further argues that the creation of Franco-Berber schools 

... is an excellent, but unfortunately late idea in our possessions in the 
Maghreb . . . [A] significant part of the population in Morocco does not 
speak Arabic or speaks the two languages and we have no interest in 
spreading Arabic, the language of pan-Islamism [translation EB]. 

This policy culminated in the infamous Berber Decree (Dahir of 1914, enacted in 
1930) whose direct aim was to set up different judicial systems for Arabs and 
Berbers, but which was seen by the nationalists as part of the attempt to divide 
the country by separating Arabs and Berbers. The enactment of the Berber De- ^ 
cree led to protests by both Berbers and Arabs. The Berbers revolted partly be- m 
cause the decree was taken as an attempt to weaken Islam among the Berber 
community and to divide the country. For the Arabs, it was seen as an attempt to 
deny the Muslim and Arab idenfity of Morocco. 

These reactions clearly show the different legitimizing factors for Classical 
Arabic. For the Berbers, Classical Arabic is crucial to their identity as Muslims. So, 
to be denied this language is to be denied their religious identity. For the Arabs, 

Elabbas Benmamoun: Language identities in Morocco 101 

Classical Arabic is the anchor to the East and to deny it is to deny unity with 
other Arab countries. Some of the influential leaders of the nationalist movement, 
such as Allal Al-Fassi, leader of the Independence Party, had a traditional Islamic 
education in Morocco and the Middle East and envisaged post-independence 
Morocco as an Arab country, with Arabic replacing French as the main language 
of education and of all cultural, political, and economic spheres. 

This brief survey of the educational system and its linguistic dimensions in 
the colonial period shows the extent to which the French colonial administration 
attempted to use language as a wedge between the two main groups of the Mo- 
roccan population. Though the policy to divide the two groups ultimately failed, 
the interplay between the languages in Morocco became more complicated with 
the entrenchment of French in the country through the occupation of the educa- 
tional and economic spaces. 

The postcolonial period 

After the end of the colonial period 1956, Morocco inherited systems of educa- 
tion and administration in which French was dominant. Though Classical Arabic 
was recognized in the constitution of independent Morocco as the only official 
language, in the education system, apart from Classical Arabic in religion courses, 
all the subjects in the school curriculum were taught in French. In fact, a signifi- 
cant number of the teaching corps was composed of French or Moroccan gradu- 
ates of the French colonial education system who could not, or felt they could 
not, teach in Arabic. 

The situation of having an educational system dominated by a colonial lan- 
guage was obviously not acceptable to the leaders of the independence move- 
ment, who since 1956 have become either members of the government or the op- 
position. Since the early years of independence, calls were made to Arabicize the 
education and administration systems. The continuing presence of French was 
seen as a symbol that the country had not fully attained its independence. 

The graduates of the traditional and non-official schools of the colonial pe- 
riod (called free schools) who had often finished their graduate educations in the 
Middle East, mainly in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, had a view of Morocco after inde- 
pendence as an Arab country whose ties should be with the Arab East. The fol- 
lowing letter from the newspaper, Al-Alani (the mouthpiece of the Isqlal moder- 
ate/conservative party) addressed to the prime minister in 1973, clearly sums up 
the argument for Arabization: 

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that this foreign lan- 
guage [French] is still dominant in the administration, such as agricul- 
ture, taxation, education, postal and communication service, law en- 
forcement, local councils, and commerce. Though a few citizens know 
this language, the overwhelming majority of the citizens do not know 
it. Therefore, their interests are ignored because of the administration's 
insistence on usiniz a foreign lauiiuaee. Using a foreicn languaee to 

102 DiAsroRA, Identity, and Language Communities 

deal with the interests of the Moroccan Muslim citizens is considered 
an infringement on Islam, the Qu'ran, and the national language de- 
creed by the constitution. [Translation EB] 

This argument, based on religion, has been revived recently by religious conserva- 
tives. This current of thought has always existed in Morocco, but now is more in- 
fluential as a political force. Given its ideology, it lays claims to Classical Arabic. . 
but for different reasons than those of Arab Nationalism. ' 

The argument for Arabization was also embraced by Arab nationalists, but 
for different reasons. Here, the main argument is not based on the religious iden- 
tity of the country, but rather on the idea that Morocco is an Arab country that 
should also aspire to Arab unity; a goal that is not attainable as long as Arabic is 
in a turf-battle with French. In this respect, the presence of French was, and is still, 
seen as an obstacle to the effort to firnily bind Morocco to the other Arab coun- 

The ideas of Arab nationalism were dominant in the Middle East, particularly 
in the third quarter of this century. I should point out that the idea of an Arab na- 
tion as a pohtical entity is relatively modern (the concept of a common bond be- 
tween Arabs has always existed; what is new is the notion that the countries with 
Arabic as official language share a common bond and presumably a single cultural 
entity that can justify fomiing a single political entity). This idea had its begin- 
nings in the Middle East as a reaction to the excesses of the Ottoman Empire that 
ruled the Arab provinces (Duri 1987). For example, common complaints, which 
echo those against the French colonial administration in Morocco, included (i) 
education in Turkish, (ii) administration in Turkish, including court proceedings, 
(iii) officials who are not Arabs and speak limited Arabic, if any. The push for Ar- 
abism took different fomis, such as the publication of Arabic masterpieces from 
the golden age of Arabic civilization and the formation of societies to advance 
the interests of the Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire. It has since taken differ- 
ent tones and arguments as the events evolved starting with breakup of the Ot- 
toman Empire and the British and French colonialism in the area, to the events of 
the second half of this century, the Suez crisis, the Arabic-Israeli conflict, and the 
Algerian war of independence, to mention the three main factors that played a 
role in this debate. According to Arabic nationalist-inspired discourse, 'compre- 
hensive Arabization is a necessary condition to confirm our identity' (Al-Jabiri 
1985:147). The process of Arabization must 'aim not just to get rid of French but 
also, and importantly, ... the local Berber and Arabic dialects, and the ban on us- m 
ing any language or dialect in the school, the radio, and television other than ^ 
Classical Arabic'. According to this view, Classical Arabic is central to the na- 
tional and pan-Arab identity. The other languages aie seen as obstacles to at- 
taining that goal. 

The graduates of the French system, many of whom finished their educa- 
tions in France, were not as ready to embrace Arabisation. They wanted an inde- 
pendent Morocco, but they were not eager to dismantle the system of education 

Elabbas Benmamoun: Language identities in Morocco 103 

left by the French. Therefore, they did not object to the continuing presence of 
French as the language of education and administration. In addition to the advan- 
tages it gave them, they saw it as one way to stay connected to the West. They 
were not hostile to Arabic, but they saw no conflict between Arabic and French 
co-existing with separate functions. As far as Berber was concerned, they were 
not eager to give it the prominent role desired by its advocates. 

As far as the Berber leaders were concerned, they wanted a recognition of 
the place of Berber in the Moroccan identity beyond the folkloric representation 
of Berber culture for tourism and entertainment. They advocated a more promi- 
nent role for Berber and felt threatened by Arab nationalism, especially by the 
central role it gave to Arabic at the expense of other languages (Akhyat 1994). 
They felt that Berber would be diluted in the stronger and larger Arab world. This 
does not imply that they opposed Arabic in its religious role. Arabic, however, can 
be part of the religious identity while allowing other languages to fulfill other 
functions. They often drew parallels with the situation in Pakistan and Iran where 
the national languages are Urdu and Persian, respectively, while Arabic is the lan- 
guage of religion. They also advocated French remaining an important language, 
because they hoped that it keeps the Maghreb from being exclusively anchored 
to the East, which threatens Berber. The following quote from a Berber member 
of parliament illustrates how the argument is usually framed (translated from the 
French original in Grandguillaume 1983:87): 

We are for Arabization and defend Arabic as the language of Islam and 
national unity. But we want the creation of an institute for Berber to 
preserve this language from extinction ... We also think that [Ara- 
bic/French] bilingualism is necessary ... because if we adopt monolin- 
gualism [Arabic only], we will loose our vertical cultural relations [with 
Europe and Africa, EB] 

The arguments have been stated more directly and forcefully in recent years with 
the easing of restrictions on the media and political and cultural organizations in 
Morocco. For example, Akhyat (1994:23) argues that giving Berber its rightful 
place beside Arabic can only enrich the Moroccan culture. Then he argues that 
'Arabization is based solely on ideological considerations' which do not rely on 
any careful study of the linguistic reality in the country. According to Akhyat, 
this explains why the process has been fraught with difficulties since its incep- 

This criticism of the Arabization policy opens the advocates of Berber to 
charges of outside manipulation, but this is of course not justified. The French did 
try to use Berber as a wedge in the Maghreb to keep their grip on the area during 
the colonial period, as we saw above. Moreover, the French media exaggerate 
when they equate Arabization with intellectual terrorism (Le Monde 1991). How- 
ever, this does not impact the situation locally. The Berber advocates" perceived 
silence on the cjuestion of French and occasionally outright defense ol' the pres- 

1 04 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

ence of French is out of concern for their language and identity from the impact 
of total Arabization and particularly its political pan-Arabic overtones. 

To summarize, there are various factors that are central to the interplay be- 
tween the main languages that occupy the linguistic space in Morocco. One cur- 
rent would like to see Classical Arabic as the only dominant language. The adher- 
ents of this view oppose the continuing presence of French, particularly in the 
educational system. The religious conservatives see that as a claim that Arabic is 
not adequate for the task, which in turn they take as an implicit attack on religion 
(a familiar charge dating back to the Ottoman rule in the Levant — namely that to 
weaken Arabic is to weaken Islam). The Arab nationalists see it as an obstacle to 
Arab unity, given that Arabic is the most important single criterion for Arab iden- 
tity. Another current advocates a more prominent position for Berber, given its 
status as the original language of the country. Moroccan identity, the argument 
goes, is Berber, Arab, and sub-Saharan African. Yet another current sees French, 
and maybe other foreign languages, playing a role, particularly in the educational 
system. One of the arguments is that the educational resources do not exist to 
support adequate scientific research in Arabic. According to this view, the ques- 
tion of language policy should be framed in pragmatic developmental terms. The 
presence of French is seen as crucial to remaining open to the world, the West in 
particular. The drive for Arabization is seen, then, as either premature or not well- 
enough planned, as evidenced by the problems that have plagued this process. 

Overview of the current linguistic situation 

Currently, the whole of the elementary and secondary system is Arabized. How- 
ever, university education, particularly in the sciences, is still in French and will 
most likely remain so for the foreseeable future. This split has led to some prob- 
lems, with some students having an inadequate background in French when they 
reach the university. An adverse effect of this situation is that more students are 
enrolling in Arabized nonscience subjects, a situation that defeats one of the 
goals of the education system to produce more science graduates. 

Another result of this situation is that there is strong competition for enroll- 
ment in private French schools. This widens an already existing gulf between the 
few who can afford a French education and the vast majority of the population, 
who use the public education system (World Bank 1995). This criticism of Arabi- 
zation does not imply opposition to it; it is only a criticism of a process that seems 
to be driven exclusively by political and ideological considerations. i 

At the same time, there is more space given to Berber in Morocco. There are 
now television news programs, papers, and magazines (the weekly Tidmi, the 
monthlies: Tifawt, Tifinagh, Tamiit, and the quarterlies: Amoiid and Tasafaout) in 
Berber. More and more government officials and intellectuals openly declare 
Berber to be part of the Moroccan identity. However, this acknowledgment has 
yet to translate into concrete efforts, such as teaching Berber in schools or even 
recognizing Berber as an official language beside Arabic. 

Elabbas Benmamoun: Language identities in Morocco 105 

In Europe, and in France in particular, there is an active Berber movement. 
One of its declared aims is to stave off the extinction of Berber in the home coun- 
try by teaching it in schools and by developing a writing system or reviving the 
Tifina^h script. The question of Berber back home, as in Morocco, is often ar- 
ticulated as a question of human rights. This is particularly the position of the 
Amazigh World Congress (AWC): 'The Amazigh World Congress is determined 
to continue its peaceful struggle for the restoration of ... identity, linguistic, and 
cultural rights [of the Berbers]'. AWC has set among its objectives, 'the defense 
and promotion of the cultural identity of the Amazigh [Berber] nation'. What is 
new here is the idea is that the Berbers of the Maghreb, as a whole, form a nation; 
a single entity. This position is different from that in the previous debate, when 
each Berber group took up its cause within its own country. The reason is that 
geographically, the Berbers within the Maghreb do not form a homogeneous en- 
tity, but it is in the diaspora, in Europe in this case, that one can sometimes tran- 
scend geographical baniers, a common phenomenon within diaspora communi- 

As fai' as French is concerned it is still an important language for economic 
reasons, though it is increasingly giving ground to English in higher education 
(Boukous 1995). In fact, there are some who propose replacing French with Eng- 
lish, since English is the dominant international language and does not have the 
same colonial overtones as far as Morocco is concerned. 


I have tried to provide an overview of the current linguistic situation in Morocco 
and its history. The interaction between the languages in question — namely 
Berber, Classical Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, and French is determined by ethnicity, 
religion, social class, and educational background. This is the crucial reason why 
any attempt to have one language take over the space previously occupied by 
another language can be difficult. The question, then, is how this situation plays 
out within the Moroccan and Maghrebi communities in the west. For example, 
we can expect that Classical Arabic will be maintained in some fashion (as a litur- 
gical language) regardless of ethnic background, or identity, because of its central 
religious role. The situation with respect to the spoken languages — namely Ber- 
ber and Colloquial Arabic, should be different, with ethnic identity playing a ma- 
jor role in efforts to maintain these languages. These are important questions that 
must await further study. I hope that this exposition can at least help sharpen 
ihem and put them in the proper context. 


Akhyat, Ibrahim. 1994. Ihuaadhaa l-amaziii^hiya. Kcnitra: Boukili. 
Al-Jabiri, Mohammed Abid. (1985). Adwaa' \ilcui nuishkil t-ialiini hi-l iiuif^h- 
rih. Casablanca: daar n-nashr. 

106 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

BOUKOUS, Ahmed. 1995. Sociele, Langues et Cultures Au Maroc: Enjeux Sym- 
boUques. Rabat: Publications de la Faculte des Lettres et des Sciences Hu- 

CORIENTE, Federico. 1977. /I Gramimitical Sketch of the Spanish Arabic Dialect 
Bundle. Madrid: Instituto Hispano-Arabe de Cultuia. 

DURI, A. A. 1987. The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation. Translated by 
Lawrence I. Conrad. London: Croom Helm. 

ElCKELMAN, Dale. 19S5. Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a 
Twentieth-Centuij Notable. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

Ferguson, Charles. 1959. Diglossia. Word 15.325-40. 

Grandguillaume, Gilbert. 1983. Arabisation et politique linguistique au 
Maghreb. Paris: Maisoneuve et Larose. 

Halstead, John. 1967. Birth of a Nation: The Origins and Rise of Moroccan 
Nationalism, 1912-1944. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 

HOURANI, Albert. 1991. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge: Harvard Uni- 
versity Press. 

Masayif, Mohamed. 1973. Fii th-thawra we t-tcCriib. Sh-sharika 1-wataniyya li-t- 
tab^ wa t-tawzii\ 

MOATASSIME, Ahmed. 1992. Arabisation et languge Fran^aise au Maghreb. 
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Piquet, Victor. 1918. Le Maroc. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin. 

Suleiman, Yasir. 1994. Nationalism and the Arabic Language: An historical over- 
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RoucHDY, Aleya. 1992. The Arabic Language in America. Detroit: Wayne State 
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TiBBi, Bassam. 19S\. Arcdy Nationalism: A Critical Inquiry. Translated by Marion 
Farouk-Sluglett & Peter Sluglett. London: McMillan. 

World Bank. 1995. Patterns of Illiteracy in Morocco. Living Standards Meas- 
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Youssi, Abderrahim. 1995. The Moroccan triglossia: facts and implications. Inter- 
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Erica McCliire 

The modern Assyrians are a Christian population from the Mid- 
dle East who trace their ancestry to the ancient Assyrian empire and 
who speak a Neo-Aramaic language. This chapter examines the link 
between language and identity in the Assyrian diaspora. It discusses 
the way in which Assyrian nationalists have constructed etymologies 
to support the claim that their ethnic group has always self-identified 
as Assyrian. It also documents their attempts to use modern Assyrian 
cognates with Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian empire, to 
support their thesis that the modern Assyrians are the descendants of 
the ancient Assyrians. In addition, this chapter examines how a de- 
veloping literary language and oral koine have had an important part 
in the development and maintenance of Assyrian national conscious- 
ness and how a political goal, the unification of different Middle 
Eastern Christian communities as one national group, has led Assyrian 
nationalists to treat as one language dialects that linguists consider to 
belong to separate languages. Finally, this chapter discusses the role 
that codeswitching plays in affimiing Assyrian ethnic group member- 
ship and establishing boundaries between Assyrians and members of 
other ethnic groups. 

Has a nationality anything dearer than the speech of its fathers? In its 
speech resides its whole thought domain, its tradition, history, religion, 
and basis of Life, all its heart and soul. To deprive a people of its 
speech is to deprive it of its one eternal good ... With language is cre- 
ated the heart of a people (Herder 1783, cited by Fishman 1972:1). 


As the quotation above from the German philosopher and theologian Johann 
Gottfried von Herder indicates, scholars have long recognized that there is an in- 
timate relationship between the language a people speaks and that people's so- 
cial identity. Today, that relationship is the focus of interest to social scientists 

Diaspora. Identity, and Laniiua^e Communities 
(Studies in ihc Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

108 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

from a wide range of disciplines who are investigating issues of nationalism and 
ethnicity. Lambert 1979 and Giles 1979, among others, have noted that even a 
small amount of oral language produced by a speaker may be sufficient to elicit a 
fuU set of ethnic attributes in the mind of a hearer. Fishman (1989:47), a scholar 
particularly renowned for his work on language and ethnicity, notes that al- 
though the link between language and ethnicity 'is not an inevitable one, it is 
clearly a highly likely one, both as a result of the general symbolic function of i 
language as well as because of its specific implication in the paternity, patrimony, 
and phenomenology dimensions of ethnicity experiences'. Enninger (1991:24) 
claims that the specific design features of human language make linguistic per- 
formance the prime medium for the projection of ethnicity. The role of language in 
marking ethnicity and in-group versus out-group relationships has also been ex- 
tensively treated by those scholars investigating the phenomena of codeswitch- 
ing (cf. Gumperz 1982; Heller 1988; and Myers-Scotten 1993). The case for the 
centrality of language in the construction of social identity is well summarized in 
the following quote from Le Page & Tabouret- Keller (1985:248): 

In language, however, we are offered by the society we enter and we 
offer to others, a very overt symbolization of ourselves and our uni- 
verse, not only in the various grammars and lexicons and prosodies we 
can create for various domains of that universe, but also through the 
social marking which each occasion of use carries. Language is not 
only the focal centre of our acts of identity; it also consists of meta- 
phors, and our focusing of it is around such metaphors or symbols. The 
notion that words refer to or denote 'things' in 'the real world' is very 
widely upheld, but quite misplaced; they are used with reference to 
concepts in the mind of the user; these symbols are the means by which 
we define ourselves and others. 

While it is clear that language generally has an important role in the construction 
of social identity, it may come to have a particularly important role in diaspora 
communities whose members may feel threatened by a loss of or uncertainty 
about ethnic identity. Such problems are particularly intense within the Assyrian 
community for two reasons. First, the Assyrians do not have their own nation 
state or even any type of autonomy within an existing nation state. Furthermore, 
it is possible that today there are more Assyrians living in diaspora than in their 
traditional homeland because of the oppression that they face there. Second, eth- 
nic identity has been a shifting social construct for Assyrians. Indeed, there is no^ 
general consensus in the present-day Assyrian community, either with respect t« 
the existing peoples who should be included within the ethnic group, or with re- 
spect to the historical origins of these peoples; and, to some extent, that uncer- 
tainty is mirrored in the scholarly community. 

The uncertainty about the roots of the ethnic group, Assyrian, Aramean, 
other, or a combination thereof, has given rise to very acrimonious debates over 
the very names to be used in designating it,' and the language its members speak. 

Erica McClure: Language and identity in the Assyrian diaspora 109 

Its people have called themselves and been called by others Assyrians, Suryaye, 
Suraye, Suroye, Curyaye, Syrian!, Aramaeans, Chaldeans, Assyro-Chaldeans, 
among other labels. The language they speak is commonly known in the commu- 
nity as Surit, but is referred to by Assyrian nationaUsts as leshana aturaya, the 
'Assyrian language". The term 'Assyrian' will be used here to refer to the ethnic 
group, since that is the term currently given greatest acceptance;^ and, following 
Tsereteli 1978 and Odisho 1988, the language spoken by the ethnic group wiU 
also be called 'Assyrian". However, it should be pointed out that the name 
'Assyrian", when applied to the Neo- Aramaic languages and dialects spoken by 
members of this group, is somewhat misleading, since they belong to the West 
Semitic branch of the Semitic language family, while the term Assyrian has tradi- 
tionally been applied by linguists to the dialect or language (Semiticists differ 
with respect to the status they accord it) spoken in the Assyrian Empire, which 
together with Babylonian is known as Akkadian. Akkadian formed the East Se- 
mitic branch of the Semitic family and is extinct. 

The Assyrians of today are a Middle Eastern people whose traditional 
homeland included Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Two dimensions are typically 
used in determining Assyrian ethnic group membership — religion and mother 
tongue. To be considered a member of the ethnic group, a person must, first, be a 
Christian, and second, a native speaker of a Neo-Aramaic language or dialect. In 
the Middle East, where the Christian Assyrians are a very small minority in a 
mostly Moslem world, it is their Christianity that is perhaps their most salient 
characteristic. In diaspora in a mostly Christian world, it is their mother tongue 
that most clearly distinguishes them. However, neither mother tongue nor rehgion, 
nor even the union of the two, offers a totally unambiguous criterion for group 

First, Middle Eastern Christian Neo-Aramaic speakers do not all belong to 
the same religious denomination. Although today some belong to Protestant de- 
nominations and a few belong to the Syrian Catholic church, historically they 
have belonged primarily to three churches. These are the Nestorean Church or 
Church of the East, the first organized Christian church in the world; the 
Chaldean Church, a uniate Catholic Church which broke off from the Church of 
the East; and the Jacobite Church, also called the Syrian Orthodox Church, which 
is separate from the group of Eastern Orthodox Churches, which includes the 
Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, and Russian Orthodox Churches. 

For some Assyrians, only those people who are members of the Church of 
the East are truly Assyrians, while, for others, any Christian Neo-Aramaic speaker 
is an Assyrian. Members of the Church of the East generally tend to have em- 
braced the Assyrian ethnic identity, while many members of the Chaldean Church 
simply consider themselves Chaldean, and many members of the Syrian Orthodox 
Church consider themselves to be Aramaeans. Furthermore, while some members 
of one religious denomination consider members of the other two to belong to the 
same ethnic group if ihcy are Neo-Aramaic speakers — even though they may 

110 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

have disagreements with those people as to the appropriate ethnic-group label — 
other people do not accept even Christian Neo-Aramaic speakers as members of 
the same ethnic group if they do not belong to the same religious denomination. 

There are two additional complications to this picture. While all Chaldeans 
from Iran are Neo-Aj-amaic speakers, not all Chaldeans from Iraq speak a Neo- 
Aramaic dialect: Some speak only Arabic. Arabic-speaking Chaldeans are consid- 
ered to be Christian Arabs by some Assyrians, while others, at least at some level 
and for some purposes, include Arabic-speaking Chaldeans as members of the 
Assyrian ethnic group. Indeed, in political discussions, some Assyrians claim as 
fellow ethnic-group members all Christians whose churches use, or have in the 
past used, Syriac as their liturgical language, thereby including even the Maro- 
nites of Lebanon. 3 

Not only religious affiliation but also linguistic background can be a source 
of complications in the definition of who is, in fact, an Assyrian. The Modern 
Aramaic dialects are divided by Hoberman 1989 into Western Aramaic, repre- 
sented by Ma'lula, Bakh'a, and Jubb 'Adin, and Eastern Aramaic, divided into 
Turoyo, Mlahso, Northeastern Aramaic, and Modern Mandaic. Some scholars 
have classified Turoyo as a central group intermediate between Western Aramaic 
and Northeastern Aramaic. While some people consider both Christian Turoyo 
speakers and Christian speakers of Northeastern Aramaic dialects to be members 
of the same Assyrian ethnic group, others do not. Furthermore, while speakers of 
the Northeastern Aramaic dialects may be members of any of the three churches 
— the Church of the East, the Syrian Orthodox Church, or the Chaldean Church, 
in the past all Toroyo speakers belonged to the Syrian Orthodox Church. As men- 
tioned above, some members of the Syrian Orthodox Church, and particularly 
some Toroyo-speaking members, consider themselves to be descendants of the 
Aramaeans rather than of the Assyrians, and these people are in great part the 
Toroyo-speaking members of the Syrian Orthodox Church. 

Finally, mother tongue is an imperfect criterion for Assyrian ethnic-group 
membership because there are Jewish groups which speak Northeastern Neo- 
Aramaic dialects which are almost indistinguishable from some of the dialects 
spoken by the Assyrians. 

There are different ways in which members of the Assyrian community have 
used language in the social construction of their ethnic identity, first turning to an 
examination of what might be termed 'folk linguistics' or 'ethnoreconstruction'. 
Under this heading fall both community members' discussions of the origins of 
the different names for the community, and also their attempts to use cognates in 
ancient Assyrian, the Akkadian dialect spoken in the Assyrian Empire, and in the 
Modem Northeastern Aramaic, spoken by the Assyrians of today, to validate their 
assertion that the modern Assyrians are the direct descendants of the ancient 

Let us first consider the issue of the appropriate name for the ethnic group. 
A website for the Syrian Orthodox Church provides an account of the derivation 


Erica McClure: Language and identiti' in the Assyrian diaspora 111 

of the Church name written by the patriarch H. H. Mar Ignatius Yacoub in which 

This name was derived from Cyrus the king of Persia (559-529) who 
conquered Babylon (539 B.C.) and hberated the Jews by permitting 
them to return to Judea ... The name "Syrian' is equivalent to the term 
'Christian' which was applied to the disciples in Antioch for the first 
time, because those converted Jews believed that Cyrus, their liberator 
from captivity in 538 B.C., resembled Christ, the liberator of captive 
mankind, ... This name was used in Syria to distinguish between the 
Christian Arameans and the Arameans who were not yet converted . . . 
Likewise, the Aramaic language was called Syriac. Until the present 
days the Christians who speak Syriac are called, in this sense, 'Suroye' 
or 'Suraye' or 'Curyaye'. 

Modern Assyrian nationalists argue that the name 'Assyrian' has been used 
by their people throughout their history. They base their claim on the fact that 
throughout many centuries Northeastern Aramaic speakers have used the term 
'Suryaye' (Syrians) in self-designation, together with the fact that in the modem 
dialects this term has a variant fomi 'Suraye.' They then argue that the term 
'Suraye' is derived from the term 'Asuraye.' This position'* may be seen in the 
quote below from a website established by Peter BetBasoo which includes his 
response to a previously posted argument, indicated by arrowheads, deriving the 
term 'Suryaye' from King Cyrus: 

> I think the idea that the title of our people, 'Syrian', was derived 
>from the word 'Assyrian' is, in a way, very simplistic. For this reason it 
>may appeal to many people, but it is simply wrong. Because how do 
>you account for the timing??? Why after thousands of years of such a 
>rich history between the Aramaeans and Assyrians, the name 'Syrian' 
>suddenly appears to describe our people after the coming of Christ? 
>The derivation of the word Syrian from the name of the Persian King 
>Cyrus is the most likely scenario. 

What is the problem of timing? It is completely reasonable to ex- 
pect a word to evolve in pronunciation. The original word for 'fort- 
night' (which means 'two weeks' in English) was 'fourteen nights'. 
Over time this compound word contracted to 'fortnight'. As any 
speaker of Assyrian knows the letter A (allap) is very flexible and can 
appear and disappear. It is not at all unreasonable, and it is the most 
logical explanation because it is the simplest explanation, that As- 
suraya — > suraya, a simple dropping of the initial allap. Assyrians will 
say Akhona or khona, and both are perfectly intelligible. 

Your argument that 'Cyrus' is the most logical etymology has several 
fatal flaws: 

112 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

1) The ORIGINAL name is Chosreos (korisli in Assyrian). How 
does Chosreos transform to surayal 

2) Most importantly, there is written evidence of the word 
siiraya being used long before Cyrus came on the scene. 


Just as Assyrian nationalists frequently engage in folk linguistics or ethnorecon- 
struction to provide justification for their claim that their ethnic group has histori- 
cally identified itself as Assyrian, so too they often attempt to employ historical 
linguistic arguments to substantiate their claim to direct descent from the ancient 
Assyrians. Thus, they assert that modern Assyrian, a Northeastern Neo-Aramaic 
language, has more cognates with ancient Assyrian or Akkadian than do other 
modern Semitic languages. An example of such argumentation may be found in 
the following quotation from a note posted by Peter BetBasoo on the Internet 
newsgroup soc. culture. assyrian on September 12, 1996 by 

The following is a concordance I compiled based on the glossary 
contained in the book titled State Archives of Assyria, Vohime III: 
Court Poetry and Literary Miscellanea by Alasdair Livingstone, Hel- 
sinki University Press. 

The Glossary contained approximately 1000 words. 1 went 
through this glossary and listed every word that is common to Modern 
Assyrian (neo-Syriac) and Ancient Assyrian (Akkadian). 1 did not in- 
clude words that are also common to other Semitic languages, such as 
'camel' {Gamal) and 'dog' (Kalb), because my intention was to show 
that Modern Assyrians are indeed descended from the Ancient Assyri- 
ans, and that this is reflected in their dialect of neo-Syriac. 

Assyrians spoke Akkadian before switching to Aramaic. The 
switch to Aramaic was completed by 750 B.C., and the Assyrian em- 
pire fell in 612 B.C. (pooh!); This means that for 150 years, the Assyri- 
ans administered their vast empire in Ai'amaic, which, of course, is the 
parent language of Syriac and neo-Syriac. But the Assyrians did not 
disappear after the fall of their empire; they just continued to live on 
their land (to this day), and were the first to convert to Christianity in 
33 A.D. 

Of the approximately 1,000 words that I examined, I found 104 
words that are common only to modern Assyrian and Ancient 
Assyrian. This is 10%. Also, the list does not show the nuances of pro- 
nunciation. The way Assyrians say these words, and the other words 
that are common to other Semitic languages, is much closer to the Ak- 

Furthermore, these words are found only in modern Assyrian and 
Ancient Assyrian. For example, in Akkadian, 'weapon' is Kakku; in 

Erica McClure: Language and identity in the Assyrian diaspora 113 

Edessan Syriac it is Zaineh, but in Modern Assyrian it is Chekka; this 
shows that even though the written Assyrian is based on the Edessan 
Syriac, the spoken Assyrian is probably much older. There are many 
other such examples. 

It is worthy to note [sic] that, even based on a cursory examina- 
tion of a small sample (1,000 words), there is a significant body of Ak- 
kadian words in modern Assyrian. A thorough examination, on a more 
scientific basis, of the Assyrian Dictionary (published by the Oriental 
Institute of the University of Chicago), would, I believe, reveal the rela- 
tionship even more so. 

( 'Re: Akkadian Words in Modern Assyrian.' 12 
Sept. 1996. soc. culture. assyrian 12 Sept. 1996) 

A list of words follows the quotation given above. Suffice it to say that the 
Ust of 104 words is replete with those that have cognates in other Semitic lan- 
guages, and the modern Assyrian word Cluika (Chekka is a tribal Jilwaya pro- 
nunciation) is, according to Maclean 1901, a borrowing from Kurdish. Further- 
more, even if modern Assyrian were to have Akkadian words that no other Se- 
mitic language had, that would hardly prove that the modern Assyrians were the 
descendants of the ancient Assyrians, given that the Assyrian Empire officially 
used both Akkadian and Aramaic for several centuries, making borrowing be- 
tween the two languages very likely. 

Attempts by Assyrian nationalists to use lexical items to validate community 
claims to descent from the ancient Assyrians are only one way in which language 
has been important in the creation of Assyrian ethnic identity. The creation of a 
standardized written variety of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, as well as of an oral 
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic koine, 5 has been another important aspect of identity- 
formation in the modern Assyrian community. Maclean (1895:xiii-xv) divides the 
dialects of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic into four major groups: (1) the greater Urmi dia- 
lects, including those of Solduz, Sipurghan, Gavilan, et al., (2) the Northern dia- 
lects, including those of Salamas, Qudshanis, Gawar, Jilu, et al., (3) the Ashiret 
dialects, including those of Upper and Lower Tiari, Tkhuma, Tal, Baz, Mar Bishu, 
Shamizdin, et al., and (4) the Southern dialects, including those of Alqosh, Telkief, 
Telesqof, Bohtan, Zakho, et al. These dialects are not all mutually intelligible, and 
speakers of the different dialects have traditionally identified with fellow members 
of an 'ashirat (a tribe, virtually autonomous under the Islamic state), millet (a 
I community, recognized by the Islamic state, which was organized in a Church 
and controlled in its internal matters by its own religious authorities), or geo- 
graphical entity (plains, then rivers, then villages), that is, with speakers of the 
same dialect, rather than with any potential superordinate ethnic group (Heinrichs 
1993). However, as Odisho 1988 and Muree-van den Berg 1995 have noted, a 
process of standardization of a written variety of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic based on 
the dialects of Urmi was begun in the 184()'s by American Protestant missionaries 
working with Assyrian priests.^' Allcndancc at Assyrian schools in which literacy 

114 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

in the written variety was taught, along with access to a growing Hterature, secu- 
lar as well as ecclesiastical, led to identification with a larger community, the utnta, 
'nation' or 'people'. 

Today, Assyrian social and political associations throughout the diaspora 
promote literacy in Assyrian as a symbol of ethnic identity and a tool in commu- 
nity maintenance. The Assyrian Church of the East is active worldwide in pro- 
moting both literacy in Assyrian and Assyrian nationalism; in Detroit, the 
Chaldean community has established bilingual private schools in order to foster 
both literacy in the native language and a sense of ethnic identity in its children. 
In Iran and North Iraq, as part of their attempt to preserve their heritage, the 
Assyrian communities are maintaining their own schools, which use Assyrian as 
the medium of instruction. The importance which the Assyrian community places 
on literacy in Assyrian as part of ethnic-identity maintenance is also shown by the 
fact that Assyrians in diaspora have written and disseminated computer software 
packages and established numerous sites on the Internet to teach literacy skills to 
those Assyrians who, while fluent in Assyrian, are not literate in it.^ 

The importance of the written language in the creation and definition of 
Assyrian nationalism is also demonstrated by the controversies surrounding the 
compilation of dictionaries. For example, in 1996, the Assyrian Academic Society 
became involved in a project to compile a bilingual English and Modern Assyrian 
dictionary. Major disagreements arose among Assyrian participants in the project 
with respect to which dialect's pronunciations should be reflected in the tran- 
scriptions provided in dictionary entries, whether to include words from all dia- 
lects even if they were borrowings from other Middle Eastern languages, ^ and 
whether to include forms from Classical Syriac'^ not used in vernacular Assyrian 
Neo-Aramaic as replacements for borrowings into the vernacular from other Se- 
mitic languages. Another contentious debate arose over the desire of some 
Assyrians to include in the same dictionary both Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and 
Toroyo which are not mutually intelligible and are considered to be sepaiate lan- 
guages by Semiticists."^ However, many Assyrian nationalists consider Toroyo 
speakers to be Assyrians and, therefore, wish to claim that Toroyo and Assyrian 
Neo-Aramaic are the same language. 

The standardization process, which gave birth to a written standard lan- 
guage, also became the fu"st step in the evolution of an oral Assyrian koine (Od- 
isho 1988:20). This process, which was begun in Umiia in Iran and continued in 
Habbaniya and Baghdad in Iraq, still continues today in the Assyrian diaspora. 
Assyrian communities in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Austra- 
lia support radio and television programs broadcast in Assyrian. These broadcasts, 
for the most part, are not conducted in the various dialects but rather in a koine, 
so that they will be intelligible to a wider audience. Thus, they serve to link 
Assyrians throughout the diaspora and in the homeland as well. Furtheimore, ra- 
dio programs that provide standards for the oral language, for example M\r u La 
M\r, 'Say and Don't Say,' broadcast in Chicago, aid in the process of koine- 

Erica McClure: Language and identit)' in the Assyrian diaspora 115 

formation. The process is also furthered by columns dedicated to enriching peo- 
ple's vocabularies found in newspapers and magazines, and in Internet publica- 
tions such as the weekly Assyrian newsmagazine, Zenda. 

The importance of the role that the Assyrian language plays as a marker of 
ethnic identity and as a boundary-maintenance device, separating members of the 
Assyrian ethnic group from others, may also be seen in the codeswitching be- 
tween English and Assyrian found in American Assyrian communities. Even 
those Assyrian bilinguals who are strongly dominant in English will frequently 
use Assyrian words and phrases in conversations with other Assyrians to mark 
their shared ethnic group membership and such codeswitching increases in situa- 
tions where Assyrian nationalism is at issue. 

Assyrian-English codeswitching also occurs in the written channel. 
One important context in which it is found is the Internet. As Albert 
Gabrial notes in an article in the Cultural Survival Quarterly (Gabrial 

Today, Assyrians are one of the most widely scattered indigenous peoples. Most 
Assyrian families in the U.S. generally have relatives in Australia, Sweden, Leba- 
non, Iraq, or Canada. For such a small nation scattered throughout the world, the 
Internet is a dream come true. 

Although the Assyrians do not have a nation-state, Gabrial states that by 
1995 it was possible to build a home for the Assyrians in cyberspace and to es- 
tablish a global community. Today, Nineveh On-Line, the global community that 
Gabrial created, receives over 100.000 visitors per month. There are dozens of 
Assyrian web pages, electronic magazines, chat rooms, and newsgroups. 

The Assyrian language is one of the aspects of the Assyrian culture that is 
emphasized on the Internet, despite the fact that it has no standard transliteration 
and that technical problems make it very difficult to write extended messages on 
the Internet in the Assyrian alphabets, such messages having to be handled like 
graphics rather than by using ASCII. In addition to the sites that teach literacy in 
the Assyrian alphabets, there are others that provide vocabulary lessons and give 
English translations of the lyrics of songs written in Assyrian in order to provide 
more material for learning the language. 

Furthermore, one can see the way individuals affirm their Assyrian identity 
by using Assyrian in chat rooms and in postings to newsgroups. In addition to 
|he occasional words and phrases used in the bodies of messages, greetings and 
xlosings are very frequently written in Assyrian. For example, in one posting from 
the newsgroup soc.culture. Assyrian, both a greeting and a closing are given in 
Assyrian. The greeting is Shlama Elokhon Bnei Umti, 'Peace to you children of 
the nation," and the closing is Hal d-Tapqakh Go Atour, 'Until we meet in 
Assyria.' Another common greeting is simply Shlamalokhun, 'Peace to you', and 
two common closings are B-shena, 'In peace' and Push h-shena, 'Remain in 
peace.' In one posting, the phrase la hshaina, 'not in peace' and the phrase /// 

116 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

shlama, 'there is no peace' occurred in an argument over ethnic identity. Both 
the writer of the message at issue and the author of the message to which he is 
responding agree that they are members of the same ethnic group, and that fact is 
tacitly acknowledged by the use of the Assyrian phrases in the text. What is at 
issue is the correct name for the ethnic group — Assyrian or Aramcan. 

Another written medium in which Assyrian-English codeswitching also oc- 
curs frequently is advertisements. Typically, the information reproduced in the 
two languages is not the same. In one example, the only Assyrian that appears is 
Qala d-Aturaye, 'Voice of Assyrians'. In another, an ad for a butcher shop, the 
Assyrian text informs the reader that there are special prices for Assyrian house- 
holds for meat for religious holidays, information which is not presented in the 
other two languages, Arabic and English, in which the advertisement is printed. 
Thus, we can see that the use of Assyrian in advertisements is motivated by sev- 
eral different factors — identifying the advertiser as a member of the Assyrian 
community, affuming pride in one's language and culture, demonstrating ethnic 
solidarity, and restricting the provision of certain information to members of one 
ethnic community. Wedding invitations and announcements for community lec- 
tures, dances, and other cultural activities are other contexts in which Assyrian is 
used. As in the case of advertisements, more information is typically provided in 
English than in Assyrian in such written materials. 


In this chapter, we have examined the relationship between language and iden- 
tity in the Assyrian diaspora. We have discussed the way in which Assyrian na- 
tionalists have constructed etymologies to support their assertions that their eth- 
nic group has always self-identified as Assyrian. We have also noted their at- 
tempts to use modern Assyrian cognates with Akkadian to support their thesis 
that the modern Assyrians are the descendants of the ancient Assyrians. We have 
shown how political concerns have created a desire to treat as one language dia- 
lects which linguists consider to belong to separate languages. We have also dis- 
cussed the importance of the standardization of a written language in the process 
of formation of Assyrian national consciousness and the continuing importance 
of literacy in ethnic identity maintenance. The importance of the formation of an 
oral koine in promoting ethnic group unity in diaspora has also been noted. Fi- 
nally, we have discussed the way in which codeswitching is used to affirm mem- 
bership in the Assyrian community and to establish boundaries between Assyri- 
ans and members of other ethnic groups. Clccirly, for Assyrians in diaspora, the 
Assyrian language is a very important marker of Assyrian identity, since Christi- 
anity, which set them apart in the Middle East, does not serve that function in the 
West. The importance Assyrians give to their language is eloquently expressed in 
the excerpt from the poem 'Mother Tongue' by the well-known Assyrian writer 
Geewargis D-BetBinyamin given below. 

Erica McClure: Language and identity in the Assyrian diaspora 


Mother Tongue 

Work for the nation without stopping: like a son in the family 

Not like a foreign employee: hired for a daily wage. 

If you wander through the whole world: take your language with 

And take it as a part of the household: for your Assyrian son. 

If you lose your language: with it you lose your name 

And if your name is forgotten: your seed will be wiped 

As long as there is language in the mouth: in the world you have a 

And you will continue to be called alive like your Assyrian father. 

of a sick person without 


skillful, will cure the pa- 

that exists in the speaking 


will live like a declaration. 

again it will come to light 

the vernacular and also the 


true like the law. 

burning by day and by 


that if you set out for other 


use like a family one. 

As long as there is life in the body: 
Yet there is hope that the doctor: 
Just in that way too the language: 

If carried to the last day: 
One day there is no remedy: 
The Assyrian language: 

These for you an example: 

That they be before your eyes a light: 

From today swear oaths: 

That a foreign language you will not: 
(English translation by E. McCIure) 


' Indicative of the dissension within the community over this topic are two long 
threads on the Internet newsgroup soc. culture. assyrian . In the first, Gabriel Rabo, 
a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church, who considers himself to be an 
Aramean, engaged in a dispute with members of both the Church of the East and 
I the Syrian Orthodox Church who consider themselves to be Assyrians. Replying 
to a message from Sabro Gabriel that contained the statements, T am a Syrian Or- 
thodox Christian; my identity is of course Assyrian,' Mr. Rabo stated. That's 
right, your confession is Syrian Orthodox, but your identity is wrong ... The true 
site of our history teach [sic] us: we are Aramaean, and we speak Aramaic not 
Assyrian'(Gabriel Rabo. 'Re' Syrian Orthodox Christians are 
Aramaean' II July 1996. soc. culture. assyrian ( 1 1 July 1996)). 

1 1 8 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

In the second thread, Malay Arsan, who identifies himself as a Syrian Or- 
thodox Assyrian, states, 'I think we are the descendants of the Sumerians- 
Akkadians-Bahylonians-Chaldeans-Arameans, and Assyrians' (Matay Arsan. 
'JB.d.raadt' ©student. sew. vu,nl 'Re: Difference in culturel?' 28 Jan. 1999. 
soc. culture. assyrian ( 29 Jan. 1999)). Esho Tower, in commenting on Matay Ar- 
san's note, says, 'Don't forget to include the Israelites' [ 
'Re: Difference in culturel?' 12 Feb. 1999. soc. culture. assyrian (13 Feb. 1999)]. 
Raman Michael, responding to Esho Tower's comment, denies that the Israelites 
have a place among the ancestors of the modern Assyrians: 'The fact that the 
majority of the 10 tribes were in Babylonia and not in Assyria proper does not 
support the theory that we are somehow descendants of these tribes' (er- 'Re: Difference in culturel'?' 12 Feb. 1999. soc. culture. assyrian (13 
Feb. 1999)). 

2 Although there is controversy with respect to the use of the term 'Assyrian' to 
denote the Christian population in question, Heinrichs 1993 endorses its use. In 
the introduction to his paper, he states, 'The perspective of the following paper is 
historical-onomastical. Its aim is to focus on the various acceptations of the name 
"Assyrian" during the course of history as well as on the various other names 
applied to the people presently carrying that name, the vantage point in all this 
being the present-day situation. From a review of these data, it will become ap- 
parent that, given the historical circumstances in which the Assyrians found 
themselves in the first two decades of this century, it was almost inevitable for 
them to readopt or reapply the term "Assyrian" as a national name for them- 
selves; at the very least, it made good sense for them to do so' ( 1993:99). 

^ Heinrichs 1993 notes, 'From the point of view of language and church tradition 
it would make sense for the Nestorians (plus offshoots) and the Chaldeans to join 
ranks as one Assyrian nation. But then there is the even larger range of applica- 
tion of the name "Assyrian" which would include the Western Syrians — and 
thus ideally, all groups whose church language is Syriac. This idea is espoused by 
most Assyrian nationalists' (1993:1 1 1). 

■* The derivation of the term 'Suraye' is an issue that surfaces frequently within 
the ethnic community, and it is one that arouses strong emotions. The Assyrian 
nationalist position on the derivation may also be found in a journal article by 
William Warda 1994 and in numerous discussions on the Internet. In a thread on 
the newsgroup soc. culture. assyrian, which ran from January 22, 1999 until Feb- 
ruary 12, 1999, Matay Arsan mentioned two additional derivations that have 
been offered, namely that the term is derived from 'Sur' (TyiTJs), a city in Leba- 
non, and that it is derived from 'Cyrus of Aginur', a king of a tribe in the region of 
Syria ('JB.d.raadt' ©student. sew. vu,nl 'Re: Difference in culturel' 28 Jan. 1999. 
soc.culture. assyrian (29 Jan. 1999)). 

-'' It might, perhaps, be more accurate to refer to the creation of oral Assyrian Neo- 
Aramaic koines, since the koine created in Urmia is not identical with that created 
in Iraq, nor is either identical with the koines being created in the diaspora. 

Erica McClure: Language and identity in the Assyrian diaspora 119 

^This process has yet to reach completion. Since the Assyrians do not have a na- 
tion-state, there is no national organization with the authority to establish stan- 
dards for the language. Orthographic conventions differ across writers, as do 
morphology, syntax, and vocabulary. 

"^ More than half of the Assyrians for whom Assyrian is a first language are not 
literate in Assyrian because there have been many periods during which the gov- 
ernments of the Middle-Eastern countries in which they have resided have either 
discouraged or forbidden schooling through the medium of Assyrian. 

'^ While some participants wanted to exclude Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, and Persian 
loanwords from the dictionary, no objection was expressed towards the inclusion 
of Greek and Latin loanwords or of those from modern European languages. 

^ Classical Syriac and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic stand in a diglossic relationship to 
one another. Classical Syriac being used as the language of the church, and 
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic being used for all other purposes. The two are very closely 
related; the majority of their lexical items are shared. Whether Assyrian Neo- 
Aramaic is a direct lineal descendant of Classical Syriac is an issue that has not yet 
been resolved by Semiticists. 

'*' See above for a discussion of their classification. 


D-BetBinyamin, Geewargis. 1986. Leshana d-ylmma. Mari^anyati d-myatroota. 

2:30-5. Chicago: Nineveh Press. 
Enninger, Weiner. 1991. Linguistic markers of Anabaptist ethnicity through four 

Centuries. Language and Ethnicity. Festschrift in Honor of Joshua A. 

Fishman on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday II, ed. by James R. Dow, 23- 

60. Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 
Fishman, Joshua A. 1972. Language and Nationalism. Rowley. MA: Newbury 

. 1989. Language & Ethnicity in Minority Sociolinguistic Perspective. 

Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, LTD. 
Gabrial, Albert. 1998. Assyrians. 3,000 years of history, yet the internet is our 

only home. Cultural Survival Quarterly. Winter: 42-4. 
Giles, Howard. 1979. Ethnicity markers in speech. Social Markers in Speech, ed. 

by Klaus R. Scherer & Howard Giles, 25 1-89. London: Cambridge University 
I Press. 
GuMPERZ, John J. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University 

Heinrichs, Wolfhart. 1993. The modern Assyrians — Niune and nation. 

SEMITICA. Serta philologica. Constantino Tsereteli dedicata, ed. by Ric- 

cardo Coniini, Fabrizio A. Pennacchietti, & Mauro Tosco, 99-111. Torino: 

Silvio Zamoran Editore:. 

120 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Heller, Monica, ed. 1988. Code-Switchinf^: Amhropoloi^iccil ami Socii>liiii>iiis- 
tic Perspectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

Herder, Johann G. 1783. Briefe ziir Befdrdenmg dcr Humauitiit. Riga: Johann 
Friedrich Hartknoch. 

HOBERMAN, R. D. 1989. The Syntax and Semantics of Verb Morpholos^y in Mod- 
ern Aramaic. New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society. 

Lambert, Wallace E. 1979. Language as a factor in intergroup relations. Lan- 
guage and Social Psychology, ed. by Howard Giles & Robert H. St Clair. 
186-192. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 

Le Page, R. B., & Andree Tabouret-Keller. 1985. Acts of Identity. Creole-based 
Approaches to Language and Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University 

Maclean, Arthur J. 1895. Grammar of the Dialects of Vernacular Syriac (re- 
printed 1971). Amsterdam: Philo Press. 

. 1901. Dictionary of the Dialects of Vernacular Syriac (reprinted 1972). 

Amsterdam: Philo Press. 

Murre-van den Berg, H.L. 1995. From a spoken to a written language. The in- 
troduction and development of literary Urmia Aramaic in the nineteenth cen- 
tury. Rijksuniversitet te Leiden, PhD dissertation. 

Myers-Scotton, Carol. 1993. Social Motivations For Codeswilching. Oxford: 
Clarendon Press. 

Odisho, Edward Y. 1988. The Sound System of Modern Assyrian {Neo- Aramaic). 
Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. 

Tsereteu, K. G. 1978. The Modern Assyrian Language. Moscow: "Nauka" 
Publishing House. 

Warda, William. 1994. Heritage of the contemporary Assyrians: Setting the re- 
cord straight. Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society. 8:1.31-50. 




Michael Palencia-Roth 

In Western civilization and history it is the Genesis story of the Bible, 
with its myth of the exile of the primal parents from that initial unitary 
world, that has established in our minds the diasporic consciousness as 
part of the human condition. Exile thus becomes linked to a narrative 
which relates the loss of home to the loss of innocence. This essay ex- 
plores the diasporic consciousness in several current Colombian writ- 
ers, a consciousness shaped by that country's history over the past five 

'Diaspora' is defined as a compelled exile, removal, dispersal, or 
displacement, together with the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of a 
return to and a recuperation of the physical spaces of one's cultural 
and personal identity. The diasporic experience does not require phys- 
ical exile from a country, but the key point is the issue of a compelled 

The history of Colombia's violence over the past five decades is 
reviewed in order to establish that the desplazamiento or the physical 
displacement of people from their native towns and farms is a fact of 
Colombian reality. Colombian writers have responded to their current 
situation either by disengagement of one kind or another, or by en- 
gagement. Five writers are commented upon as paradigmatic: Gabriel 
Garcia Marquez, Alvaro Mutis, Philip Potdevin, Gustavo Alvarez 
Gardeazabal, and Fernando Cruz Kronfly. In each instance we see a 
diasporic consciousness at work. 


Seldom do we hear it acknowledged that in Western civilization and history it is 
the Genesis story of the Bible, with its myth of the exile of the primal parents 
from that initial unitary world, that has established in our minds the diasporic 
consciousness as part of the human condition. Exile thus becomes linked to a nar- 
rative that relates the loss of home to the loss of innocence, as if to say that all 

Diaspora, Identity, and Lxiniina^e Communities 
(Studies in the Lingui.stic Sciences 31:1, Spring 200 1 ) 

122 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

who have been forced into exile were being punished for particular transgres- 
sions, that they deserved to be 'victims'. As powerful as the Genesis story is, it is 
neither unique nor unusual. Most cultures that I know of have myths describing a 
fall from grace and a consequent exile from home. Perhaps that explains why di- 
asporic consciousness is so deeply a part of our emotional constitution and moral 
outlook, facilitating our empathy with experiences of people the world over. We 
sense both the universality and the intensely personalized particularity of diaspo- 
ras as a phenomenon. Some of that particularity will be explored in these pages 
on diasporic consciousness in several current Colombian writers, a consciousness 
shaped by that country's civil disturbances, national crises, and forced migrations 
over the past five decades. 

I will not dwell on the phenomenon with which the term 'diaspora' is most 
commonly associated, the Jewish Diaspora, which began after the destruction of 
the Second Temple in the first century of the Common Era and continued, some 
would maintain, until the establishment of the State of Israel after the Second 
World War. Nor shall I explore a number of other experiences which have been 
labeled 'diasporas': those of the Armenians in various countries, of the Turks in 
Germany, of the Cubans in the United States, of the Pakistanis in Britain, of the 
Africans in the Caribbean as well as in North, Central and South America. These 
transnational migrations may or may not be 'diasporic' in the sense in which I am 
using the term. 

For instance, because the Turkish experience in Germany is not the result 
of a compelled displacement, I would not call that experience a diaspora per se, 
though I would say that it has diasporic elements. Germany, no matter how long 
the Turks may have lived there, does not, say many Turks, feel like 'home'. Be- 
cause the Mexican experience in the United States is similar to that of the Turks 
in Germany, I would not call it a diaspora either, though some of its diasporic 
elements include the feeling of alienation in American life and a cultural identifi- 
cation with Mexican rather than with American values. So, too, with a number of 
other communities throughout the world. I leave those experiences and issues to 
one side as 'nondiasporic'. The distinction should be preserved between those 
experiences which result from forced exile and those which result from emigra- 
tion for different reasons and which end in complete assimilation. With such as- 
similation, diasporic consciousness, whatever the initial reason for the abandon- 
ment of 'home', in effect ceases to exist. 

A 'diaspora', in my view, has the following characteristics: it is a compelled 
exile, removal, dispersal, or displacement, together with the difficulty, if not the 
impossibility, of a return to, and a recuperation of, the physical spaces of one's 
cultural and personal identity. Whether the return is difficult or impossible, the , 
separation from 'home' causes enormous pain. The diasporic experience does 
not, I believe, require exile from a country. Indeed one can experience a diaspora 
within the borders of one country, even within the borders of one's own country. 
The key point is the issue of a compelled displacement. 


The term 'diaspora" has been much in the air in the last decade. Certainly 
the fact that a journal bearing that name has been in existence since 1991 is sig- 
nificant. Also significant is the fact that the journal is of high quality, that it at- 
tracts contributors from the best universities, and that it regularly publishes arti- 
cles which are transnational in origin and interdisciplinary in approach. Yet it is 
precisely that journal's sophistication that leads me to the following observation. 
k By and large, the diasporic experience is a classless phenomenon, affecting peo- 
' pie from every stratum of society and from the entire spectrum of professional 
life. However, most of the writing about diasporic experiences is the product of 
an elite that has been fortunate enough to survive and even thrive in exile. 

Those of us born and raised in foreign countries who now live in the United 
States should remain aware of the delicacy of our position whenever we speak 
about the phenomenon of diaspora. Though we may have experienced some of 
the pain of exilic life, we should not assume that we speak from the same ground 
of experience as those who have lost so much more and who have so many fewer 
resources — linguistic, educational, financial, professional — to fall back on. To 
assume so is to run the risk of alienating those in the audience or among our 
readership who may have had deeper and more extensive diasporic experiences 
than we have. I vividly remember the reactions of several Indian students to the 
public lecture of a prominent Indian intellectual on the topic of post-coloniality 
and Indian identity. These students were incensed that the speaker should have 
chosen to identify himself to the American audience as a prime example of the 
effects of post-coloniality on the people of India as a whole. What angered these 
students was that this most privileged of Indian intellectuals should have equated 
his or her problems of self-identity with those of so many people so much less 
fortunate back in India. 

Autobiographical positioning 

The subject at hand requires a brief autobiographical positioning. I was born in 
Colombia and lived there without interruption until after I turned sixteen. Since 
then, I have not lived in the country continuously for longer than four months at 
any one time. True, Colombia and Call, my hometown, remain 'home' for me in 
ways that the United States and Champaign-Urbana, where I have lived for 
twenty-one years, can never be. True, I identify emotionally with Colombia and 
with being Colombian. However, since my family was not compelled to leave, 
i^niy own situation and consciousness cannot be labelled 'diasporic'; I consider 
wiyself more of an emigre than an exile. Thus, although my empathy with my 
countrymen is profound, I cannot claim to have experienced the diasporic events 
of our common history to the same degree that Colombians in Colombia have. 1 
ly this even though my family, like all Colombian families, has had its share of 
difficulties and tragedies that arc directly related to the situation in the country. 
For instance, in June of 1996 my cousin, Miguel Palencia, was murdered, thus 
becoming just another statistic in the civil unrest that has plagued Colombia since 
the late 1940s. Since then, my cousin's family has rarely returned to the family 

124 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

farm, which is in an area intermittently controlled by guerrillas. Despite events 
like these that have affected both my family and many of my friends in Colom- 
bia, I am fully aware that my life in America is so much more tranquil than it 
would have been had I remained in Colombia. It is the kind of tranquillity that 
tenure in a major American university is designed to foster. Even the occasional 
viciousness of American academic politics pales in comparison to what academ- 
ics in other parts of the world often go through. i 

If Colombia were Ireland or Israel or Yugoslavia, we would hear about it on 
the news every night; its problems would have been placed before the court of 
world opinion by the United Nations and other entities; it would have been in- 
vited to participate in highly publicized multilateral talks in Camp David or the 
Wye Plantation; it would have hosted visits from the president and vice-president 
of the United States, or from the Secretary General of the United Nations. But, 
whatever the reason, Colombia does not figure much in the national conscious- 
ness of America. It is a mostly invisible country whose problems are generally 
either ignored by the international media or minimized and relegated to the back 
pages of newspapers, bulleted as one of a group of international items worthy of 
mention but not of analysis. More attention has been paid to Colombia by Spain, 
France, and Germany than by the United States, and this despite the millions of 
American dollars in foreign aid to the country and despite the presence there of 
American 'advisors' to help the country in its war on drugs. 

It is the war on drugs that has drawn most of America's attention, a war 
reminiscent of Hercules's confrontation with the multi-headed hydra. So many 
and so varied are the fronts, so elusive the enemy, and so shifting the ideological 
or political positions taken by the various factions that it is difficult to know what 
or whom to attack, and how. The complexity of the situation is partly the result of 
civil wars and other problems that have gone on for so long that some Colombi- 
ans refer to them as 'our tradition'. Colombia's civil wars have been intermit- 
tently occurring for almost two hundred years, spawning a culture of violence 
and forcible displacements by now so woven into the fabric of our national con- 
sciousness that one writer, Juan Carlos Moyano, speaking at the National Book 
Fair in Bogota in the spring of 1998, advocated spelling 'violence' with a 'b' (as 
biolence) because it seems to be part of biology, part of the genetic make-up of 
Colombians. Though such rhetorical exaggeration may be unfortunate, begging 
as it does the question of responsibility, it nonetheless also reveals the despair 
that has come to permeate Colombian life in almost every sphere of activity. 

The current civil wars in Colombia are rooted in an event from fifty years ^ 
ago known as 'el bogotazo' in which, in response to the assassination of a char- 
ismatic political leader named Jorge Eliezer Gaitan, the people of Bogota arose in 
spontaneous violent protest, burning and destroying several city blocks in the 
center of the capital. The unrest spread quickly to other parts of the country, initi- 
ating a period in Colombian history — which we are still living through — 
known as la violencia or the violence. This period has been marked by assassina- 

Palencia-Roth: Diasporic consciousness in Colombia 125 

tions, by massacres in remote villages, by armed insurrections, by the creation of 
independent armies, by the explosive growth of narco-terrorism, by the forced 
migration of countless people from their villages to large urban centers like Bo- 
gota, Medellfn, and Cali. As a boy, 1 remember families coming into Cali with all 
their possessions loaded onto a horse-drawn cart or a peddler's two-wheeled cart. 
And these were the lucky ones, for they had survived the massacres and the 

These childhood memories are supported by reports and data from more 
objective sources. The newspaper of Cali, El Pais, reported in April 1998 that for 
a considerable time before that particular news release, an average of ten dis- 
placed families per day had been arriving in Cali. Driven from their homes, they 
had entered the city without money or prospects. In 1997, the Catholic Church of 
Colombia issued a report which documented that between 1987 and 1997 more 
than 1,000,000 Colombians had been forcibly expelled from their towns and vil- 
lages and forced to seek the relative safety of the larger cities. The 'Colombia 
INFOinBRIEF', a publication of the U.S. /Colombia Coordinating Office of 
Washington, D.C., stated in its internet edition of February 23, 1999, that in 1998 
alone approximately 308,000 people were internally displaced. All this, it must 
be noted, in a time of widely praised governmental stability and free elections in 
what has been declared to be one of the most enduring 'democracies' of Latin 
America. Such forcible migrations testify to one of the internal and tragic diaspo- 
ras of Colombia, in this case affecting mostly the rural and defenseless poor. This 
phenomenon is so much a part of Colombian life that it is known simply as el 
desplazamiento, or the displacement, the word being sufficient on its own to raise 
in every Colombian's mind images which American audiences would reserve for 
a fragmented, war-torn Yugoslavia. 

Present circumstances not only mitigate against easy solutions to Colom- 
bia's tragic situation, they also virtually ensure the continuation of its internal di- 
asporas. There are now, in effect, four separate armies in the country, each with 
its own agenda and command structure. There is of course the military arm of the 
government, with its army, navy, and air force, supported by police units. On the 
left or Marxist side of the political spectrum are the armies belonging to several 
guerrilla movements, the most prominent of them being the FARC (Fuerzas 
Amadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Co- 
lombia) and the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, the National Liberation 
Army). These movements have drawn their inspiration at times from Castro's 
revolution and from Liberation Theology. Prominent among its leaders — both 
living and dead — are former priests. Over the past decade or two, the ideologi- 
cal theory driving these leftist forces has lost its definition as the targets of their 
revolutionary activity have become more diverse and even fragmented. At one 
lime the guerrilla movements had a clear and single enemy: the national govern- 
ment. Now that is no longer the case, for two other armies have arisen. One 
comes from the right or conservative side of the political spectrum and serves 
some of the lalifuinlisui families of Colombia, those families that for generations 

126 Diaspora, identity, and Language Communities 

have used their enormous landed wealth to wield considerable political power 
and influence in the country. This oligarchic class established private armies be- 
cause it could no longer count on the state for protection and safety. These pri- 
vate armies are known as los paramilitares. nicknamed los paras, and they do 
combat with the other three armies of Colombia. The issue usually is the control 
of land in remote areas of Colombia, usually land rich in natural resources like 
oil. The paramilitares have no ideology; their only duty is to protect and enhance 
what the rich already possess. The fourth army — less an army, really, than 
armed groups resembling battalions or squadrons — is the army that most 
Americans might have heard about. This army belongs to the nouveaux riches of 
Colombia, the drug lords and their extended family of partners and international 
networks. This army is driven neither by ideological considerations nor by the 
concerns of the country's super-rich. The situation has been complicated even 
more in recent years by the turn in all four armies to drugs, primarily cocaine, in 
order to finance their activities and the acquisition of sophisticated weaponry. 
This turn has created a culture of literally cut-throat capitalism in all four groups, 
even among the leftist guerrillas. Moreover, it has become virtually impossible to 
sort out the exact relationship among the armies, for they are shifting, with para- 
militares, for instance, sometimes acting at the behest of drug lords or high- 
ranking government military officers. 

Colombians have learned not to trust the media, either theirs or that of any 
other country. If, for instance, the media reports a massacre occurring in a distant 
village, one must frequently wait days in order to learn whether the massacre had 
been perpetrated by guerrillas, by paramilitares, by drug lords, by the Colombian 
army, or by some combination of those forces. And even then there will be room 
for doubt. Given the endemic nature of the violence in Colombia, it should not be 
surprising to learn that for the past several decades between 20.000 and 30,000 
people per year have been killed as a result of the activities of these four armies 
or because of what is euphemistically known as la delincuencia comim, ordinary 
delinquency, as if the violence visited upon Colombians day in and day out were 
the result of mere truancy or of ordinary social unrest. 

The historical context and the disengagement response 

I am not alone in maintaining that Colombia is in a state of war, a situation made 
all the more tragic and difficult to deal with by its being undeclared. Almost 50% 
of the country is under the direct control of drug lords and the guerrillas, collec- 
tively known in the journalistic shorthand of the national press as ias fuerzas 
subversivas' (the subversive forces). This brutal fact of Colombian reality has 
implications for the country's cultural life, as many of its writers, artists, and 
other intellectuals have lost the physical spaces — and the access to those spaces 
— which have enabled them to feel Colombian. The fact that these losses have 
come as a result of violence has made them all the more painful and difficult to 


There is scarcely a writer in Colombia who has not been affected by the cur- 
rent situation and who has not responded in some way to it. A comprehensive 
analysis from this perspective of Colombia's literature during the last fifty years 
would run to several hundred pages. Consequently, here I will suggest only the 
outlines of an analysis by commenting on the following writers: Gabriel Garcia 
Marquez, Alvaro Mutis, Philip Potdevin, Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazabal, and 
Fernando Cruz Kronfly. These five writers represent the four major literary re- 
sponses to the country's crises of the past five or six decades. Three of these 
authors may be said to have responded by disengagement of one kind or another; 
two of them by engagement. In each instance we see a diasporic sensibility at 

The first of the disengagement responses is conventionally exilic or dias- 
poric. Some writers feel compelled, or have actually been compelled, to live and 
work outside of Colombia. It does not strike me as insignificant that Colombia's 
two greatest living narrative artists, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alvaro Mutis, 
have lived in Mexico City for the past thirty or so years. Both of them began liv- 
ing outside of Colombia for political reasons. As the years went by, it became in- 
creasingly difficult for them to reintegrate themselves in a permanent way into 
Colombian life on Colombian soil, though both have tried on occasion. Most re- 
cently, Garcia Marquez has bought Cainbio, a Colombian magazine of general 
news and cultural commentary, and is using his position as owner and editor to 
influence his Colombians' political and cultural views. Yet he has maintained his 
residence in Mexico City and has not permanently moved back to Colombia. 
Both Garcia Marquez and Mutis do return to the country frequently and are gen- 
erally treated with admiration and respect by all but those Colombians who con- 
sider living abroad to be an act of treason. 

In the fiction of Garcia Marquez and of Mutis, as well as of others who live 
abroad, Colombia usually becomes a land clarified and exalted in an imagination 
emancipated by distance, freed from the cumbersome trivialities of daily living 
and at least geographically separated from the incessant violence which hangs, 
like the sword of Damocles, over the head of every Colombian in the country. 
This is not to say that writers like Garcia Marquez and Mutis are escapist, but it is 
to suggest that they reach for a level of style and content beyond the vicissitudes 
of any particular present moment. Their exile has allowed them in effect to re- 
fashion Colombian reality on their own terms. Thus, I akso do not consider it in- 
significant that for both writers the sources of their creativity may be found in 
I their rural and village childhoods, worlds purified for them by time and distance. 

Macondo, the archetypal Latin American village which is the setting of One 
Hundred Years of Solitude and which is based on Garcfa Marquez's hometown of 
Aracataca, is made typical precisely by a description of its features which empha- 
sizes its universality rather than its particularity. The second sentence of the 
novel reads: 'At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built 
on the banks of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones. 

128 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs'. And Maqroll, the peri- 
patetic hero of Mutis's narratives, wanders through much of Europe and Latin 
America, yet in Colombia spends much of his time roaming the countryside 
where Mutis himself grew up. The descriptions of specific villages, roads, and 
rivers have been painted with brush strokes broad enough to make them simply 
typical Colombian landscapes. For instance, the action of the novel Un bel morir 
begins in an unnamed settlement at the edge of an unnamed river and then un- 
folds in a landscape of coffee plantations and sugar cane. 

Those Germans who remained in Germany during the Hitler years, but who, 
nonetheless, considered themselves to be 'good Germans' likened their situation 
to that of an 'inner emigration'. Rather than take the path of physical exile, as 
Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig did, they chose to remain in the country and 
within the Nazi orbit of influence. Theirs was a kind of compelled psychological 
exile in which they felt they could only write about events and subjects far from 
the problems of daily life in the Germany of the 1930s and 40s. Many of the 
scholars among them turned to periods remote from contemporary Germany, 
such as classical Greece, imperial Rome, medieval Europe, Golden-Age Spain, 
and the Baroque. In the very different context of Colombia, this is the second 
kind of disengagement which I have identified. This inner emigration or psycho- 
logical exile creates a consciousness which is internally diasporic in significant 

Philip Potdevin is such an internally diasporic writer. A Colombian in his 
early forties who has published two highly praised novels, a number of critical 
essays, and several books of short stories and poems, he is, in his professional 
life, concretely engaged in making a living as a lawyer, a sometime professor of 
literature in a major university in Bogota, and an employee of a multi-national 
firm. He also writes some social commentary in newspapers. In his creative 
work, however, he is so escapist, detached, and disengaged that the relationship 
between the person and his literary work is at times difficult to fathom. 

His first novel, entitled Metatron, tells of the discovery, in a forgotten 
chapel in a forgotten village high in the Andes, of a series of paintings of myste- 
rious archangels and the effects that this discovery probably has on two couples 
who travel to the village to study the paintings. The novel's allusions are to al- 
chemy, cabala, the history of painting and of religions, theology, and, of course, 
angelology. The book's subject matter and its resolutely esoteric tone and style 
make it among the more unusual novels published in Colombia in the mid 1990s. 

No less remote from contemporary life and issues is his second novel, Mar 
de la tranquilidad . That novel, published in late 1997, concerns a bullfighter who 
becomes the student of a Zen Master and who, through bullfighting, zazen, and 
the tea ceremony, experiences a kind of satori. It is as though Ernest Hemingway 
and Juan Belmonte were to meet D. T. Suzuki. No detail of the novel situates it in 
any definite Colombian or Latin American city. That vagueness does not seem to 
be the result of an intention to create an archetypal Latin American city which 


every citizen of the continent would recognize as his own, as is the case with 
Garcia Marquez's Macondo. Potdevin's vagueness seems rather to be part of a 
strategy of detachment that is as dehberate as it is pervasive in his work thus far. 

Potdevin's short stories are, most of them, similarly detached from a spe- 
cific time and place. In his poetry, he writes mostly haikus and poems on classi- 
cal themes and figures like Circe. In correspondence with me, Potdevin has ac- 
knowledged the detachment which permeates his work, but he does not really ex- 
plain it. My own view is that the tragic dissonances and insecurities of current 
Colombian life have driven him into a kind of psychological exile in his creative 
work, while remaining physically in Colombia. 

The engagement response 

There appear to be two kinds of writers who continue to live in Colombia but de- 
liberately refuse the position and condition of psychological exile. The first type 
is engaged and confrontational; the second, engaged, yet nostalgic for a country 
that no longer exists. 

The first kind may be represented by Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazabal, one of 
the most prominent writers of the generation after Garcia Marquez. Alvarez 
Gardeazabal grew up during la violencia. He recalls that, as a boy in his native 
town of Tulua, he would open the door of his house in the mornings to see who 
had been assassinated the night before and whose body was lying in the street. I 
have heard him speak with eloquence about the trauma of such daily violence on 
the psyche of a growing boy. And yet he chose to face the issues of violence di- 
rectly. A student in the Universidad del Valle in the late sixties, he wrote a thesis 
in 1970 on novels of la violencia in Colombia. That work of research and criti- 
cism set him on his path as a writer, for his literary work is similarly concerned 
with la violencia and the dissonant realities of contemporary Colombian life. 
Though scarred by his experiences, he does not seek refuge in a distant past or in 
a place remote from contemporary Colombia. In sum, he is not nostalgic and not 
a psychological exile. Unlike Philip Potdevin, he does not lead a life conflicted 
by the contrary impulses of engagement and disengagement. 

This is not to say that Alvarez Gardeazabal's life is free of conflict. In fact, 
he seems always to court controversy and difficulty. It is partly this devotion to 
the committed life and its attendant struggles that, I believe, led him into regional 
politics and to the governorship of the state (Departamento del Valle del Cauca) 
in which he was born. As one might expect, his governing style was as confron- 
tational and as direct as his writing style. In confronting political corruption, for 
instance, he named names and was specific in his accusations. Such forthright- 
ncss did win him a following among the people, but it has also created powerful 
political enemies. Those enemies were behind an accusation that during his cam- 
paign for the governorship, he accepted financial contributions from people later 
associated with the drug mafia of Valle del Cauca. Jailed in May of 1999 and 
held without bail until the prosecutors had assembled their case and argued it be- 

130 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

fore the national Court of Jusstice, he was found guilty in the spring of 2001, 
sentenced to six and a half years of prison, including time already served, and 
fined an enormous sum. Also, he has been barred from seeking public office. It is 
now very much an open qurstion whether or not he will ever return as a voice to 
be reckoned with at the national level. 

The second kind of writer who refuses psychological exile, who remains 
engaged but who is. nonetheless, nostalgic about the past, may best be repre- 
sented by Fernando Cruz Kronfly. His attitude and his responses to the current 
situation are probably the most typical of Colombians in the late 20th century. 
Although he lives in the country and would not consider living elsewhere, he 
views himself as uprooted and forcibly displaced from those spaces that shaped 
and nurtured his sense of identity. The family farm associated with his most inti- 
mate childhood memories is no longer available to him, and it has not been since 
the day eight or nine years ago when his son, then a teenager, was kidnapped 
from it and ransomed. The farm sits abandoned except for a caretaker, too dan- 
gerous to visit even now, and yet too precious in memory to be sold. The city of 
Call in which Cruz Kronfly grew up has been so altered and blighted by industri- 
alization, overbuilding, and pollution, and rendered so unsafe by the drug culture 
that he no longer feels at home in it. Cruz Kionfly's experiences with kidnapping 
and his feelings about Colombia's dangerous countryside and altered cityscapes, 
I should add, are shared by countless other Colombians. 

In essays, Cruz Kronfly has described his own works as registering the ef- 
fects of post-modernity: they capture, he says, the horror of contemporary life, 
the numbing indifference that protects the psyche from that horror, the uprooted- 
ness caused by the loss of those physical spaces that defined a person, and the 
brittleness in human relationships. Anyone reading the preceding sentence would 
say that what Cruz Kronfly describes is not particularly unique, or even limited to 
Colombia. That is true. A major city like Cali in Colombia is in a sense only an 
exaggerated example of the post-industrial, post-modern third-world city. 

Cruz Kronfly has described his creative work accurately, for it is peopled by 
characters who, bitter and lonely, desperate and alienated, have lost their way. 
And yet these same characters, perhaps precisely because they are so lost, search 
for a positive meaning to their existence. They usually try to find in the present 
an older and more intimate way of being in the world. It is a search almost al- 
ways doomed to failure, and thus moments of happiness are few in Cruz Kron- 
fly' s works. When they do come, they are accompanied by feelings of guilt, as if 
happiness in such a world were the undeserved consequence of a cosmological 
mistake. For Cruz Kronfly, happiness is generally to be found only in a certain 
kind of past time and place. Thus, even as he registers the dissonances of the 
post-modern third-world city, he tries to recreate or otherwise memorialize the 
vanished spaces of childhood, those quiet homes and patios, those villages and 
rural spaces which until recently substantially determined what it meant to be a 
Colombian. He is, in a word, nostalgic. 

Palencia-Roth: Diasporic consciousness in Colombia 131 

Nostalgic. The word comes from the Greek nostos, which signifies a 're- 
turn', usually a return home. Thus the English word 'nostalgia' carries with it the 
longing for home. Is it not significant that two of the stories most important for 
establishing the cultural identity of the West, each story told toward the begin- 
ning of our historical memory, are concerned with home, exile, and the longing to 
return? The first of these stories, that of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden 
with which I introduced this essay, promises to replace the exile with a return, 
that return given figural expression in the promise of the Messiah for Jews and in 
the Kingdom of Heaven for Christians. That the return is to be accomplished at 
the end of History, writ large, is indication enough of its impossibility in any or- 
dinary life. 

The second of these stories is perhaps more hopeful, perhaps because more 
modest and more secular. Homer's Odyssey is also based on the loss of home, a 
time of forced wandering, and a longing to return. Critics have identified this set 
of themes in the Odyssey as the nostos perspective in the epic. And, precisely be- 
cause Odysseus' s wanderings are compelled by the gods, they are diasporic. 

John Gardner has written that there are only two basic plots in literature: 
that of the man who goes on a journey, and that of the stranger who comes to 
town. The early verses of Genesis set up both situations: Adam and Eve are 
forced to leave home; and Cain is the stranger who comes to town. In Greek lit- 
erature, the Odyssey is based on the first plot; Oedipus Rex, on the second. Yet 
both plots are in my view part of a larger and even more universal story of the 
hero cycle: the 'master plot' of his expulsion, his diasporic existence, and his re- 
turn, a return which then is often explicitly defined as either successful or failed. 
No wonder, then, that we see the echoes of this master plot in so many literary 
works of western civilization, both in the works of the western canon like the 
Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, and Ulysses, and in the cultural expressions of coun- 
tries like Colombia which have made instability almost its national tradition. 

5. Conclusion 

Each of the Colombian writers that I have described as diasporic has felt himself 
to have been separated irrevocably from his past. Each has seen that past de- 
stroyed either by the forces of modernization or by the violence that has defined 
Colombian life for most of the decades of this century. Most of these writers tend 
to look back to a Colombia which may never have been actually innocent, but 
which they have defined as more innocent than the country at present. Rightly or 
wrongly, these writers have imagined Colombia's cultural innocence to have 
been real at some level. Their views are not unique. The past, precisely because it 
is irrecoverable, often becomes a world of 'once upon a time'. Becoming so, it is 
transformed into the site of nostalgia, identified with a home long since de- 
stroyed, a garden long since abandoned, an innocence long since lost. Most of 
these writers thus embody, though in differing degrees of intentionality and 
awareness, the Greek principle of nostos. In exile, whether actual or psychologi- 

132 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

cal, external or internal, they long for a cultural wholeness which may be as im- 
possible to achieve as it is necessary to believe in. Jorge Luis Borges once said 
that to be Colombian requires an act of faith. I believe it. 


Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazabal was born in 1945 in Tulua and grew up | 
there, educated by Franciscans and Salesians. He abandoned the study of chemical 
engineering in Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin, devoting himself 
then to Uterature at the Universidad del Valle. In 1970, he wrote a Masters Thesis 
on 'Las novelas de la violencia en Colombia' {Colombia's Novels of the Period of 
Violence), directed by Walter Langford of Notre Dame. His first major novel, 
Condores no entierran todos los dias, which won the Manacor Prize in 1971, ap- 
peared in Barcelona, Spain, after first being published in Colombia. Other prizes 
in Spain and elsewhere followed, as did major fellowships like the Guggenheim. 
His other major works of fiction are: Dadeiba (1973), El bazar de los idiotas 
(1974), El titiritero (1977), Pepe Botellas (1984), El divino (1986), Los sordos ya 
no hablan (1991). In 1980, after a decade of teaching in several universities, he 
resigned from his professorship at the Universidad del Valle to dedicate himself to 
writing and to politics. He was twice elected mayor of his native Tulua (1988 and 
1992) and was elected governor of the State of Valle in 1998. 

Fernando Cruz Kronfly was born in 1943 in Buga. Colombia, but grew up 
in Call. He received a law degree from the Universidad de Gran Colombia, in Bo- 
gota, and has practiced law for most of his life. He also taught for a number of 
years at the Universidad del Valle, retiring from that university in 1998, and 
throughout his career has written for most of the major newspapers and journals of 
Colombia. His first short stories won literary prizes in Colombia and in Mexico. 
His first novel, Cdmara ardiente (aka Falleba) won the Bilbao Prize in Spain in 
1981. Novels published since then include La obra del siieno (1984), La ceniza del 
libertador (1987), La ceremonia de la soledad (1992), El embarcadero de los in- 
curables (1998), La caravana de Gardel (1998). His most important collections of 
essays are: La sombrilla planetaria (1994) and Amapolas al vapor ( 1996) 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1927 and 
lived there with his grandparents until 1936, when he rejoined his parents in Sucre, 
a town on the banks of the Magdalena River. He was sent to a private boarding 
school in Zipaquira (on the outskirts of Bogota) in 1940. After high school he en- 
rolled as a student of law at the Universidad Nacional, and it was during that first | 
year in 1947 that he wrote and published his first short story, 'La tercera re- 
signacion'. He was in Bogota on April 9, 1948, the day of the Bogotazo. The riots 
and the ensuring disturbances shut down the university and Garcia Marquez re- 
turned to his Caribbean roots in Cartagena, La Guajira, Aracataca and Barran- 
quilla. It was in these towns that he turned to writing both journalism and fiction. 
He became nationally known first as a journalist and then as a short-story writer 


and novelist. He burst on the international scene with the astonishing success of 
One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967. Other major novels and stories followed. 
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. His main works, besides 
One Hundred of Solitude, are: El otoiio del patriarca {The Autumn of the Patri- 
arch, 1975), Cronica de una nnierte anunciada {Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 
1981), El amor en los tiempos del colera {Love in the Time of Cholera, 1985), El 
general en su laherinto {The General in his Labyrinth, 1989), Del amor y otros 
demonios {Of Love and Other Demons, 1994), Noticia de un secuestro {News of a 
Kidnapping, 1996). He divides his time between Mexico City and Colombia (Bo- 
gota and Cartagena). 

Alvaro Mutis was born in 1923 in Bogota but spent much of his childhood 
in Belgium. Returning to Colombia in adolescence, he enrolled in classes on po- 
etry taught by the country's major poet, Eduardo Carranza. He was a student in 
Bogota, as was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, at the time of the Bogotazo, and he lost 
his first book in the conflagration which consumed much of the center of the city. 
He left Colombia in 1956 and has lived ever since in Mexico City. He began his 
career as a poet and gradually turned to fiction. He has published more than seven 
works dedicated to the invented persona and alter ego, 'MaqroU el Gaviero', a 
character whom he never physically describes and whose national origin he leaves 
uncertain. These works include poetry and fiction. Poetry: Summa de MaqroU el 
Gaviero, a collection of all his poetry books about MaqroU, published in 1973. 
Fiction: La nieve del Almirante (1986), llona llega con la lluvia (1987), Un hel 
morir (1988), La ultima escala del Tramp Steamer (1989). His novels about 
MaqroU el Gaviero have been collected under the general title of Empresas y 
trihulaciones de MaqroU el Gaviero { 1 993). 

Philip Potdevin was born in 1958 in Call, Colombia. Raised in that city, he 
received a law degree from the University of San Buenaventura and began a career 
in journalism, writing first for El Pais and El Mundo. Moving to Cartagena in 
1989, he burst on the national scene in 1992, winning in that single year all three 
major short story national competitions in the country. He received a grant from 
Colcultura (similar to the National Endowment for the Humanities) to work on the 
manuscript which became his first and highly praised novel, Metatron, published 
in 1995. His second novel. Mar de la tranquilidad, was published at the end of 
1997. His other books include poetry {Cantos de Saxo, 1994; Mesteres de Circe, 
1996; Cdnticos de Extasis, 1997; 25 haikus, 1997) and collections of short stories 
{Magister Ludi, 1994; Estragos de la lujuria, 1996). He is the Director of a literary 
Iresearch center called the Centro de Estudios Alejo Carpentier in the Universidad 
Nacional, and he works in Bogota as an executive for Dow Chemical. 


Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, which first appeared in 1991, is 
published by Oxford University Press and has three issues per year. Its editorial 

policy statement idenlifies the field of 'diaspora studies" as all those sujbccts con- 

134 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

tained within its semantic domain: 'nation', 'nationalism', 'diaspora', 'exile', 
'transnationalism', 'postcoloniality', 'ethnicity'. Some of the articles most directly 
relevant to the issues I am addressing in this essay are, in chronological order of 
their publication in Diaspora: Malki 1994, Ebron & Lowenhaupt Tsing 1995, de 
los Angeles Torres 1995, Toloyan 1996, Chapin 1996, Fabricant 1998, Schnapper 
1999, Safran 1999. 

El Pais. Newspaper. Call, Colombia 

Alvarez Gardeazabal, Gustavo. 1971. Condorcs no eiitierran todos los di'as. Bo- 
gota: Circulo de Lectores. 

1973. Dadeiha. Bogota: Plaza y Janes. 

1974. El bazar de los idiotas. Bogota: Plaza y Janes. 
1977. El titiritero. Bogota: Plaza y Janes. 
1984. Pepe Botellas. Bogota: Plaza y Janes. 
1986. El divino. Bogota: Plaza y Janes. 
1991 . Los sordos ya no hahlan. Bogota: Plaza y Janes. 

de los Angeles Torres, Maria. 1995. Encuentros y encontronazos: Homeland in the 
politics and identity of the Cuban diaspora. Diaspora 4.21 1-38. 

Chapin, Wesley D.. 1996. The Turkish diaspora in Germany. Diaspora 5. 275- 

Cruz Kronfly, Fernando. 1981. Cdmara ardiente aka Falleba.. Barcelona: Edito- 
rial Fontamara. 

1984. Lm obra del sueho. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra. 
1987. La ceniza del libertador. Bogota: Planeta Colombiana Editorial. 
1992. La ceremonia de la soledad. Bogota: Planeta Colombiana Editorial. 
1994. La sombrilla planetaria. Bogota: Planeta Colombiana Editorial. 
1996. Amapolas al vapor. Call: Editorial Universidad del Valle. 

1998. El embarcadero de los incurables Santafe de Bogota: Editorial 


. 1998. La carvana de Gardel. Mexico: Editorial Planeta. 

Ebron, PauUa, & Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. 1995. From allegories of identity to 

sites of dialogue. Diaspora 4.125-52. 
Fabricant Carole. 1998, Riding the waves of (post)colonial migrancy: Are we all 

really in the same boat? Diaspora 7.25-51. 
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. 1967. Cien ailos de soledad. Buenos Aires: Editorial 


1975. El otono del patriarca. Barcelona: Plaza y Janes. 

1981. Cronica de una muerte anunciada. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra. 

1985. El amor en los tiempos del colera. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra. 
1989. El general en su laberinto. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra. 
1994. Del amory otros demonios. Santafe de Bogota: Editorial Norma. 

.1996. Noticia de un secuestro. Santafe de Bogota: Editorial Norma. 

Malki, Liisa. 1994. Citizens of humanity: Internationalism and the imagined com- 
munity of nations. Diaspora 3.41-68. 

Palencia-Roth: Diasporic consciousness in Colombia 135 

Mutis, Alvaro. 1973. Siimma de MaqroU el Gaviero. Barcelona: Barral Editores. 

. 1986. La nieve del Almirante. Madrid: Alianza Editorial. 

. 1987. Ilona llei^a con la lluvia. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra. 

. 1988. Un bel morir. Bogota: Editorial Oveja Negra. 

. 1989. La ultima escala del Tramp Steamer. Bogota: Arango Editores. 

. 1993. Empresas y trihulaciones de MaqroU el Gaviero. Madrid: Editorial 

Potdevin, Philip. 1994. Cantos de Sa.xo. Bogota: Editorial Presencia. 

. 1994. Magister Liidi. Bogota: Ediciones Opus Magna. 

. 1995. Metatron. Santa Fe de Bogota: Colcultura. 

. 1996. Mesteres de Circe, Santafe de Bogota: Ediciones Opus Magna. 

. 1996. Estragos de la Injuria, Santa Fe de Bogota: Seix Barral Editores. 

. 1997. Mar de la tranquilidad. Santa Fe de Bogota: Seix Barral Editores. 

. 1997. Cdnticos de Extasis. Santafe de Bogota: Ediciones Opus Magna. 

. 1997. 25 haikus. Santafe de Bogota: Ediciones Opus Magna. 

Safran, William. 1999. Comparing diasporas: A review essay. Diaspora 8.255-91. 
Schnapper. Dominique. 1999. From the nation-state to the transnational world: On 

the meaning and usefulness of diaspora as a concept. Diaspora 8.225-54. 
Toloyan, Khachig. 1996. Rethinking diasporas. Diazpora 5.3-36. 



Robert Baumgardner 

This paper is a description of the present-day U.S. American ex- 
patriate community in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. It first 
traces the history of the U.S. American presence in Monterrey, which 
reached its peak during the presidency of Porfirio Diaz in the late 
nineteenth century. Special attention is given to two U.S. Americans 
— Joseph A. Robertson and Juan F. Brittingham — who played an 
important role in the development of the city. The paper then de- 
scribes the lives of seven U.S. Americans who presently live in the 
city and who are representative of the diversity in the resident U.S. 
American community. Finally, the processes of acculturation of U.S. 
Americans in Monterrey are discussed from the perspectives of lan- 
guage and identity; the experiences of these U.S. emigrants in Mex- 
ico are found to be similar to those of other communities living in di- 


According to the United States Department of State, there are more U.S. citizens 
in Mexico than in any other country in the world other than the United States 
and Canada. 2 Mexico's large U.S. community is very diverse, encompassing all 
major groups described in sociological immigrant literature — the tourist, the ex- 
patriate, the sojourner, and the settler (Cohen 1977). From retirees, students, 
teachers, businesspersons, missionaries, diplomats, and other professionals to writ- 
ers and artists, drifters and hippies, and citizens of U.S. origin married to Mexicans, 
the U.S. population in Mexico is perhaps more highly visible than that of any 
other foreign community. A sizable 'American colony', made up of both perma- 
nent as well as temporary-resident U.S. Americans, can be found in Mexico's 
three largest cities — Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey — and smaller cities 
like Acapulco, Cuernavaca and Puebla. among numerous others, also have res- 
dent U.S. Americans. U.S. retirees in Mexico — so-called seasonal 'snowbirds' or 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

138 DiASTORA, Identity, and Language Communities 

'winterbirds' — now constitute the largest concentration of U.S. retirees outside 
the United States (see, e.g., Otero 1997). And, while the signing of the North 
American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 served to further boost U.S. presence in 
Mexico (as well as Mexican presence in the U.S.), this presence is by no means a 
recent phenomenon. From the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain 
in 1821, a multitude of U.S. Americans have visited, engaged in both business and 
war, lived in and settled in Mexico. i 

In the present chapter I will focus on the U.S. American presence in the 
northern Mexican city of Monterrey, provincial capital of the state of Nuevo 
Leon. Situated some 150 miles south of Laredo, Texas, Monterrey is a unique cul- 
tural, social, economic and political blend in the Mexican mosaic. It is a city which 
has looked for direction at least as much north to its nearest neighbor, the United 
States, as it has south to the seat of federal government in Mexico City. I will 
show how this position vis-a-vis the United States is reflected in the perceived 
identity of the U.S. American community in Monterrey. My work is based on par- 
ticipant observation in the community-^ as well as on twenty interviews with U.S. 
Americans resident in Monterrey conducted during August 1998 and follow-up 
interviews and telephone conversations in January 1999. My presentation will 
begin with a brief history of the city of Monterrey during important periods in 
Mexican history and the part U.S. Americans have played in that history. I will 
concentrate in that discussion on the roles of two prominent U.S. American en- 
trepreneurs who helped in the shaping of Monterrey — Joseph A. Robertson and 
Juan F. Brittingham. I will then present seven profiles of U.S. Americans who I 
feel are representative of the city's present-day U.S. community. The presentation 
concludes with a discussion of the process of acculturation with respect to Span- 
ish-language acquisition and questions of identity of U.S. Americans in Monter- 
rey, which are found to parallel those of other communities in diaspora. 


The city of Monterrey, which celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1996, was 
founded in 1596 by Diego de Montemayor on commission of the Spanish crown; 
it had earlier served as a Spanish colonial outpost under different names. Today, 
the city and its residents enjoy a distinct reputation throughout Mexico: "there is 
no doubt of the mystique of Monterrey in the Mexican context: it is hard work 
and industriousness, seasoned with stinginess' (Balan, Browning and Jelin 
1973:37-38). Varying beliefs underlie this mystique. Balan, Browning and Jelin 
(1973:38), for example, note that 'the early inhabitants of Monterrey became so m 
industrious precisely because of the difficult conditions (aiid land and warlike In- 
dians) they encountered, unlike the settlers of richer lands in central Mexico...' 
Other commentators point to the background of the early settlers of Mexico; 
Condon (1997:4), for example , has noted that 'The Spanish who came to Mexico 
were from all parts of Spain and all classes, backgrounds, regions, and religions. 
Sephardic Jews from southern Spain, fleeing the forced conversions and impend- 
ing Inquisition, were a substantial part of the early Spanish presence in Mexico'. 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico 139 

One of Monterrey's earlier founders and subsequent governor of the state of 
Nuevo Leon. Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva. died in a Mexico City prison during the 
Holy Inquisition, accused by his own relatives of being a crypto-Jew. Notes Bor- 
ton de Trevino (1953:189): "...long before modern industrial Monterrey had be- 
gun to rise out of sound Jewish knowledge of markets, banking, trade, and cred- 
its, many a novel — romantic, bloody, cruel, and strange — had been lived out by 
the New Christians and their sons and daughters' (see Hoyo 1979 for the intrigue 
surrounding the hfe of Carvajal). Whatever the roots of its success, modern-day 
Monterrey is indisputably the leading industrial city in northeastern Mexico. 

This was not always the case. Monterrey's development during the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth centuries was very slow, because of frequent wars with 
Indians and the city's location far from the capital of New Spain in central Mex- 
ico. It was an important stop for travelers to the interior of the country, but the 
city hself did not attract settlers; in 1753, some 150 years after its founding, the 
population was a mere 3,334 inhabitants. The second half of the eighteenth cen- 
tury, however, saw a confluence of events which contributed greatly to the 
growth of the city. These factors, according to Vizcaya Canales (1971), included, 
among others, the subjugation of the Indian population, the colonization of the 
neighboring state of Tamaulipas and resulting commercial activity for the city, and 
the location of the Ohispado, or bishopric, to Monterrey. By 1803, the city's 
population had doubled to 6.412. It continued to grow in the next half century; 
by 1824 there were 12, 282 inhabitants and almost 27,000 by 1853 (Vizcaya Ca- 
nales 1971). 

During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Zachary Taylor's forces 
attacked Monterrey in September 1846 and were held off briefly by Mexican 
troops at the Obispado before the Mexican troops fled and the town was occu- 
pied. The Battle of Monterrey was the first in a series of battles in which the San 
Patricio Battalion took part (Smith 1963, Baker 1978, and Hogan 1997). The San 
Patricios were U.S. deserters, predominantly Irish- American, who joined Mexico's 
'Foreign Legion' and fought the United States under the banner of St. Patrick, 
led by Lieutenant John Riley. After their defeat in Monterrey, the Patricios moved 
on with Mexican troops to other major battles in the war. The Patricio Battalion 
was a dissolved a year after the final defeat of Mexican troops in Mexico City in 
August 1848, but a number of surviving Patricios settled in Mexico. Wynn 
(1984:29) reports that 'Today, quite a number of Rileys appear in the telephone 
directories of Puebla, Guadalajara, and Mexico City.' 

I Lesser known in Mexican history is the second San Patricio Battalion, 

formed some years later in Monterrey (Cavazos Garza 1996a). In July 1853, the 
United States sent troops to the cities of Brownsville and Laredo to reinforce the 
border during the Gasden Purchase. About forty soldiers, predominantly Catholic 
and Irish-American, deserted and fled to Mexico; they were placed in a newly- 
formed San Patricio Battalion, named after their heroic compatriots who fought 
for Mexico in the Mexican-American War. The battalion was eventually dis- 


solved during the turmoil of the Revolution of Ayutla in 1855, but the names of 
soldiers who belonged to the Monterrey San Patricio Battalion — Cooper, Lamm, 
Mayer, Morgan, Murphy, Sheridan and Smith — can be found in the 1998 Mon- 
terrey telephone directory. 

During the period of French intervention in Mexico (1864-1867), Emperor 
Maximilian actively encouraged the establishment of U.S. colonies as a means of 
populating and developing the country. A number of those colonies were popu- 
lated by U.S. Confederates who were not willing to lay down their arms and sur- 
render after defeat in the U.S. Civil War ( 1861-1865): 'That some of the Confed- 
erate leaders began their consideration of the possibilities of migration before the 
cessation of hostilities is indicated by the fact that as early as February, 1865, 
General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi 
Department, expressed his hope that 'in case of unexampled catastrophe to our 
arms and the final overthrow of the government ' his services might be accept- 
able to Maximilian' (Rister 1945:35). While most U.S. colonies were set up in cen- 
tral Mexico (Carlota was the most famous), the emperor 'also opened areas 
northward and westward to them and assigned to each of the areas American 
colonization agents. Judge Oran M. Roberts and William P. Hardeman of Texas 
were stationed in Guadalajara, William M. Anderson and John G. Lux went to 
Monterrey...' (RoUe 1965:108). The ultimate failure of the colonies was more or 
less assured with the fall of the French regime, and while most Confederates left 
Mexico, some U.S. Americans, especially those who lived in major cities at the 
time, remained, and their descendants are still there today (see, e.g., Daniels 
1947:338 and Anhalt 1998:180). 

It was not until the regime of Porfirio Diaz (1884-1911) that U.S. Americans 
settled in large numbers in the northern regions of Mexico. 'American industrial 
and agricultural enterprises were spread peacefully over the whole north' of 
Mexico wrote Anita Brenner in 1943 in her classic book on the Mexican Revolu- 
tion, The Wind That Swept Mexico (Brenner and Leighton 1971:16). The Diaz 
government established over 60 colonies throughout the northern region, 18 
colonized with Mexicans, 5 with Mexican repatriates, 6 with Italians, one each 
with American Indians, naturalized Guatemalans, French, Belgians, Spanish, Japa- 
nese, Russian Jews, Puerto Ricans, and Boers. The Germans and Cubans had two 
colonies each; but the dominant group of immigrants was made up of U.S. Ameri- 
cans, who had twenty colonies. Most of the colonies were founded to work in 
agriculture, but there were industrial colonies and brewery colonies, as well as 
colonies which manufactured explosives (Gonzalez Navarro 1960). 

Diaz's regime (known as the porfiriato) is synonymous to some historians 
with the modernization of Mexico as well as with the presence of large numbers 
of U.S. Americans in the country, a phenomenon Schell (1992:516) has called a 
'trade diaspora'. 'The architects of the [porfiriato] development policy ... be- 
lieved that Mexico could achieve parity with its 'sister republic' by having a 
'peaceful invasion' of American capital and colonists which would build Mex- 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico 141 

ice's economy, provide access to technology and markets and, ultimately, 
strengthen national sovereignty' (Schell 1992:8). The construction of the railway 
and mining contributed greatly to the economy of northern Mexico (see, e.g., 
Fletcher 1958). It was during the porfiriato that the city of Monterrey also un- 
derwent major industrial development: 

The process began in Monterrey ... where, in addition to the 
huge Guggenheim interests, other American, French, German, and 
British investors backed industrial enterprises. Attracted by excellent 
transportation facilities and by the tax exemptions for industries, for- 
eign and domestic capital was directed into Mexico's first important 
steel firm. . . . Within a few years the company was producing pig iron, 
steel rails, beams, and bars, and by 1911 it was making over sixty 
thousand tons of steel annually. Monterrey was soon dubbed the 
Pittsburgh of Mexico. Other industrial concerns based in Monterrey 
constructed new cement, textile, cigarette, cigar, soap, brick, and furni- 
ture factories, as well as flour mills and a large bottled-water plant' 
(Meyer and Sherman 1995:449-450). 

UnUke in Mexico City where investors actually lived in the large American 
colony present there during the porfiriato (Schell 1992), in Monterrey the major- 
ity of U.S. financiers were absentee investors. 'There were few outsiders with 
whom regiomontano [resident of Monterrey] elite families had to contend for so- 
cial recognition' (Saragoza 1988:73-74). One exception, however, was Col. Jo- 
seph A. Robertson, the tlrst Director General of Railways in Monterrey, a U.S. 
American who, according to Vizcaya Canales (1971:10) and Niemeyer (1966:56- 
57), contributed greatly to the economic development of Nuevo Leon and Mon- 
terrey. Martin (1907:82) calls Robertson the 'Father of Monterey. ' The Colonel 
owned and had interests in agriculture and fruit nurseries (he introduced citrus 
fruit to the region), real estate, ranching, mines, foundries, brick manufacturing, 
loan companies, colonization, and printing and publishing (Hanrahan 1985). In 
1893 he started The Monterrey News, the first modern newspaper in Monterrey. 
It was published in English because of the substantial number of English- 
speaking residents of Monterrey and environs — in 1895 some 900 U.S. Ameri- 
cans. In 1902 The Monterrey News started a Spanish edition, and the next year 
ceased publication of the English edition (Vizcaya Canales 1971:120). Saragoza 
notes that, while Robertson was admired for his keen entrepreneurship by both 
foreigners and Mexicans alike, 'still. Robertson's foresight, as important as it may 
have been to the city's development, was matched by the acumen among native 
capitalists' (Saragoza 1988:42). 

Another U.S. American who played a prominent role in the development of 
the city of Monterrey during the porfiriato was Juan F. Brittingham (Brittingham 
1980 and Barragan and Cerutti 1993). John Francis Clemens Brittingham was 
born in 1859 in St. Louis, Missouri. His family was English and Catholic in origin. 
Brittingham attended the Christian Brothers College in St. Louis, a Catholic insti- 

142 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

tution in which many young Mexicans of the time also studied. It was at Chris- 
tian Brothers that he befriended Juan Terrazas, son of General Luis Terrazas, one 
of the richest men in northern Mexico. At the age of 24, at the invitation of Juan 
Terrazas, Brittingham went to Chihuahua, and with the financial support of the 
Terrazas began his very prosperous life in Mexico. The younger Terrazas and 
Brittingham tlrst started a small candle and soap plant. Brittingham soon 
branched out into mining, banking and breweries; he was also on the board of , 
directors of numerous Monterrey firms (Haber 1989). In 1886 he married Damiana ' 
Gonzalez, daughter of a prominent businessman and politician, and changed his 
name to Juan F. Brittingham. In the same year Brittingham brought his mother, 
sister and brother to Mexico. His sister Julia quickly integrated into Mexican so- 
ciety by her marriage to the son of an important landowner. Brittingham' s 
brother, who arrived in Mexico with a U.S. American wife, did not acculturate so 
well and was not accepted in Mexican society as was his sister. 

Juan Brittingham had four sons by his first wife, who died in the fourth 
childbirth; he had three children by a second Mexican wife and none by a third. 
During the 1911 Revolution and ensuing civil wars, the Brittingham children were 
sent to the United States, where Brittingham also lived on occasion during that 
tumultuous period. Brittingham. however, did not abandon Mexico, as did many 
U.S. Americans as a result of the Revolution. In fact, like a number of Mexican 
entrepreneurs, he profited from it, even entering on one occasion into a deal with 
Pancho Villa (Haber 1989:133). During the twenties and thirties Brittingham 
spent time in northern Mexico, Mexico City and Los Angeles. Brittingham's four 
eldest sons by his first wife established businesses and remained in Mexico; his 
three children by his second wife became permanent residents of the United 

Joseph A. Robertson and Juan F. Brittingham are typical of a select group 
of U.S. Americans who migrated to and invested in Mexico both financially and 
personally during the porfiriato. Robertson's and Brittingham' s activifies were 
restricted primarily to northern Mexico; other U.S. Americans such as Thomas H. 
Braniff played similar roles in other parts of the country. These U.S. American 
families became an integral and respected part of the society in which they lived 
and worked, and many of their descendants remained in Mexico and became 
Mexican. Neither BritUngham nor Robertson ever became Mexican citizens, but 
in all other aspects they were truly bilingual and bicultural — their second- 
generation children, third-generation grandchildren, fourth-generation great- 
grandchildren, and fifth- and sixth-generation great-great-grandchildren and i 
great-great-great-grandchildren who remained in Mexico even more so. (Both 
families also have descendants in the United States). Brittinghams as well as Rob- 
ertsons appear in biographies of Monterrey's important personalities (see, e.g., 
Basave, Blanco, Saldafia and Covarrubias 1945, Basave and Gomez 1956. Vega 
Garcia 1967, Vega Gaixia 1977 and Cavazos Garza 1996b). The 1998 Monterrey 
telephone book lists Brittinghams and Biittingham-Sadas; the names of the de- 
scendants of other U.S. Americans important in the making of Monterrey — ■ Dil- 

Robert Baumcardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico 143 

Ion. Price, Robertson, Watson, Weber, Woods — are also still found there. And the 
1998 Monterrey city map {Guia Roji) shows five streets named after J.A. Robert- 
son and three after Juan F. Brittingham. 

Monterrey today 

According to the United States Department of State, there are 50,660 U.S. Ameri- 
cans today in the city of Monterrey, ^ Mexico's third largest city with a popula- 
tion of over one million according to the 1990 census. It is estimated that more 
than four million people live in the metropolitan area of Monterrey.-'' The popular 
Insight Guide for tourists describes this northern Mexican metropolis in the fol- 
lowing way: 

Dynamic Monteirey is the center of private enterprise and lives some- 
times an uneasy relationship with the paternalistic federal government 
of Mexico City. The men who run Monterrey's industry tend to have 
closer cultural ties with the United States than with the rest of Mex- 
ico. They admire U.S. know-how, marketing procedures, and business 
methods. This does not mean they are not patriotic Mexicans and 
proud of their achievements, but it does mean that they often speak 
of government interference. In fact, they sound like U.S. businessmen. 
Many Monterrey well-to-do send their children to the U.S. for 
schooling... [and] Monterrey youth even play American-style foot- 
ball (Muller and Garcia-Oropeza 1989: 1 85). 

Saragoza (1988:145) describes the lure of U.S. American culture for the 
Monterrey ehte during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: 
'American popular culture penetrated the social life of the eUte. Moreover, the 
American presence in Monterrey was given greater visibility and legitimacy 
through the apparent admiration of members of the elite for their counterparts 
across the border'. Many of the elite had studied in the United States and sent 
both their sons and daughters to do so as well. Regarding the Monterrey elite's 
attitude towards post- 191 1 nationalist rhetoric, Saragoza further notes (1988:145) 
that "in a fundamental way, the upper class of Monterrey was at odds with the 
nationalist currents of postrevolutionary Mexico...'. T. Philip Terry, in the 1931 
edition of his popular guide to Mexico, described Monterrey as 'a handsome, 
progressive, growing, bi-lingual city. It is a homey, hospitable place, noted for its 
friendly people, its good local government, and its civic pride. Its proximity to the 
Texas border, to which it is linked by a busy railway and a good auto road .... has 
lunconsciously influenced its people, who arc often referred to as muy americani- 
zado [very Americanized] (Terry 1931:7). 

Terry's description of Monterrey as a 'bilingual city' is certainly an exag- 
geration; the Americanization of Monterrey, however, is indeed very much in evi- 
dence, especially in the suburb of San Pedro Garza Gai"cia, where most U.S. 
Americans as well as much of the Monterrey elite now live. The U.S. community is 
centered around a number of key organizations. The principal social group of the 

144 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

American colony is Ihe American Society of Monterrey (ASOMO), which was 
founded in 1950. ASOMO sponsors various year-round activities for the commu- 
nity, including the annual Fourth of July Picnic; it publishes a monthly newsletter, 
ASOMO News, with important dates and facts about the U.S. community of Mon- 
terrey, as well as the yearly Venerable Vendors List, which offers the U.S. Ameri- 
can community suggestions for doctors, hospitals, veterinarians, hairstylists, etc. 
The more recent International Community News, a small commercial newspaper, 
also offers news of the U.S. and international community as well as cultural and 
business articles of interest to residents of Monterrey. A smaller independently- 
published monthly bulletin. Talk of the Town (now defunct) offers tips on enter- 
tainment, culture and leisure to the Monterrey English-speaking international 

A newer yet equally important organization for the community is the New- 
comers Club, 'an organization designed to provide a feeling of welcome to Eng- 
lish-speaking women of Monterrey' {Newcomers News May 1998:1). The club 
organizes trips and tours, shopping and lunch outings, dining out, children's play 
groups, and bridge. Its newsletter. Newcomers News, appears monthly. Although 
the organization is aimed primarily at helping recently-arrived English-speaking 
women in Monterrey adjust to the daily life of the city (while their husbands are 
working), it also sponsors social events for entire families as well. Newcomers also 
maintains a small library and organizes book reviews. The Benjamin Franklin Li- 
brary, formerly run by the United States Information Service in Monterrey, is now 
an independent public library located in the Institute Mexicano Norteamericano 
de Relaciones Culturales, and serves the reading needs of the general public, in- 
cluding the U.S. American community. Other clubs of importance in the commu- 
nity include the International Quilters of Monterrey, the Monterrey Garden Club, 
the American Society of Monten-ey, the Women's Club, the Bridge Club, the Boy 
Scouts, and the American Legion; many of these clubs also accept members other 
than U.S. Americans and ai"e bilingual. The religious life of the colony is served by 
three English-speaking churches: the interdenominational Union Church of Mon- 
terrey, the Holy Family Episcopal Church, and the Immaculate Mary Catholic 
Church. All three have weekly prayer and Bible study groups as well as a 
Women's Guilds, and jointly sponsor Ecumenical events throughout the year. 

Many children of U.S. Americans attend schools run by the American 
School Foundation of Monterrey, which includes both an elementary/middle 
school and a new high school. High-school students can opt for either an Ameri- 
can-style curriculum or the more demanding Mexican bachillerato. A plethora of 
other so-called bilingual schools and colleges are also open throughout the city. 
The U.S. business community in Monterrey is served by the northeast chapters of 
the American Chamber/Mexico and the U.S. -Mexico Chamber of Commerce and 
their publications Business Mexico and Mexican Trade and Industry, respec- 
tively. For both residents and tourists, two free Spanish-English bihngual publica- 
tions. What's on Monterrey (Monterrey Convention and Visitors Bureau) and 
Monterrey Quick Guide (Tourist Bureau of Nuevo Leon), are also available. 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico 1 45 

U.S. American profiles 

The following profiles of the lives of U.S. Americans in Monterrey are representa- 
tive of the diversity of the contemporary U.S. community in diaspora. I have in- 
cluded in the discussion only those U.S. Americans whom I consider 'stable' resi- 
dents, i.e., those who have been in the city at least five years. 

Mrs. J 

Mrs. J, as 1 will call her, is the subject of my first profile. She and her husband, 
Methodist and Lutheran, respectively, came to Mexico in the early thirties during 
the Presidency of Pascual Ortiz Rubio, a period in Mexican history during which 
Revolutionary ideologies experienced a marked shift to the right (Meyer and 
Sherman 1995:592-93). Mr. J, a chemical engineer, was employed by Monterrey 
Power and Light Company. While they had various opportunides to return to the 
United States, both Mr. and Mrs. J felt more at home in Mexico and remained in 
the country as permanent residents; they moved in the same social circles as sec- 
ond- and third-generation Brittinghams and Robertsons. Mr. J eventually redred 
in Monterrey and is now deceased; his wife has lived in Monterrey for 68 years 
and has no intention of returning to the U.S. Mrs. J is still a U.S. cidzen, but con- 
siders herself more Mexican than U.S. American. When she does return to the 
States to visit her children, she says she feels different from as well as distant from 
U.S. Americans, who she says are not as warm as Mexicans. 

Mrs. J speaks fluent though accented Spanish, watches television both in 
Spanish and in English, reads El Norte (Monterrey's premier Spanish-language 
newspaper) daily, but also enjoys reading Reader's Digest in English. She attends 
the Union Church and is a lifetime member of ASOMO, a charter member of the 
Monterrey Garden Club, a founding member of the Women's Club of Monterrey, 
and a member of the Foreign Club and the Cosmopolitan Club. These clubs, says 
Mrs. J, inidally had only U.S. American members, but now accept non-U. S. Ameri- 
can members; about half the members are upper-class Mexican women. 

She also belongs to Dar y Recibir, a philanthropic Mexican organization 
which her daughter helped found. Mrs. J has four children, who attended Mexi- 
can schools and are fluent speakers of Spanish, which they speak among them- 
selves. Three of the children are U.S. citizens and now live in the United States; 
one daughter married a Mexican and became a Mexican citizen. All of her four 
I children are Spanish-dominant according to Mrs. J, although both she and her 
husband spoke to them in English when they were young. The children spoke 
Spanish with their nana (caretaker), servants, and playmates, and eventually be- 
gan speaking to their parents in Spanish as well; Mr. And Mrs. J, however, con- 
tinued using English, a phenomenon Romaine (1995) calls 'immigrant bilingual- 
ism'. When Mrs. J suggested to her husband, a GciTnan-American, that he teach 
the children German, his response was: 'Why, they will only answer me in Span- 
ish.' Mrs. J's three children who now live in ihc United States sdll speak Spanish 

1 4 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

to each other and to their mother when they telephone and visit home; Mrs. J 
speaks to them both in Spanish and/or EngHsh. Mrs. J's grandchildren and great 
grandchildren who live in Monterrey speak to her primarily in Spanish; she tries 
to speak to them in English to help them learn the language, but often finds it 
easier to use Spanish with them. They speak only Spanish with their parents. 
These third- and fourth-generation J grandchildren are, according to Mrs. J, one 
hundred percent Mexican. Her grandchildren and great- grandchildren in the 
United States do not speak Spanish, and when they come to Monterrey, their 
Mexican cousins speak to them in English, which they are learning in school. 

Mrs. J has had a bird's eye view of the changes Monterrey has undergone 
over the past half-century. She says that the city was always more Americanized 
than other cities in Mexico because of its proximity to and open admiration for 
the United States, but that she has noticed a substantial increase in the amount of 
Americanization in the past few years since NAFTA went into effect. It is most 
noticeable in the number of signs and advertisements in English, the fast-food res- 
taurant invasion, and the large number of U.S. companies which now have 
branches in the city. Monterrey, she says, is now more than ever losing its Mexi- 
can identity. Ironically, Mrs. J and other long-time residents of Monterrey say that 
a U.S. American taking on a Mexican identity in present-day Monterrey does not 
have to change as much as in the past since regiomantanos themselves have be- 
come more Americanized. 


Mr. B's father came to Monterrey during the presidency of Manuel Avila 
Camacho (1940-1946), a period which many historians call the official end of the 
Revolution. After the six previous years of the left-leaning policies of the Lazaro 
Cardenas presidency, Avila Camacho began a period of renewed industrialization 
against the backdrop of World War II. in 1944 the [Mexican] Congress passed 
legislation allowing foreign participation in industrialization with the proviso that 
Mexican capital own the controlling stock in any mixed corporation' (Meyer and 
Sherman 1995:635). Mr. B's father arrived in Monterrey in 1945 to set up a steel 
pipe company with Mexican partners; the younger B, with a degree in Business 
Administration and Engineering, came in 1957 at the age of thirty-three to work 
for his father. He and his American wife have lived in Mexico since that time. i 

In speaking about U.S. Americans in Mexico, Mr. B makes what he consid- 
ers a crucial distinction. There are those who, like himself, his father or J. A. Rob- 1 
ertson and Juan Brittingham, came to Mexico to invest both financially as well as 1 
personally in the country. Often, much of what they made was simply put back 
into the economy to improve their businesses; their fates and their futures were in 
Mexico. They married and/or raised children in Mexico. In many cases their off-, 
spring became Mexican. 

Another type of U.S. expatriate conies to Mexico jusl to make a quick buck, 
so to speak, and then return to the United Slates. Historically, all classes of U.S. 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. American.? in Mexico 147 

Americans have worked in Mexico — during the porfiriato there were U.S. 
American porters on Mexican trains — but nowadays only highly-trained and/or 
educated U.S. Americans are brought into the country for a limited period of time. 
Their job is to train Mexican counterparts, and, once this task is competed, they 
return home. With the advent of the NAFTA as well as the present-day emphasis 
on economic globalization, such U.S. Americans are working in the country in 
greater numbers. However, these expatriates, like those of lower socio-economic 
classes before them, for the most part have no personal stake in Mexico. 

Mr. B has six siblings, all of whom grew up in Mexico; three married Mexi- 
cans and settled in Monterrey and three who moved back to the United States. 
He says that his youngest brother and sister came to Mexico at the age of thirteen 
and fourteen, respectively; they speak accentless Mexican Spanish. His brother, 
who arrived in Mexico ten years before him, at the age of 24, speaks Spanish with 
only a slight English accent; and Mr. B and the other siblings who came when 
older speak with heavier English accents, although they are proficient in Spanish. 
The two brothers and sister who mai'ried Mexicans speak Spanish to both their 
spouses and to their children. Their children are Spanish-dominant speakers and 
consider themselves more Mexican than U.S. American, although they have a 
good knowledge of EngUsh because of family background and bilingual school- 
ing. The children of the two sisters and brother living in the United States do not 
know Spanish; their parents know Spanish but speak only English at home. 

Mr. B and his wife, both proficient in Spanish, still speak English to each 
other at home. They watch television in both Spanish and English and read El 
Norte daily. They make trips to the United States two or three times a year, and 
their children and relatives resident in the U.S. travel to Mexico to visit them. 
They are both still U.S. citizens and have permanent resident status in Mexico. 
The B's have six children, three who live in Mexico and three who live in the 
United States. All six children spoke English to their parents when growing up, 
but Spanish with their nana, servants and playmates. Mr. B reports that they, like 
the Js, went through a period during which he and his wife would speak to their 
children in English, but the children would respond in Spanish. The three children 
married to Mexicans now speak both English and Spanish (often both) to their 
parents, Spanish among themselves, and Spanish to their children. The grandchil- 
dren, who are bilingual and bicultural, are Spanish-dominant and consider them- 
selves Mexican; however, they speak to their grandparents in English, and Mr. B 
encourages them to do so. One of the daughters, who lives in the United States, 
I has decided to speak Spanish to her daughter, who speaks Spanish to her cousins 
when she visits Mexico. His other two children in the U.S. are not teaching their 
children Spanish. 

Mrs. P 

Mrs. P is a U.S. American woman married to a Mexican. Mrs. P has been in Mex- 
ico for thirty-two years, has maintained her U.S. citizenship and in spite of her 

148 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

many years outside the United States still considers herself a U.S. American. Mrs. 
P met her husband in the United States, but had studied Spanish at the university 
before coming to Monterrey. She is now fluent in Spanish, although she says she 
still speaks with an English accent. The Mrs. P leads what she considers a Mexi- 
can life. She belongs to no U.S. American social organizations, only a Mexican 
sports club; reads primaiily in Spanish and is studying psychology and counsel- 
ing at the Spanish-medium University of Monterrey; and now speaks primarily 
Spanish with her three children, two boys in their early and mid twenties and a 
girl in her late twenties. She spoke and read to them in English as children and 
encouraged them to speak English, but they spoke Spanish with their father and 
household servants and soon began speaking to her in Spanish also. Mrs. P notes, 
however, that her daughter, the first child, now speaks much better Enghsh than 
her two older boys because Mrs. P had more opportunity to speak to her in Eng- 
lish during the time that she was the only child. When the two boys were bom, 
Mrs. P had less time to devote to each child; furthermore her daughter spoke to 
her younger brothers in Spanish. All three children are bilingual, but Spanish- 
dominant, speak Spanish to each other, have no U.S. American friends, and were 
raised as Catholics by their non-Catholic mother who considered this reUgious 
affihation essential for the children's welfare in predominantly Catholic Mexico. 
The children consider themselves Mexican, but are quick to point out that while 
their Mexican friends think of them as Mexican, they also consider them different 
from typical Monterrey teenagers. 'LiberaF is a word often used to describe them 
by their Mexican friends, for while Mrs. P raised her children speaking Spanish in 
a Mexican family, she still imparted to them U.S. social values. Her daughter says 
that neither her brothers nor her mother is as protective of her as Mexican broth- 
ers and mothers are of their sisters and daughters. For example, she is not yet mar- 
ried and her mother is not making an issue of this; she also had an apartment by 
herself for a few years — not something socially accepted for young women in 
Monterrey. The friends of the teenaged boy say they like to spend time at Mrs. 
P's house — to eat, talk and relax without hovering, protective parents. 

Mrs. R 

Mrs. R, like Mrs. P, is a U. S. American woman mairied to a Mexican; she too has 
maintained her U.S. citizenship during her fifty years in Mexico. Mrs. R met her 
husband in Mexico and spoke no Spanish on arrival. Like Mrs. P, she now con- 
siders herself fluent in English-accented Spanish. Mrs. R has grown children both 
in Mexico and in the United States. Growing up in Monterrey, her children spoke 
and still speak English with their mother, Spanish with their father and Spanish 
among themselves. The two who live in Monterrey opted for Mexican citizen- 
ship. Those who live in the United States are U.S. citizens and think of themselves 
as U.S. Americans, but still consider Mexico home and have not given up their 
Mexican citizenship. All the children are fully bilingual. The third-generation 
grandchildren, one of Mrs. R"s sons notes, are less proficient in English because 
their parents speak to them in Spanish. Both Mrs. R's children and grandchildren. 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. A.mericans in Mexico 149 

like Mrs. P's children, have dual Me.xican and U.S. identities, and even though 
one is often dominant, the other identity always remains. This too is how they are 
perceived by other Mexicans and U.S. Americans — cultural in-betweens. 

Mr. and Mrs. A 

Mr. A, a businessman, first became involved in business in Matamoros, Mexico as 
partial owner of a niaqiiiUulora, a plant in Mexico in which U.S. -made products 
are assembled. Mr. A found he enjoyed working with Mexicans, sold his business 
in the United States, and opened a new business in Monterrey with a Mexican 
partner, where he and his wife have been living for five years. Their children are 
grown and live in the United States. Both Mr. and Mrs. A knew some Spanish 
when they arrived in Monterrey, Mr. A because of his maquiladora and because 
both he and Mrs. A took courses before coming to Monterrey. Since their arrival 
in Monterrey, Mr. A"s proficiency in the language has improved greatly, since his 
business brings him into contact with Mexicans. He also attends a Spanish- 
speaking Rotary Club in Monterrey, where he has made numerous contacts in the 
Monterrey business community. Mrs. A is not as proficient in Spanish as her hus- 
band because of her more limited contact with Mexicans, although she and Mr. A 
see his Mexican business partner and other business contacts socially. Most of 
her contacts are U.S. Americans; she is very active in women's organizations in 
the Monterrey American colony. Both she and Mr. A belong to ASOMO and at- 
tend the English-speaking Episcopalian Holy Family Church. They both love 
living in Mexico and travel extensively throughout the country. Mr. and Mrs. A 
feel they have a stake in Mexico; their future and Mexico's future are intertwined 
because Mr. A put his life's saving into his new company. They are thinking 
about retiring in Mexico, perhaps in San Miguel de Allende. Mr. and Mrs. A both 
consider themselves American, but know that they have become acculturated, es- 
pecially Mr. A, who, according to his wife, has become more Mexican in his busi- 
ness practices.^ 

Mrs. F 

Mrs. F has been in Mexico for six years. Her husband was originally sent to Mon- 
terrey by his U.S. company for a period of four years. After that, they decided to 
stay on for a few more years because of the weather, his good salary and com- 
pany perks, and because Mrs. F had made a home away from home for the family. 
The Fs are stalwarts of the more recent U.S. American community in Monterrey — 
those who come to Mexico to work for a period and then return home. Their 
knowledge of Spanish is very limited; Mrs. F has only U.S. American friends and 
her husband, who is in management in his company, comes into contact mainly 
with English-speaking Mexicans. His Spanish, however, is better than hers be- 
cause of his life outside the home. It is possible in Monterrey, they say, to get by 
with limited Spanish. Their two children attend a recently established private 
school. They attended the American Foundation School for a number of years, 
but felt out of place there. Of the some 2,000 students who attend the school. 

150 Diaspora, Identity, AND Language Communities 

there are only about 75 to 100 U.S. American students in any given year; the 
majority of students are from upper-class Mexican families who want their chil- 
dren to receive a bilingual education. The F children did not feel comfortable be- 
ing part of a minority in school and found it difficult to make friends with the 
Mexican students. The F children were seven years old when they tlrst arrived in 
Mexico and their Spanish proficiency is now quite high. They studied Spanish as 
a subject in school for six years and speak Spanish with servants and shopkeep- 

Mrs. F is an artist and keeps very busy painting as well as publishing one of 
the monthly newsletters for U.S. Americans, which she does from her home PC. At 
one point in their stay, Mrs. F's mother came to live with them, but decided to re- 
turn to the States because she could not find enough friends of her own age. Mrs. 
F lamented that most of her friends who were in Monterrey when she first came 
had already left, and that occasionally she and her husband even went to New- 
comers meetings just to meet new anivals. They were careful, however, not to 
make friends who had arrived too recently because they did not want to have to 
relive with them the culture shock she says many newcomer famihes go through 
in Mexico. Mrs. F says many U.S. American famihes who come to Monterrey 
have a very difficult time living in Mexico and intend to stay only for the length 
of their contracts. They learn little or no Spanish, send their children either to the 
American Foundation School or to school in the United States, make frequent 
trips to the United States, and restrict their activities primarily to the Monterrey 
American community. 


The U.S. Americans in Monterrey whom I have discussed in the present chapter 
run the gamut from the more ethnocentric — the F family, for example — to the 
totally acculturated — Juan R. Brittingham and Mr. B. U.S. Americans living in 
Mexico are what sociologists have described as a 'natural' expatriate community. 
They are 'ecological aggregates of individuals who came to live in a locality of 
the host society on their own or under a variety of organizational auspices, for 
different purposes and at different times' (Cohen 1977:25). 'Planted' expatriate 
communities, on the other hand, are, according to Cohen (1977:25), 'established 
under the auspices of one major organization, a company or the military'. They 
are under the control of the sponsoring organization and are often located in a 
separate company compound or town (e.g., the U.S. American oil towns in Saudi 
Arabia). Planted expatriate communities result in maximal social distance between 
expatriates and host community, and while other factors such as economic domi- 
nance and cultural distance between expatriate and host communities also play a 
role in acculturation, expatriates living in a planted community often do not have 
the opportunity to interact with natives and acculturate in any real sense; this is 
the type of U.S. American community described by Schumann (1978). It is not 
surprising that in a planted community U.S. Americans remain relatively ethno- 
centric — monolingual and monocultural. 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico 151 

In natural expatriate communities, on the other hand, all degrees of accul- 
turation are present, as we have seen in the Mexican data. At one extreme, there 
are those U.S. Americans who create so-called cultural enclaves or environmental 
bubbles (Cohen 1977:16) within the host comnuinity in order to maintain their 
language and identity. Al the other extreme are those who become successfully 
integrated into the host community. In a now classic study of U.S. Americans liv- 
ing in the early sixties in a natural expatriate community in Spain, Nash (1970) too 
found U.S. Americans who represented all degrees of the accultura- 
tion/adaptation process in a culture which the author considered 'to be compara- 
tively incompatible for Americans' (Nash 1970:xi). In a more recent study of U.S. 
Americans in Spain, Turell (1998:197) found that, in comparison to the British 
community, 'U.S. American migrated families tend to promote multilingual settings 
and reinforce their children's use of the many languages available in the host 
community.' Recent studies of U.S. Americans in northern and western Europe as 
well as in Brazil have further shown that second- and third-generation U.S. 
American children become dominant bilinguals in the language of the country of 
residence if indeed they remain in or grow up in that country (see papers in Varro 
and Boyd 1998, eds., and Dawsey and Dawsey 195, eds.). 

Similar trends of language maintenance and shift can be seen in the Monter- 
rey data as well as in earlier studies of the U.S. American colony in Mexico City. 
Schell (1992) notes, for example, that in general more U.S. Americans spoke 
Spanish at the beginning of the porfiriato when the community was more inte- 
grated with Mexican society; once the 'trade diaspora' began formation and 
more U.S. Americans migrated to the capital, the colony became more a cultural 
cocoon in which many could survive with English alone. In her 1942 study of the 
Mexico City colony, Ethelyn Davis interviewed one woman who apologized for 
'her inability to speak Spanish after 34 years of residence in the country, ex- 
plaining that in those days there was little opportunity or occasion for an Ameri- 
can woman to use Spanish' (Davis 1942:262-263); but at the same time, Davis 
reported an increased use of Spanish among non-mixed marriage colony resi- 
dents. And in an empirical study of the acquisition of Spanish and Mexican cul- 
ture by U.S. teenage children of non-mixed marriage colony residents in 1977, 
Weller (1978) found those adolescents who had lived in Mexico at least five 
years to be 'English-dominant biculturals', i.e., in spite of their dominant English- 
speaking environment at home and al school, the majority of the teenagers stud- 
ied spoke Spanish and were familiar with Mexican culture. Weller surmises that 
her results probably would have been more dramatic had her subjects been either 
second-generation offspring or the offspring of mixed marriages. 

This is precisely what we find in the Monterrey data. At the one extreme, 
the F children, from an English-speaking, U.S. -American oriented, first-generation, 
non-mixed marriage, are English-dominant bilinguals. At the other end of the 
spectrum, Mr. B and Mrs. J's children, born in Mexico, came from homes where 
both parents spoke English, and Mrs. P and R's children, also born in Mexico, 

152 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

both grew up in homes where only the mother spoke Enghsh to the children. The 
offspring of these families (the second generation in the case of Mrs. R) are all 
Spanish-dominant bilinguals. The third-generation children are Spanish-dominant 
or English-dominant depending upon their country of birth and/or residence. A 
number of recent studies of U.S. American families living in Denmark (Boyd 
1998), Finland (Latomaa 1998 and Boyd 1998), France (Antal 1998, Fries 1998 
and Varro 1998) Norway (Lanza 1998), and Sweden (Boyd 1998) as well as 
studies of the descendents of U.S. Confederate soldiers who fled to Brazil 
(Dwasey and Dawsey, eds. 1995. especially chapters 9 and 10) have shown, in 
fact, that bilingualism often does not survive to the third generation of such fami- 
lies, i.e., the children of the U.S. Americans are bilingual, but the grandchildren 
usually either monolingual or strongly dominant bilinguals in the language of the 
country of residence. This is the case among the grandchildren of Mrs. J, Mr. B 
and Mrs. R who live in Mexico; they are strongly Spanish-dominant bihnguals. 
Even those among their children who grew up in Mexico and now live in the 
United States remain Spanish-dominant; they still speak Spanish to their sibUngs 
and frequently to their parents. 

It is doubtful, however, that third- or fourth-generation children of U.S. 
Americans in Monterrey would under most circumstances ever become monolin- 
gual speakers of Spanish. We have seen from both the historical as well as from 
the recent Monterrey profiles that U.S. Americans who remain in Mexico as a 
general rule tend to make sure their children receive a bilingual education — that 
is, maintain their knowledge of English. This desire to pass on the language to 
third- and fourth-generation offspring is probably both a matter of identity as well 
as a matter of survival. A knowledge of English is indispensable for success in 
many professions in Mexico, and Monterrey is a city in which admiration for U.S. 
culture, including American English, is clearly in evidence among the regiomon- 
tano elite. This trend is further fortified by the position of the language as the 
global lingua franca (Hidalgo, Cifuentes and Flores 1996). As Hawayek de Es- 
curdia et al. (1992:112-113) have noted: 'In [Mexico] where the knowledge of 
English is considered necessary for progress in practically every activity, it would 
not be expected that the English-speaking community felt it necessary to justify 
language maintenance.' 

U.S. Americans have a reputation for being notoriously monolingual both at 
home and abroad (see, for example, Fishman 1966:30). it is widely believed', 
writes Boyd (1998:32), ' that [expatriate U.S. Americans] don't feel the need to 
learn the majority language where they live, because they can manage quite well 
with English, which is [often] spoken as a foreign language by a large portion of 
the population.' This notion may understandably apply to U.S. American famihes 
living in planted expatriate communities or even to some "transient' U.S. Ameri- 
cans in natural communities. We have seen from the above data, however, that 
first-generation U.S. Americans in Monterrey do indeed learn some Spanish, espe- 
cially the family member (usually the husband) who works outside the home. 
Second- and third-generation U.S. American children, furthermore, have the same 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico 153 

range of experiences as regards language maintenance and shift as do the chil- 
dren of immigrants in the United Stales or immigrants" children in any country. In 
Mexico, they become Spanish-dominant bilinguals by the second generation and 
in most cases even more Spanish dominant by the third. Hence, it appears that 
English is not always a dominant language, and U.S. Americans are not always 
'elite bilinguals' who learn languages at their convenience. As Varro and Boyd 
(1998:1) have also found in their studies of U.S. Americans in northern and cen- 
tral Europe: "Despite stereotypes to the contrary, many Americans do learn the 
languages of the country they reside in.' Those U.S. Americans who settle in 
Mexico as either mixed or non-mixed first-generation families often become by 
the second generation bilingual Mexicans with strong ties to the United States — 
truly 'cross-border" families. 

Similar issues arise regarding questions of identity among U.S. Americans in 
Monterrey. First-generation short-term residents acculturate the least, as the case 
of Mrs. F shows (although she was by no means an extreme case); on the other 
hand, permanent residents, such as Mrs. J. Mr B. Mrs.P and R. Mr. and Mrs.A, J. A. 
Robertson and Juan F. Brittingham. while they do not give up their U.S. citizen- 
ship, feel in many respects more Mexican than U.S. American. Second-generation 
children of permanent residents born and raised in Mexico are bicultural, usually 
with the Mexican part of their identity dominant if they remain in the country. 
'The sons of engineer and capitalist. Thomas Braniff. the most influential member 
of the American colony [in Mexico City during the porfiriato], chose Mexican 
citizenship' (Schell 1992:48 

The Monterrey data indicates similar trends. Second-generation children of 
long-term residents and mixed marriages who remain in Mexico identify them- 
selves as Mexicans, not U.S. Americans; some of the children of Robertson, Brit- 
tingham, Mrs. J, Mr. B and Mrs. R also became Mexican citizens. Davis, in her 
1942 study of the American colony in Mexico City, noted that 'Children who 
have grown up in Mexico say that while they are in Mexico they are loyal to the 
United States, while in the United States they are loyal to Mexico' (Davis 
1942:145). Some children, in fact, would not admit to their Mexican playmates 
that they were part American. Smith (1991) has also noted that the children of 
U.S. repatriates upon return from abroad often express a feeling of alienation in 
their own country. They see themselves as different from their U.S. peers even af- 
ter short stays in American colonies outside the United States, and they are per- 
ceived as 'not American' by their peers. When the granddaughter of one infor- 
kmant (Mrs.R) moved to the United States with her family, she was initially ac- 
'cepted by neither the Anglos nor the Hispanics; the Anglos thought she was His- 
panic and the Hispanics thought she was Anglo. 

Finally, we have seen that long-term permanent U.S. American residents of 
Monterrey as well as those U.S. Americans who marry Mexicans often retain their 
U.S. citizenship. It is a part of their identity as U.S. Americans that they would 
never consider forfeiting. Their children, however, have been able choose either 

154 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

U.S. or Mexican citizenship. The child in such a marriage was registered at birth 
as a Mexican citizen and a U.S. citizen, and upon reaching the age of 18, had to 
choose one of the two. Many, in fact, did not do this, since by doing so they 
would have to give up one of their nationalities. It often happened that they sim- 
ply ignored the requirements and unofficially retained the rights of both nationali- 
ties. There Ls, however, a recent development which may have an effect on this 
situation. In March of 1998 a new Mexican dual-nationality law went into effect 
(Lewis 1998 and Corchado and Trejo 1998). The retroactive Nationality Act now 
permits dual nationality, but not dual citizenship (a dual national cannot vote or 
hold high office in Mexico), to any child with Mexican nationality. In the past, 
those persons who declared at age eighteen had to choose 'one or the other' (or 
conceal 'one or the other') and hence choose between one country or the other 
— and, as a result, perhaps between one identity or the other; the effect of the 
Nationality Act may be more biculturai offspring in mixed maniages since now in 
Mexico one can officially be both a Mexican national as well as a U.S. citizen. 


In this chapter I have shown the wide range of experiences of the U.S. American 
diaspora community in Monterrey, Mexico from both a historical as well as a con- 
temporary perspective. The processes of acculturation as regards language and 
identity in this community are in many respects similar to those of all communities 
in diaspora who experience competing linguistic and value systems and who in 
the process bring together traits of both cultures (see, e.g., the papers in Varro and 
Boyd 1998 and Dawsey and Dawsey 1995). In fact, the U.S. emigrant experience 
in Mexico, while in a number of significant ways different, also parallels in some 
regards that of Mexican diasporas in the United States — Spanish monolingual- 
ism or dominant Spanish bilingualism among US Americans in Mexico, or English 
monolingualism or dominant English bilingualism among Mexicans in the United 
States (see, e.g., Valdes 1988) — are common, and the idea of the cultural amal- 
gam present in the term 'Mexican-American' in the United States is well matched 
by that of 'American-Mexican' in Mexico. This experience, I believe, is refected 
in the following short passage from Elizabeth Borton de Trevirio's autobiography 
about her life as a U.S. American mairied to a Mexican, which I feel nicely cap- 
tures the essence of my presentation: 

Just how does a place, at first new and strange, come to take on a 
beloved familiarity? Living in another country, with people of an- 
other upbringing, under new sets of traditions, speaking another 
language, at what moment does one suddenly feel that he has fallen 
into place and is no longer alien? It happens imperceptibly. There 
comes a time when unconsciously one slips into thinking in the lan- 
guage so painfully learned from books, when the pattern of one's 
thoughts grows naturally from the first strange but dutiful [sic] ac- 
cepted premise, into a new design. There is a moment when suddenly 
all that was outlandish, quaint, and exotic, is restored to strangeness 

Robert Baumgardner: U.S. Americans in Mexico 155 

only by the amazed comments of visitors from afar (Borton de Tre- 
vifio 1953:9). 


' I would like to thank the following people for their invaluable help during this 
project: Ms. Diana Z. Anhalt (Mexico City), a constant source of encouragement 
and information; Mr. Scott Downing, Ms. Diane Downing, Mr. David Larkin, Ms. 
Sue Weatherbee, Ms. Barbara Merrill, Ms. Loretta Wright, Ms. Dana Toles, Ms. 
Iva Pai'khill, and Mr. Eric Gilmartin (Gee Librai-y, Texas A&M University- 
Commerce); Dr. Braj B. Kachru and Ms. Liesel Wildhagen (Center for Advanced 
Study, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); Dr. Breen Murray, Dr. Bruce 
W. Coggin, Dr. Oscar Flores, Lie. Hector Lazcano Fernandez, Lie. Arturo Lozano 
Montfort, and Lie. Maria Eugenia Montemayor (University of Monterrey); Steven 
Lewis (Edimax, S.A. de C.V.); Dr. Jon Jonz (Texas A&M University-Commerce); 
Urbis Internacional for providing me with a copy of their publication on Juan F. 
Brittingham; Barbara Brittingham Powers and Consuelo de la Garza Robertson 
for providing invaluable information about their ancestors; my informants in 
Monterrey; Wilfredo and countless other unnamed persons who helped with in- 
formation gathering. All errors are needless to say my own. 

2 Private American citizens residing abroad. April 1998. Bureau of Consular Af- 
fairs, U. S. Department of State: 
<> (12 October 1998). 

^ I worked in Monterrey as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Languages of 
the University of Monterrey during the 1994-5 academic year, and since that time 
have made three to four trips annually to Monterrey to do fieldwork for projects 
on English borrowings in Mexican Spanish (see, e.g., Baumgardner 1997). 

'* Steven Lewis of Edimax estimates that only about 10% of this number are U.S. 
Americans born and raised in the United States. A large number of Mexicans, es- 
pecially middle- and upper-class Mexicans from northern Mexico, go to the 
United States so that their children will be born there — any child born in the 
United Stales is siii solis a U.S. citizen. Hence, approximately 45,000 included in 
this number are 'technical' U.S. residents. Of the some 5,000 remaining U.S. 
Americans in Monterrey, Lewis estimates that about 2% (1,000) are permanent 
residents and 8% (4,000) temporary residents. 

•'' The Metropolitan area includes Monterrey, Apodaca, General Escobedo, Gua- 
dalupe, Santa Catarina, and San Pedro Garza Garcfa. 

^ See Kenna and Lacy (1994) lor a discusson of Mexican business cuUuie. 

156 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 


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Nobiiko Adachi 

This chapter examines Japanese language maintenance and change 
among contemporary Japanese-Brazilians. Japanese first came to Bra- 
zil in the early 1900s, and currently over one and a half million people 
of Japanese ancestry live in the country. Early Japanese settlers were 
required by the Brazilian government to immigrate as family units and 
worked on coffee plantations under conditions little different from that 
of the former African slaves. Gradually, as they acquired some money, 
Japanese-Brazilians left these plantations and moved to isolated farm 
areas, living among themselves. To this day, many have maintained 
the Japanese language and have fostered a strong awareness of their 
ethnic heritage. 

Today, however, many Japanese-Brazilians have moved to the 
cities, as rural Japanese farmers send the smartest children off to the 
universities to get an education. Instead of returning to the farms, 
these young people have become professionals, entering the middle 
classes and associating with non-Japanese. These educated Japanese- 
Brazilians now even feel some shame about their farming-family 
background. The Japanese-Brazilians who stayed in farming areas, 
however, have kept their Japanese customs and still highly respect 
their parents' traditional ways. In this paper, I will argue that these 
two types of Japanese-Brazilians have developed distinct styles of the 
Japanese language, each reflecting different social milieus, economic 
conditions, and cultural values. 


No visitor is ever able to walk through the Sao Juanquine district of the Brazilian 
city of Sao Paulo without hearing the flowing rhythms of the melodious Portu- 
guese language; the visitor is almost even reminded of the gentle strains of hossa 
nova music. 2 However, if our casual stroller lingers for a moment they might no- 
tice that these sounds are not Portuguese at all, but are actually Japanese, though 
perhaps not the typical major accents such as those found in Kanto (eastern Japan) 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

162 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

or Kansai (western Japan). For Sao Juanquine is one of the main 'Japantowns' in 
South America.3 This is quite unlike the typical North American city, where few 
Japantowns exist, and those that do are tourist attractions, as the Little Tokyos of 
San Francisco or Los Angeles (Adachi 2000a). In Sao Juanqine, people of Japa- 
nese descent live and work, and the area still has a feeling of being the home of 
immigrants. People awake at dawn and open their shops; the smells of some of the 
best Japanese and Brazilian dishes emanate from open windows at mealtimes. 

Nor are these feelings restricted only to urban areas: When one takes the bus 
to the countryside, in several hours they will find not only small smatterings of old 
Japanese settlements, but also whole Japanese communities as well. In fact our 
traveler might even feel as if they were visiting a Japanese farm village of the 
early 20th century.'* 

However, the kinds of Japanese spoken in these two areas — city and coun- 
try — are not the same. The Japanese of urban Japanese-Brazilians is heavily in- 
fluenced by Portuguese as compared to the Japanese spoken by rural Japanese- 
Brazilians. Because of this heavy Portuguese influence, the Japanese of urban 
Japanese-Brazilians is often thought to be dying due to the assimilation, both 
gradual and rapid, resulting from living among Portuguese speakers (Handa 1980; 
Nomoto 1969). What I call 'Urban Japanese' is not the result of the process of 
language death, even though it is significantly different from 'Rural Japanese'. I 
suggest that these differences are shaped by the different socio-economic values of 
these two groups. 

In this chapter, I will examine the cultural and historical elements that 
shaped these Unguistic differences and the economic and social values that caused 
them. I will first look at the ethnohistory of early Japanese immigration to Brazil. I 
will then look at the phonology, morphology, and semantics of the Japanese lan- 
guage used by urban and rural Japanese-Brazilians. I claim that the Japanese lan- 
guage is being used quite actively in both locales, and the reason for this is that the 
language is so closely tied to Japanese-Brazilian identity, sense of self, and notions 
of class. Indeed, I would say that language is the key symbol and trope in all these 

The socio-historical development of the Japanese communities in Brazil 

The peak period of Japanese-Brazilian immigration was in the 1930s when 
the Japanese government and privately-funded emigrant associations built four 
villages in the forests of Sao Paulo and Parana states. 5 The Japanese government 
wished to reduce its population and wanted to establish Japanese colonies overseas 
to show its political and economic power to the Western nations (Nihon Immin 
Hachiju-nen-shi 1991). Just a few generations earlier, Japan had finally opened the 
country after some two hundred and sixty years of self-imposed isolation. Japan 
felt it had to protect itself from the Western nations expanding their colonies in 
Asia, particularly India, China, and Indonesia. 

NOBUKO Adachi: Japanese Brazilians 163 

In spite of the Japanese government's intent, however, these new villages did 
not attract the numbers from Japan that it had hoped for. Instead, a majority of 
immigrants were already in Brazil and were working on coffee plantations. Brazil 
was the last country in the New World to abolish slavery (finally in 1888). Coffee 
planters, then, were seeking cheap labor to replace the lost earnings due to the 
emancipation of slaves. In order to make up for this shortage of plantation labor, 
they invited immigrants from overseas. 

The history of the Japanese in Brazil, then, begins in 1908 when thousands 
came to Brazil to avoid the economic hardships that Japan's rapid modernization 
was causing. This was only twenty years after the abolition of slavery. The major- 
ity of planters who hired them were not ready or able to change their attitudes to- 
ward farmhands. Having little respect, poor treatment, and heavy physical labor, 
many Japanese immigrants wished to leave plantation life.^ 

Although the coffee market failed around 1900, the Brazilian economy was 
still heavily dependent on coffee products; 69% of the national income in 1900 
came from coffee. It was not easy for the new immigrants, then, to find new types 
of work (Nihon Immin Hachiju-nen-shi 1991). Living on the plantations among 
former slaves as co-workers and neighbors, the Japanese immigrants were afraid 
their children would acquire unpleasant habits and behaviors. As a result, the pri- 
mary goal of the early Japanese immigrants was simply to get off the plantation as 
soon as possible, rather than just making money to return to Japan. 

The Japanese government was not unsympathetic. Among the Japanese vil- 
lages in Brazil, the Japanese government and the various emigrant associations or- 
ganized the 'Brazil-Takushoku-Kumiai (Brazilian Colonial Association)' or 
BRATAC for short. '' BRATAC set up almost everything the immigrants needed in 
the new social, political, and economic environments. For instance, BRATAC es- 
tablished banks, rice-cleaning mills, coffee-selection mills, hospitals, a pharmacy, 
and a school for the villagers. At school, children received much the same educa- 
tion they would have gotten back in Japan. There was one area where their cur- 
riculum was different, however: In Brazil, a special agricultural doctrine was em- 
phasized, and this was to have important repercussions for the subsequent history 
of Japanese-Brazilians. 

This philosophy was known as the GAT (Gozar A Terra, or 'Love the Soil') 
movement among BRATAC villagers. This philosophy stressed engaging in 
farming activities to cultivate a virtuous spirit. Since this was loosely based on 
Japanese ancient myths, as well as on intellectual and agricultural philosophy then 
current back in Japan, it did not take long for the GAT movement to coalesce.*^ As 
a result, the majority of Japanese immigrants lived in farming areas with other 
Japanese immigrants (and some non-Japanese Brazilians who came to the villages 
to look for an income). Non-Japanese Brazilians worked in Japanese-owned fields, 
but their residences were provided apart from those of the Japanese immigrants. In 
short, very few Japanese-Brazilians went to cities before World War II. 

164 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Compared to the experiences of Japanese North-Americans during the Sec- 
ond World War, Japanese-Brazilians did not greatly suffer due to their Japanese 
ethnic background. And yet, their home country was an enemy nation. Oddly, the 
war contributed to the creation of another type of Japanese-Brazilian. Recognizing 
that being a minority group in Brazilian society during the war was a major disad- 
vantage, some Japanese-Brazilians started establishing themselves in mainstream 
Brazilian society. If it was financially possible, they sent the smartest sons in their 
families on to higher education — but not the eldest sons, who were to inherit their 
parents' farmland.'^ These students majored in accounting, law, medicine, engi- 
neering, and other professions directly connected to white-collar occupations 
(Maeyamal981; 1996). 

Associating with middle and upper class non-Japanese Brazilians at univer- 
sities, those Japanese-Brazilians came to believe that any kind of physical labor, 
including farming activities, belonged to the lower class. This notion is still 
prevalent in Brazilian society even today. Following this ideology, educated Japa- 
nese-Brazilians started to feel ashamed about their parents and siblings who 
farmed, even though their educational costs were paid for by agriculture (Mae- 
yama 1981). After graduating from the universities, these Japanese-Brazilians of- 
ten stayed in the city, where they could find jobs suiting their new education and 

Some of these children of farmers married local Japanese-Brazilian women 
of their farm villages; others, however, married non-Japanese Brazilian women in 
the city (Nihon Imin Hachiju-nen-shi 1991). Many of these non-Japanese Brazil- 
ian women had respect for Japanese culture and tried to learn the Japanese lan- 
guage (at least some vocabulary) or cuisine. The result of this is that in Brazil — 
unlike North America — Japanese food and ingredients have become blended into 
the local Brazilian cuisines."^ Thus, even those who married non-Japanese Brazil- 
ians did not necessarily become estranged from their ethnicity. But these psycho- 
logical conflicts, different backgrounds, and familial guilt certainly affected the 
complex identities of urban Japanese-Brazilians even to this day. 

Japanese-Brazilians who have stayed on the fai'ms continue to believe in the 
traditional agricultural ideologies and still live in the Japanese areas. They main- 
tain a social boundary between Japanese-Brazilians and non-Japanese Brazilians. 
The majority of the non-Japanese Brazilians with whom they associate are their 
employees, their daylabor farmhands. It is still not so common for them to marry 
non-Japanese Brazilians. This is especially true of female Japanese-Brazilians. As 
I found during my fieldwork," rural Japanese-Brazilian women believe non- 
Japanese Brazilians are not able to provide a stable married life for them, finan- 
cially or emotionally. Although urban and rural Japanese-Brazilians share the 
same parents and/or grandparents — some of whom arrived early in the 20th 
century and settled down in the rugged forests in southern Brazil — these two 
groups have had different experiences with non-Japanese Brazilians, and have de- 
veloped different ideas about them. 

NoBUKO Adaciii: Japanese Brazilians 165 

Linguistic features of rural and urban Japanese-Brazilians 

According to the 1987 survey of the Centro de Estudos Nipo-Brasileiros, al- 
most 81 percent of rural Japanese-Brazilians claimed that they not only speak, but 
write and read Japanese. On the other hand, urban Japanese-Brazilians often tell us 
that they speak Japanese hardly at all. According to Handa ( 1980) — who immi- 
grated to Brazil with his parents at the age of eleven — because their Japanese 
language has been criticized as being broken, urban Japanese-Brazilians tend to 
say (or even believe) that they do not speak Japanese. I analyze spoken and written 
Japanese of both rural and urban Japanese-Brazilians. 

Rural Japanese-Brazilians 

Consider the following sentences spoken by rural Japanese-Brazilians. (Each sen- 
tence is marked with S or W to distinguish spoken from written speech). Portu- 
guese loanwords are underlined in the sentences. 

(s-1) ^m ^/vt^ t v->/i^n [z ^T<^fc5o 

go-aren't you 

'(You are) going to Sao Paulo with the others next week, aren't you?' 

— This speaker was born in Brazil in 1954. Her mother is a third-generation, and 
father a first-generation Japanese-Brazilian (recorded 1993). 

(s-2) "p-oit^j s^T^b It yy'jjix rd^xwz)... 

yappari jibiinro \va bwajini-jin datteiu.. 

after all themselves SCM* Brazilians that 

y^i>)lK (D^\Z ;§(j-iAt)^oT U9 Z.tC'pU^^ t)^ to 

burajiru-jin nunukani lokeko-inoittte in kotujanai ka to. 

Brazilians among try to-assimilate it looks like IRM** that 

*SCM = subjective case marker 
** IRM = interrogative marker 

'After all (they recognize) that they are Brazilians ... (1 think that they) tried to as- 
similate among (non-Japanese) Brazilians.' 

— This speaker emigrated to Brazil with his parents in 1927, right after he had 
been born in Japan (recorded 1995). 









.SY7/7 pauro 


ext week 



Sao Paulo 



Rintaro-kun e 
Rintaro-Mr to 


* (D tii^t^t^ 



* no daisuki-na 



of love 



Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

it>^^p-x (D fcL;$^ \t ou^fc ch K\tt. 




wa tsurizao 

/o /7o to 

Santa Claus 


a man 

SCM fishing rod and hne and 

*5^** t 



^UT (iU 

^ yuMyv- 

oki** to 



soshite hari 


float and 



and hook 

OCM present 




*Pesuka < pesca 

= ^,S^U 

: sakcma-tsiiri = "fishing'. 


**fc^ oA:/ could be >^^ h^7 = "float'. At this moment I am not sure if it is 
only this writer who uses oki instead of uki, or if all Japanese Brazilian use oki in- 
stead of uki. However, most likely it is his personal misunderstanding. 

***OCM = objective case marker 

'Dear Rintaro-kun, 

Santa Claus is giving a fishing rod, line, float, weight, and hook to you, Rintaro, 

who loves fishing.' 

— This writer is third generation. He was born in 1960 in a small farm village 
opened by Japanese-Brazilians early in the 20th century. He was 32 years old 
when he wrote this letter to his son. 

(W-2) B cfc e) (C 
nichiyo ni 
Sunday on 

mangeron * 

naruto, asa kara ichinichijCi, 

become morning from all day long 

no seruka ** ni nohotte, okina buta 

of railing on claim big pigs 


shikotte *** de, oimawashimasii. 
a whip with chase around 

'When Sunday comes, from morning all day long, I climb over the fence and herd 
the big pigs with a whip (into the small corral)'. 

* mangeron < mangueordo = $ < : sakit - 'fence' 

**seruka < cerca - JM : kaki = 'railing' 

*** shikotte < chikote = KJ : muchi = 'whip' 

— Quoted in Nomoto (1969); the writer is a seven-year-old boy. 

NoBUKO Adachi: Japanese Brazilians 167 

The structures of all of the above sentences are quite 'Japanese' as opposed 
to 'Portuguese'. For instance, word order is based on typical Japanese SOV. For 
example, in (W-1) we find 

Santokurosu no Ojisan + Isiirizxio to ... Iictrl o + piirez.ento-shimasu 
(Santa Clause) (fishing rod and. ..hook (give/present) 


The use of particles such as the subjective case marker, (i "wa" objective case 
marker, ^ "o," and the interrogative marker, tf^ "ka" is typically standard Japa- 
nese. As for phonology, (S-1) has been influenced by the Kansai dialect in Japan 
and (S-2) is based on standard Japanese. It needs to noted that the parents of the 
speaker of (S-1) and the majority of founders of his village were from areas where 
the Kansai (western) dialect is spoken. '^ 

Standard Japanese forms 

The Japanese spoken by the villagers, then, have some influence from Kansai dia- 
lect morphology and phonology. Japanese language teachers who are sent to Japa- 
nese-Brazilian villages by Japanese institutes, such as the Japan Foundation, how- 
ever, teach standard 'Tokyo' Japanese. Thus, some people switch their speech to 
the standard form when they speak to outsiders, especially to people from Japan. 
This is probably the reason the standard form is used in (S-2), even though that 
speaker of came from a Kansai-speaking area. 

The village where the writer of (W-1) lives is one of the BRAT AC villages 
mentioned earlier in the first section. In this village, Japanese-Brazilians still hold 
power demographically, economically, and politically. Although the villagers 
sometimes add Portuguese to their Japanese, it is as a supplement. All announce- 
ments for villagers, for instance, are still written in Japanese (almost as if events of 
the village were intended only for Japanese-Brazilians). 

There are some differences in the number of Portuguese loanwords found in 
both spoken and written forms, as seen in (S-1), (S-2), (W-1), and (W-2). Most of 
these are nativized or 'Japanized,' both phonologically and morphologically. In 
these examples, there are a few signs of word-borrowing from Portuguese into 
Japanese. There seem to be at least three kinds. First, Japanese-Brazilians charac- 
teristically borrow Portuguese vocabulary for objects for which Japanese does not 
have words; this was especially true at the time when their ancestors immigrated 
to Brazil. For instance, the Japanese-Brazilians use the Portuguese word kamiyon 
(< caminhdo) for truck. 

Secondly, although Japanese words might exist, Portuguese words are bor- 
rowed because they were not commonly used by the early Japanese immigrants. 
For instance, because the majority of Japanese immigrants were rice farmers and 
were not familiar with words for catde farming, in (W-2) we see the Portuguese 
words, mangeron, semka, and shikotte used instead of Japanese, saku, kaki, and, 
muchi (for 'fence", 'railing', and 'whip', respectively). The above two types of 
word borrowing, of course, are commonly seen in many languages. 

168 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

The third type of borrowing uses Portuguese loanwords in spite of the exis- 
tence of commonly-used words in Japanese. Japanese-Brazilians have replaced 
native Japanese terms with Portuguese loanwords in the cases like cozinnya (< 
cozinha) instead of da idokoro 'kitchen', or agua (< agua) instead of mizu 'water'. 

Many language educators and linguists (e.g., Mase 1986, Nagao 1975, No- 
moto 1969, Suzuki 1979) consider such linguistic replacement as an indication of 
imminent language death. However, this phenomenon is not limited to immigrants 
only; it can be seen in language used in a native country as well. For example, 
since the 1600s, when the Portuguese introduced western soups to Japan, the Japa- 
nese have used soppa, (from the Portuguese sopa) to refer to a type of western 
soup. After several hundred years soppa was assimilated into Japanese and is now 
used as a native term. However, the process was repeated again later when an 
English loanword, siipu was brought in during the nineteenth century. '^ 

Vocabulary replacement, then, should not necessarily be considered a sign of 
language death. When the social situation changes, people sometimes replace their 
own words with others to convey new feelings, new notions, or more suitable 
meanings under different circumstances. Thus, it is possible to say that just as the 
Japanese have adapted many English loanwords (Loveday 1996), the Japanese 
used by rural Japanese-Brazilians has taken in and adapted many Portuguese 
words in a similar fashion. 

Urban Japanese-Brazilians 

The linguistic features of urban Japanese-Brazilians not merely reflect morpho- 
logical borrowing. Consider the following sentences spoken by an urban Japanese- 
Brazilian — a second generation female, 36-years old in 1989. 

(S-3)Ba#(C ^T-D/zb t^-t^. t^-t^ S^lgO 
inaka ni it tar a i i i i nihongo no 

countryside to go-if good good Japanese of language 

koronia-go ga kikeru kara. Ribeniddji 

colony-language SCM** listen because Liberudade 

noyona tokoro ni ottara todomundo *** ga bon ****na 
like a place at being everybody SCM good 

B*^ ^ U^^U fc-S/J^bo 

nihongo o shaberi orukara. 

Japanese OCM***** speak because 

* koronia < colonia = 'colony' 

** Riberudaji < Liberudade = a township in the Sao Paulo city where a 
'Japantown' is located. 

NoBUKO Adachi: Japanese Brazilians 169 

***todomundo < todo mundo - 'everybody' 

****bon < bom = 'good' 

*****OCM = objective case marker 

'If (you) go to the countryside (you) will hear the typical 'colonial' language of 
the Japanese. If (you) stay in a place like Liberudade, (you only find that) every- 
body speaks good Japanese.' 

Only three Portuguese words are used in the above sentences, colonia 'col- 
ony',''^ hon 'good, weir, and todo mundo 'everybody'. However, this sentence is 
much harder to understand for Japanese speakers who are not familiar with Portu- 
guese than sentences articulated by rural Japanese-Brazilians. This is typical of 
such speech, even if the sentences of rural Japanese-Brazilians contain more Por- 
tuguese loanwords. 

There are at least two reasons for the communicative barrier found for other 
Japanese speakers in the speech used by urban Japanese-Brazilians. First, one dif- 
ficulty comes from the grammatical roles of loanwords. Traditionally foreign 
words are borrowed into Japanese as nouns, regardless of their grammatical status 
in the original language. These nouns usually add the -sum ('to do') auxiliary-verb 
suffix to make verbs, or a -/za-type suffix to make adjectives. For instance, con- 
sider these two examples: 

Chainizu-resutoran ga opun-suru. 

Chinese restaurant SCM opening-do 

< A Chinese restaurant is going to open.> 

herushi-na tabemono 

heath-na food 

<healthy food> 

It is, however, seen that English loanwords in Japan can sometimes use real 
adjectival markers (such as -/ ). especially among young Japanese in Japan. For 

(s-4)-?:n^T -roi^ L;A^^o 

Sorette naii-i Jan. 

That's now Sentence-Final particle 

'That's now (= That's cool.).' 

Since a native Japanese adjective ends with '-/', '-/' gets attached to the English 
word now to create a new adjective. This way of making a new adjective violates 
traditional Japanese grammar, which borrows foreign vocabulary only as nouns, 
or adds '-«a' to create borrowed adjectives. Though this new adjective, nau-i has 
been used by young people for a couple of decades, it has not attracted many us- 


Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

ers. According to Stanlaw 2000, the meanings of such loanwords do not need to be 
fully understood linguistically. Instead, like a visual art work, such loanwords can 
convey new sentiments or feelings, and might even carry different linguistic 
meanings or sentiments each time they are used. Their use, however, creates a so- 
cial boundary between message senders and receivers, who are not able to appre- 
ciate the 'art' of the new usages of such words. In other words, these loanwords 
used for adjectives and adverbs are not used as expected. 

Portuguese adjectives and adverbs used in the Japanese of urban Japanese- 
Brazilians, however, are not used to create new sentiments, but to convey fixed 
linguistic meanings. Sometimes those meanings carry the most critical information 
of the sentence. Consider the following examples, which are commonly used by 
urban Japanese-Brazilians. 

Basutanchi * kudasai. 
a lot please give 

< Please give me a lot.> 

(S-6) v-r;^**T$Uo 

Maisu * * kudasai. 

please give 

* bastanchi > bastante = enough, plenty 

** maisu > mais = more 

<Please give me more.> 

Kuruchiba no 
Curityba of 


to Rondorina 
Rondorina of 

(D m 

mac hi 
town and 


sentence-final particle 

no machi 
town SCM 


*** bonitasu < bonitas = 'pretty' 

' Curityba and Rondorina are pretty towns.' 

(the example sentences above are from Mase 1986) 

The important information of the above sentences is in the loan adjectives 
and adverbs, bastanchi, maisu, and bonitasu 'many', 'more', and 'pretty', respec- 
tively. Urban Japanese-Brazilians use these words in Japanese structures based on 
their knowledge of Portuguese grammar. In (S-7), the speaker said bonitasu 
(which derives from bonitas, a plural and feminine form of bonito 'pretty'). This 
adjective modifies two nouns, Kunichilxi no machi and Rondorina no machi. 
Japanese machi 'city' is cidade in Portuguese, a feminine noun; thus, the adjective 
bonito, which modifies cidade, becomes the plural feminine form bonitasu (< bo- 
nitas). The first generation of Japanese-Brazilians use only bonito for any modi- 
fied noun (Mase 1986). In order to understand the Japanese language of urban 

NoBUKO Adachi: Japanese Brazilians 


Japanese-Brazilians, one needs to have a good command of Portuguese as well as 
a knowledge of Japanese. 

Since urban Japanese-Brazilian speakers of Japanese are bilingual in both 
Japanese and Portuguese, one may claim that the new usage of Portuguese loan- 
words in Japanese discourse could be just code-mixing instead of a new way of 
using loanwords. However, in (S-5) it is clear that this is not the case. For in- 
stance, the Portuguese word is a loanword, and this is not code-mixing. The 
meaning of bastanchi to Japanese-Brazilians in their Japanese discourse is only 'a 
lot', which is different from the Portuguese meaning of bastante, which is either 
'enough' or 'plenty'. That is, when they speak in Japanese, urban Japanese- 
Brazilians use bastanchi as 'a lot', and when they speak in Portuguese they use 
bastante in the Portuguese meaning. There is no confusion among Japanese- 
Brazilian speakers and listeners of Portuguese. The meaning of bastanchi has be- 
come more restricted than in the original language, Portuguese. It is well known 
that semantic restriction is one of the most distinctive traits of word borrowing 
(McMahon 1994). 

The intonation of the Japanese sentences spoken by urban Japanese- 
Brazilians has also changed from that of the Japanese spoken in Japan. Consider 
the following spectrograms. The first spectrogram (Figure 1) is the sound-wave 
pattern of example (S-3) spoken by a second generation urban Japanese-Brazilian. 
The second spectrogram (Figure 2) was spoken by a native Japanese speaker who 
acquired Japanese in Japan. The sentence text was the same in both cases (^iven in 








•••* * .*" • • * * ••••* 

•• ♦•,♦.• ••* 





Tine <sec > 


Figure 1: Sound-wave pattern produced by an urban Japanese-Brazilian 

172 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 





.••*. ■*• 

... ...... 







J . eea 

Tin* <sac> 


Figure 2: Sound-wave pattern produced by a native Japanese speaker 

Portuguese words tend to have accents on the penultimate syllable. In the 
first spectrogram, the wave of the urban Japanese-Brazilian matches a Portuguese 
accent pattern, even though she is speaking Japanese words. For instance, the first 
wave comes from the accent on the penultimate vowel l\l of the final word ii in the 
first phrase, inaka ni ittara ii. In contrast, the spectrogram of the Japanese speaker 
from Japan is almost flat. This is the typical Japanese accent pattern in Japan (Shi- 
batani 1990:158-84). 

Because the intonation of their Japanese has taken on a Portuguese pattern, 
and because some of their usages of Portuguese loanwords are unique, the Japa- 
nese of urban Japanese-Brazilians is often hard for Japanese from Japan to under- 
stand. This is why it is criticized by some Japanese linguists (such as Mase 1986, 
Nagao 1975, or Nomoto 1969) who feel their acquisition of Japanese is incom- 
plete. This incomplete-acquisition theory is, however, very questionable. First, all 
the linguistic structures of the Japanese spoken by urban Japanese-Brazilians are 
based on that of standard Japanese. For instance, the word order and use of case 
markers in (S-3) is standard: 

Nihongo o shaherioru kara 

Japanese OCM speak because 
'... because (they) speak Japanese.' 

This sentence has an object and objective case marker, and the verb is conjugated 
as in normal Japanese. In (S-5) and (S-6), adverb + copula forms are again not a 
surprise, as in 

Basutanchi + Kudasai 
(Adv) (Copula). 

A second, more general point is: If urban Japanese-Brazilians lack sufficient 
knowledge of Japanese linguistic structure, how can we explain the abundance of 

NoBUKO Adachi: Japanese Brazilians 173 

books and newspapers written by them in Japanese? The following sentences are 
random examples from a Sao Paulo newspaper: 

(w-3) # m ^ }^ux -hyifs T 

haru no hi o abite kanpo * de 

spring of sunshine OCM bask field in 

"Nihonno Taiko" o kekoswu hare dan. 

Tjapanese DrumJ OCM practice bale troupe 

* kanpo < campo = 'field' 

' The ballet troupe, which is practicing "Japanese Taiko Drums", is basking in the 
spring sun in the (farm) field.' 

Since the target audience is not the Japanese in Japan, the writer uses a Portuguese 
loanword, kanpo. which is not used among Japanese unless they have a knowledge 
of Portuguese. But otherwise the sentence is transparent. 

Furthermore, there are many cookbooks written in Japanese by Japanese- 
Brazilians. Are Japanese from Japan or first-generation immigrants reading these 
cookbooks written by second and third generation Japanese-Brazilians to learn 
about traditional Japanese dishes? Probably not. Those books are for Japanese- 
Brazilian descendants, especially for urban Japanese-Brazilians. Unlike rural 
Japanese-Brazilians who grew up with traditional Japanese dishes, it is always dif- 
ficult to maintain a traditional cuisine in an urban setting. Thus, those urban Japa- 
nese-Brazilians who want to cook Japanese dishes need to have these cookbooks. 
Furthermore, even academic publications from the Centro de Nipo-Brasileiros (the 
Center for Japanese-Brazilians) are written in Japanese by Japanese-Brazilians. 
These publications are usually read in Sao Paulo, but not in Japan; they are in- 
tended, then, for a South-American audience. 

There are newspapers published in Japanese in North America as well. How- 
ever, these newspapers, when they are written in Japanese — and this is not al- 
ways the case — are usually written by Japanese from Japan. Even if some Japa- 
nese-North Americans write articles in Japanese, no publisher would print them 
without having them edited by a Japanese from Japan. '^ Since the target readers 
are Japanese and the first-generation immigrants, papers have to be written in the 
standard Japanese of Japan. 

In contrast, readers of Japanese newspapers and books published in Sao 
Paulo are for Japanese-Brazilians, so it seems that it would be better to write 
things in their own style of Japanese; but again, most of the time these papers are 
written in standard Japanese newspaper registers. Finally, there are many Japanese 
comic books from Japan that arc read by Japanese-Brazilians. There even is a 
Japanese comic-book library in the city of Sao Paulo. Many Japanese-Brazilians 
seem to have no trouble at all handling these materials. If the Japanese language of 
urban Japanese-Brazilians is an incomplete version of standard Japanese, then why 

174 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

do they still speak, read, and write in any form of Japanese at all? Despite the fact 
that their city lifestyle provides only Portuguese linguistic situations, they still use 
Japanese among themselves, even when speakers are fluent in Portuguese. Ac- 
cording to Brown & Levinson 1978 and Heller 1982, speakers can implicitly claim 
in-group membership through the common ground of language usage. The social, 
ethnic, and class identity of urban Japanese-Brazilians is very complex. Because 
urban Japanese-Brazilians do not want to be looked down upon as people from the 
working classes, they do not speak like rural Japanese-Brazilians. And yet, urban 
Japanese-Brazilians do not have strong negative feelings regarding their ethnic 
background, unlike Japanese-North Americans who suffered internment during 
World War II. 

However, since they still do face something of a boundary established by 
upper class Brazilians, elite Japanese-Brazilians might have a tendency to unite. It 
has been very commonly believed that there is no skin-color-based racial dis- 
crimination in Brazil (e.g., Harris 1964; Saito 1976), however, recently various 
scholars, such as Guimaraes 1996, Skidmore 1992, and Twine 1998, claim that 
there is indeed real racial discrimination in Brazilian society. The racial discrimi- 
nation towards Japanese-Brazilians is not exceptional (Lesser 1999). Regardless of 
their economic success, Japanese-Brazilians are not able to join the new upper 
classes as full fledged members, as ai^e other ethnic immigrants (like Italians and 
Germans). 16 The socio-economic complexities of the urban Japanese-Brazilian 
situation finds that they face a social boundary with non-Japanese Brazilians as 
well as with rural Japanese-Brazilians. Yet their group membership is symbolized 
by, and defined in, their use of the Japanese language. They speak the Japanese 
language, which other Brazilians do not understand; but at the same time their 
Japanese also requires a good command of Portuguese, which their first Japanese 
farming ancestors might not have controlled. 


In this chapter I have examined two kinds of Japanese spoken in Brazil. I 
have looked historically and linguistically at the very complex socio-ethnic identi- 
ties of two Japanese-Brazilian groups. After World War II, Japanese-Brazilians 
split into two groups — the rural farming group and the urban white-collar group. 
These two communities created different cultural values, and experienced different 
social conflicts with non-Japanese Brazilians. As a result, the two populadons face 
— and have established — different kinds of social boundaries. They have devel- 
oped different registers of the Japanese language. Their two versions of Japanese 
are not the result of incomplete language acquisition, but are symbols of their 
various social identities — as Brazilians, as Japanese, and as members of specific 

NoBUKO Adachi: Japanese Brazilians 175 


' An earlier version was presented in the organized session. The Diffusion of the 
Japanese Language' at the 1999 Annual Meetings of the American Anthropologi- 
cal Association in Chicago. I am grateful to Professor Braj Kachru for his thought- 
ful comments on an earlier draft, and to Prof. Susumu Miyao and Ms. Neuza Ma- 
tsuo for helping me during my collection of fieldwork data. I would also like to 
thank Dr. Robert MacLaury for his friendship and helpful criticism, my family, 
and Max and Jim Stanlaw for their continued support and advice. 

2 Bossa nova, or 'new way' or 'new fashion', is one of Brazil's celebrated musical 
exports. Probably the most famous song in this popular style of samba-jazz is the 
well-known 'Girl From Ipanema' by Antonio Carlos Jobim. 

^ According to a 1987 survey by the Center for the Study of Japanese Brazilians 
(Centro de Estudos Nipo-Brasileiros). there are almost three hundred thousand 
Brazilians of Japanese descent living in the urban areas of Sao Paulo State (Mae- 
yama 1996:158). The area of Sao Juanquine itself may have up to forty thousand, 
though these figures are a little speculative as lately many Japanese-Brazilians 
have been returning to Japan as dekasegi 'temporary foreign' workers due to the 
long economic depression in Brazil and high wages in Japan. 

■^ Today some 1.3 million Japanese-Brazilians make their home in Brazil, and a 
majority of them not only understand, but also speak, Japanese, especially in the 
rural areas (Adachi 1997, 1999b). 

5 This chapter will focus on Japanese-Brazilians in southern Brazil. The situation 
in northern Brazil was somewhat different, with a different history of Japanese 
immigration, which I will address at a later time. 

6 For historical details, see Adachi 1999b or Nihon Hachiju-nen-shi 1991. 

"^ The acronym BRATAC comes from the initials of the Japanese name, Brazil- 
Tak ushoku-Kiimiai . 

^ See Adachi 1997 or 2000b for details on this philosophy, called Nohon-Shugi. 

^ It is important to remember that people did not consider it important for women 
to receive a higher education in many nations in those days. 

'0 To be sure, Japanese food can be found in Canada and the United States. In 
North America, however, Japanese food is not rooted, but is becoming popular as 
an exotic cuisine. Although I will not go into details, this difference is very inter- 
esting when we look at the social status of immigrants in these different societies. 

" Conducted at various times in 1989, 1992, 1993, and 1995. 

'2 The Kansai dialect is spoken in the western side of Japan, including such areas 
as Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara; it has many regional variants (cf. Miller 1967; Shi- 
batani 1990). 

176 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

'3 When the new Westerners arrived in Japan after some two hundred and sixty 
years of self-imposed isolation, many linguislic changes took place. See Adachi 
1988 for details. 

'•^ The Japanese language spoken in Brazil is sometimes called coronia-go 'colo- 
nial language' and Japanese villages in Brazil are sometimes called coronia = 
colonia 'colony' by Japanese-Brazilians. However, the meaning of coronia is just 
'Japanese-Brazilian' (Satio 1974:205). 

'5 As a former staff member of such a paper, 1 can attest to this. 

'6 1 argue this in more detail in Adachi 1999a. 


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Japanese Immigrants in Brazil]. Sao Paulo: Centro de Estudos Nipo-Brasi- 

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ton & Company. 
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and Social Identity, ed. by J. Gumperz, 108-18 Berkeley: University of Cali- 
fornia Press. 
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the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil. Durham. NC: Duke University Press. 
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from Brazil: The Japanese Language of Japanese-Brazilians]. Gengo 418. 

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Chicago Press. 
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Brazil: The History, Society, and Japanese-Brazilians]. Tokyo: The Simul 

. 1976. Burajiru ni Okeru Nih(.)n-jin no Doka ni Tsuite [Concerning Japanese 

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Pradeep A. Dhillon 

In this essay I take up the problem of doing non-Western, particularly 
Indian, philosophy in English if we take seriously the notion that lan- 
guage and thought are linked, in other words, I consider the problem 
presented for international philosophical discourse by the claim that 
language constrains our metaphysics. The strong version of this thesis 
would suggest that it is impossible to do Indian philosophy within an 
international context, since the metaphysics of such discourse would 
inevitably be cast in English. I wish to argue a weaker version of this 
thesis. English is undoubtedly the language of international philoso- 
phical discourse, however, this does not imply a single metaphysics 
driven by grammar. 

If the learning of English facilitates philosophical and cognitive es- 
trangements, it also serves a therapeutic purpose. Language, by its very 
nature, even when learned under conditions of imperialism, can assist in 
overcoming alienation. There are several strategies which could be 
taken up to achieve such an overcoming. Once could, for example, 
adopt a Calibanesque strategy and use language to build a critique of 
epistemological and cognitive displacements. We could embark on a 
Foucauldian archaeology of epistemes and make the project recupera- 
tive of the threads of non-Western thought within Western philosphy. 
Or we could pay attention to language use in relation to diasporic phi- 
losophical disocursc. No doubt the question of intellectual freedom in 
an international context is a good one for philosophy, but surely it is a 
reasonable one to ask of language itself. Such a reflexive examination 
would be a task for philosophy proper. In approaching philosophical 
discourse in diaspora in this manner, I join efforts with those who have 
gone before and those still traveling on this long way home. Home at 
the end of such a philosophical journey would not necessarily be a de- 
colonized intellectual space; a return to an anthropological 'India" or 
'China'. Home is the domain of philosophy brought closer to its own 
ideals of universalism. 

Diaspora. Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in ihc Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

182 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 


There is no other way open to us in the East but to go along with Eu- 
ropeanization and to go through it. Only through this voyage into the 
foreign and the strange can we win back our own selfhood; here as 
elsewhere, the way to what is closest to us is the longest way back. 

This is the response offered by the Indian philosopher J. L. Mehta 1990 to Ed- 
mund Husserl's notion of the inevitability of the 'Europeanization of the earth'. 
Linking linguistic and philosophical estrangement to global capitalism in India, 
Mehta notes: 

The coming of modernity to India signified not merely the impinge- 
ment of an alien world of knowledge, ideas, and ideals upon the Indian 
consciousness, but of a world which was itself rapidly reaching out 
toward a newly conceived future, as well as spreading out its tentacles 
to encompass the whole world. Under the colonial origins of his mod- 
ernization, the Indian encountered 'philosophy' and 'religion' and 
began forthwith the long journey of reinterpreting his tradition in 
terms of these Western categories. Most importantly, he began to think 
about it in the English language not just to expound it to English 
scholars, but as the principal medium of his own self-understanding. 

As Socrates did in the Apology, I enter the forum of philosophical discourse 
as an exile twice over: exiled once from philosophy in the moment of modernity 
marked by Mehta, and twice in taking up the question of philosophy in diaspora. 
Struggling to express myself in this forum, I speak as a foreigner. That is, I speak 
in a language which is my own and yet not mine. In this chapter I seek to exam- 
ine the significance of linguistic and geographic displacements for philosophical 

Specifically, I take up the problem of doing non- Western, particularly Indian, 
philosophy in English if we take seriously the notion that language and thought 
are linked. In other words, I consider the problem presented for international phi- 
losophical discourse by the claim that language constrains our metaphysics. The 
strong version of this thesis would suggest that it is impossible to do Indian phi- 
losophy within an international context, since such discourse would inevitability 
be cast in the metaphysics of English. I wish to argue a weaker version of this 
thesis. While English is undoubtedly the language of international philosophical 
discourse, this does not imply a single metaphysics driven by grammar. 

If the learning of English, as Mehta 1990 suggests, facilitates philosophical 
and cognitive estrangements, it can also be therapeutic. Language, by its very na- 
ture, even when learned under conditions of imperialism, can assist in overcoming 
alienation. There are several strategies which could be taken up to achieve such 
an overcoming. One could, for example, adopt a Calibanesque strategy and use 
language to build a critique of epistemological and cognitive displacements. We 
could embark on a Foucauldian archaeology of epistemes and make the project of 

PradeepDhillon: The longest way home 183 

philosophy recuperative of the threads of non- Western thought within Western 
philosophy. Or we could pay attention to language use in relation to diasporic 
philosophical discourse. No doubt the question of intellectual freedom in an in- 
ternational context is a good one for philosophy, but surely it is a reasonable one 
to ask of language itself. Such a rellexive examination would be a task for phi- 
losophy proper. In approaching philosophical discourse in diaspora in this man- 
ner, I join efforts with those who have gone before and those still traveling on 
this long way home. Home at the end of such a philosophical journey would not 
necessarily be a decolonized intellectual space; a return to an anthropological 
'India' or 'China'. Home is the domain of philosophy brought closer to its own 
ideals of universalism. 

The problem of a violated and violating universalism set for philosophy by 
history and geography is taken up by contemporary philosophy under the rubric 
of postmodernism. This theoretical development remains arrested not only be- 
cause of its primarily normative reception, but also because it remains entangled 
by the very terms it wishes to discount. If the postmodern charge against univer- 
salism, which lies at the very heart of the philosophical endeavor, is to be ad- 
dressed, philosophy proper and postmodern theory must do a little more than ei- 
ther stand steadfast or place themselves under erasure. Attention to particularity 
and concerns for establishing a universal discourse must engage each other. 

I turn to this problem with a focus on Indian philosophy, not through an 
unawareness of other traditions in exile or nostalgia. Rather, I turn my attention 
to Indian philosophy because I feel most comfortable speaking to a tradition I am 
reasonably familiar with. But also, importantly, because the cases of Indian and 
Chinese philosophical discourse, while complex to treat in this manner, are still the 
easier cases. These discourses have found a position, however uncomfortable, 
within philosophical discourse as it has come to be defined under conditions of 
modernity. A significant portion of the ways in which people make sense of and 
act responsibly within their worlds is engaged with so minimally, such as the ma- 
jor and minor traditions of the South American and African continents, within 
academic philosophical discourse that it makes sense to echo Eric Wolf and speak 
of the nonsense of people without a philosophy. 

The separation of Indian thought into the domains of 'philosophy' and 're- 
ligion', based on a modern, secular. Western metaphysics by both Indian and 
European philosophers alike, marks one diasporic moment in the historical narra- 
tive of the relation between Indian and European philosophy. The subordination 
and incorporation of Indian philosophical discourse under conditions of coloni- 
alism marks a second. Gilles Delcuze & Felix Guattari 1994 note that, under con- 
ditions of global capitalism, philosophy is Greek, but all philosophers arc strang- 
ers. The significance of strangeness, of displacements in thinking, marks a third 
dimension in thinking about philosophical discourse in diaspora. 

What do these alien philosophers, these intellectual strangers, hope to find 
in the Greek miliou'.'They come in search of (he pleasures alTorded by sociability 

184 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

through the formation of intellectual associations, the pleasures of unsociability 
through the enactment of rivalries, and a taste for opinion inconceivable in an 
empire, a taste for the exchange of views, for conversation. These strangers are 
said to be critical of the traditions they are fleeing from, and because of their 
strangeness, they are able to be critical of the traditions they flee to. Regardless of 
how such criticality is enacted, this position presupposes a distinction between 
philosophy and religion. Philosophy, in this view, would follow a method of open 
inquiry and epistemological skepticism while religion requires faith. Second, this 
claim limits philosophy to serving a primarily critical rather than a descriptive or 
political function. These are functions that have been taken up by Western phi- 
losophers like Wittgenstein and Marx. In other words, Deleuze & Guattari's 1994 
claim rests on a view of philosophy which is parochial and narrow even within 
the Western tradition. 

Various possibilities are offered for philosophy in diaspora by postcolonial 
theory. Given the ubiquitous, and arguably democratizing, presence of English in 
the contemporary world of letters, and the relationship between the Western and 
non- Western worlds which forged this presence, a note of despair enters this at- 
tempt at addressing the question regarding the relationship between language 
and metaphysics. Given history, then, it seems impossible to realize Indian phi- 
losophy on its own terms. Dipesh Chakravarty 1999 writes, 

Since Europe cannot after all be provincialized within the institutional 
site of the University whose knowledge protocols will always take us 
back to the terrain where all contours follow that of my hyperreal 
Europe — the project of provincializing Europe must realize within it- 
self its own impossibility. It therefore looks to a history that embodies 
this politics of despair. 

Without giving in to this despair, yet facing the difficulties posed for Indian phi- 
losophy by global capitalism, what can we consider possible within postcolonial 

This theory seeks to intervene in dominant intellectual production with the 
fuU realization that it runs both with and against Western academic discourse. It 
resigns itself to a struggle which is to be fought in small increments. The model of 
freedom here is not that of a simplistic mode of resistance. Rather, through its 
struggle, it hopes to effect a mutation in dominant discourse. While its methods 
are derived from postmodern and poststructural theory, its hopes remain faithful 
to the ideals of progress, equality, and freedom; to the ideals of the Enlightenment 
which it also seeks to question. Postcolonial discourse has made great strides. In- 
tellectuals of Indian origin such as Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, and Arjun Ap- 
padurai command a presence within the most prestigious institutions of higher 
education in the West. It can be argued, however, that much of postcolonial dis- 
course arises from the existential condition of non-Western academics within 
Western academic institutions. Therefore, while postcolonial theory seeks to 
speak for other worlds, it remains, in the main, unreflective of the possibility of re- 

Pradeep Dhillon: The longest way home 185 

producing the very categories it seelcs to resist since the language of the produc- 
ers of its discourse, as well as that of its audience, is Western. As I shall strive to 
show, this condition is not inherently problematic. I seek to steer a course be- 
tween an unreflective attitude towards this relation between language and theory 
as also a too despairing understanding of such a linkage. Postcolonial theory, for 
all its gains, is not equal to the philosophical task before us. 

Another move that might be useful is to undertake a genealogy of modern 
philosophy in order to unmask the construction of philosophy as a closed and 
bounded system, innocent of contamination by the particularities of language. In 
the absence of such an historical approach, Western philosophy can write a long 
history of its development, tracing its lineage back to the Greeks, without re- 
course to any reference to the members of unruly classes, or women, or the citi- 
zens of the many nations it has encountered. Such a mode of inquiry could take 
two forms working either independently or with each other. First, one could use 
the methods of historical linguistics to develop etymologies of concepts. Thus the 
philosopher would seek to link concepts in modern philosophy to those that pre- 
cede it with the aim of gaining enough distance temporally and spatially in order 
to be able to say something significant about the linkages between earlier, per- 
haps non- Western, conceptual forms and contemporary philosophy. This in turn 
would enable such a scholar to say something significant about the relationship 
between language and metaphysics. While such an analysis might prove very 
useful it rests on two assumptions both of which are open to question. These are: 
first, this mode of inquiry assumes a shared protosystem, for example a Proto- 
Indo-European system. Second, it presumes historical continuity. 

A different genealogical strategy, one not based on these assumptions, 
would be to undertake a Foucauldian archaeology of epistemes — units of 
knowledge. Such an approach presupposes that all forms of intellectual produc- 
tion are based on the inescapable link between knowledge and power. Roughly, 
philosophical archaeology would involve the taking up of a conceptual system 
and unpacking it moment by careful moment, with all the historico-linguistic tools 
at hand, to reveal the teeming contestation of traditions, voices, and ideas. It is out 
of this contestation, such an argument would seek to show, concepts made victo- 
rious by the dynamics of power, arise seemingly serene, pure, unitary, and static. 
That is, politics, not nature, offers us a universal metaphysics. Though this ap- 
proach is powerful, the problem is that it serves primarily as a corrective to the 
concerns of Western philosophy. Despite the importance of this task, it provides 
us with no way establishing a dynamic, vigorous, and independent way of doing 
philosophy within an international context. Not only does Indian philosophy 
stay linked to Western thought, it must always follow. It must pick its way 
through the debris of the edifices being deconstructed. 

The issue of language and philosophical discourse in diaspora, the contours 
of which I have struggled to define so far, I take to be the central problem facing 
philosophy today. This is so not for intellectual reasons alone. If we seek to live in 

186 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

a non-violent world, then our affiliations and conflicts are to be expressed and 
negotiated through language; through legal and political discourse. If such dis- 
course is to be democratic at an international level then we must sho w that using 
a shar ed^language does not imply sh ared__yalues^j)i^_beliefs. In other words, lan- 
guage need not constrain metaphysics. If we are unable to demonstrate this, then 
we are to live in a hegemonic world where democratic international cooperation 
is not possible. 

I will now sharpen my delineation of this problem and strive to go some 
way towards offering a solution. In the course of elaborating these remarks I will 
use Wittgenstein's ideas on grammar and naturalism for philosophy in an interna- 
tional context. I will do this by paying attention to the specific arguments made 
by Jerrold Katz against both the internal naturalism of Chomsky and the full 
blown naturalism of an HusserUan phenomenology. In sum, I will question the 
moves in philosophy that seek to develop a strong intentional theory of seman- 
tics in an attempt to give us a metaphysics of meaning even as the world is be- 
coming more overtly interdependent, but also more insistently democratic. Such a 
move may be useful if we take globalization to mean standardization. These are 
not useful, however, when thinking about meaning from a cosmopolitan, democ- 
ratic point of view. 

In a recent issue of the Journal of Philosophy, Jerrold Katz raises what he 
considers the central problem in twentieth century philosophy. The problem, he 
says, was raised by Wittgenstein very near the end of the Tractatiis Logico- 

It is clear that the logical product of two elementary propositions can 
neither be a tautology nor a contradiction. The statement that a point in 
the visual field has two different colors at the same time is a contradic- 

These two statements, Katz 1998 argues, each plausible by itself, are none too 
plausible when taken together. To help make Wittgenstein's point, Katz offers 
the following example: 

1) The spot is red and blue. 

There is a problem here with the setting of the problem in this way. The terms of 
reference namely red and blue have opposing positions on the color wheel. A 
naturalized example would have made the problem harder to set in such clean 
terms and therefore harder to treat. Thus what if the example, Wittgenstein might 
say, Katz had picked had been 'The spot is blue and green'. In that case, Katz 
would not have been able to develop as clean an argument against naturalism as 
the one he offers. 

Nevertheless, Katz 1998 asserts that this statement claiming that the spot is 
blue and green is the 'logical product of two elementary statements and hence 
according to the first statement in Wittgenstein's formulation of the problem it 
cannot be a contradiction. However, it asserts that a 'point in the visual field has 


PradeepDhillon: The longest way home 187 

two different colors at the same time,' and hence according to the second state- 
ment it is a contradiction. For Katz, the color incompatibility problem 'is a gen- 
eral problem about the vocabulary of the language and about all the semantic 
properties and relations of the language. 'The problem surfaces,' he says, 'when- 
ever we try to explain the logical powers of extra logical words with a symbolism 
on which the logical form of elementary propositions affords no basis for their 
explanation. Not only did Wittgenstein raise this problem but he imposed a meth- 
odological and epistemological constraint on its solution. 

It must be possible for the contradiction to show itself entirely in the sym- 
bolism. If I say of a patch that it is both red and green, it is certainly at most only 
one of these two, and the contradiction must be contained in the sense of the two 
propositions. A contradiction, therefore, must be displayed entirely in its symbol- 
ism. Furthermore, knowledge of such a contradiction requires apriori semantic 
knowledge of its constituent statements. Even though color vocabulary is only a 
special case of this problem it offers us what Katz considers the hardest case for 
the more general problem of meaning which totally transformed the discipline of 
philosophy in the twentieth century. Roughly, the general problem of meaning 
color incompatibility serves to exemplify is the tension between intuition and 
logic we often find in the ascription of meaning. 

Following this, Katz 1998 makes a distinction between solutions and disso- 
lutions in addressing philosophical problems. Solutions arise from questioning as- 
sumptions but accepting presuppositions. Dissolutions occur when presupposi- 
tions themselves are placed in jeopardy. Both Wittgenstein, through the Philoso- 
phical Investigations, and W. O. Quine's arguments are dissolutions. Neverthe- 
less, he points out, Quine's orientation is scientistic while Wittgenstein's is thera- 
peutic. Katz sees his own attempt as a solution through what he calls 'decompo- 
sitional semantics'. It is based on retaining a metaphysics of meaning by separat- 
ing logic from meaning, and syntax from semantics. 

I now take up Quine and Katz's inability to speak to what I think might be- 
come the philosophical issue of the twenty-first century. Let us first briefly take 
up Quine's theory of the indeterminacy of translation. This thesis rests on the idea 
that t he richii ess ofjhcxo'''''"^^'-^ '" which ja nguage is used makes it extremely dj f- 
ficult t o link language-fixed referents.^ TranslaUon between linguistic systems, 
then, is indeterminate and therefore, for worldly reasons open to the possibility of 
hegemony./ An additional problem, and one that Quine does not address, is that 
this hegemony of translation may not be conscious. That even under the most 
charitable of intentions, we necessarily map our own metaphysics onto the alien, 
usually non-Western, philosophical discourse. Here are two sobering examples. 
First, consider how commonplace it is to conflate Buddhism and Christianity. This 
occurs despite Buddhism's strenuous efforts to resist God as a transcendental 
concept. Or let us take the acceptance of the classification of some languages of 
the world as part of the Indo-European family of languages and culture as first 
suggested by Sir William Jones. Sir Jones suggested this system of classification 



188 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

of languages based on the regularities he perceived between Latin, Greek, an 
Sanskrit. But, keeping Wittgenstein's remarks on the interdeterminacy of expla 
nation in commenting on Frazer's The Golden Bough in mind, and Quine's ow 
thesis of the indeterminacy of translation, it might be possible to classify these 
languages in ways which would easily resist the label indo-European'. This 
brings us to a graver inadequacy in Quine's theory of translation. His theory as- 
sumes closed, internally undifferentiated, linguistic systems. While this may remain 
a reasonable and productive assumption to make in the formal treatment of lan- 
guage, the field of sociolinguistics confronts the assumption with such empirical 
force that it is difficult to maintain even for those purposes. In other words, Quine 
develops his thesis as a monolingual-monodialectal speaker writing of other 
speakers of pure language. 

The cautionary reminders about interpretation and explanation assembled 
by Wittgenstein and taken to an extreme by Quine certainly alert us to the sig- 
nificance of difference in thinking about meaning. However, when we think 
about the parallels between Panini's grammar and that of Chomsky, Nagarjuna's 
contributions to Mahayana Buddhism and the role of language in Wittgenstein's 
thinking about he gap between the ordinary and the real, we come to appreciate 
the motivation for finding a universal metaphysics of meaning. Such regularities 
draw our attention to the sharedness of human experience. Nevertheless, the 
philosophical position we are striving to lay out is a non-hegemonic treatment of 
language. Such a treatment would seek to negotiate between incommensurability 
on the one hand and the universalization of local concepts on the other. 

In his discussion of the metaphysics of meaning, Katz wants to reject 
Chomskyan naturalism without letting go of Chomskyan formalism. If expressed 
in sufficiently general and formal terms, such an approach should fit the linguistic 
facts of all languages. Specifically, Katz wishes to develop a non-naturalistic in- 
tentional semanfics based on a Chomskyan definition of grammar: an optimal 
generative grammar for a language L which generates all and only well formed 
sentences in L. There are three problems with Katz's position. Fiist, while he is 
aware of the problems presented by Quine's monolingualism for his thesis of the 
indeterminacy of translation, Katz's own attempts at representing bilingualism are 
idealized representations based on a monolingual view of language. In other 
words, his philosophy of language suffers because it too remains uninformed by 
sociolinguistic research which describes the complexity of linguisuc phenome- 
non. Katz seeks to block such difficulties by what he calls 'evidential controls' I 
when faced with discrepancies in meaning. That is, he relies on extensionality toi 
ascribe meaning to ambiguous statements. Finally, despite his valiant attempts to ' 
delink syntax from semantics, Katz's theory of decompositional semantics relies 
on the well-formedness of expressions. Such a reliance on well-formedness is 
normative and suggests a presupposed undifferenfiated linguistic system. Such a 
hearkening to extensionality weakens, perhaps even undemiines, Katz's attempts 
at providing us with an intentional theory of semantics. 

Pradeep Dhillon: The longest way home 189 

Such a consistent return to extensionality in tlie ascription of meaning is 
significant not only for philosophy of language in general, but more specifically, 
for our purposes, for doing philosophy in an international context. Let us take the 
specific case of English. As the linguist Braj Kachru 2001 points out, English is 
indeed the global language. However, to equate this globalization of English with 
the emergence of a single, hegemonic, linguistic system is to misunderstand the 
creativity involved in the processes of the acquisition and use of English by 
populations other than in those places traditionally considered English-speaking. 
How does one explain this rather mistaken view of language in use? 

Primarily such an error stems, as has been pointed out, from taking language 
to be a monolithic system. Even the most cursory examination of English used in 
places like England, Canada, the United States, and Australia, reveals enough dif- 
ferentiation to warrant the use of terms like 'Australian English,' 'British English,' 
and 'American English'. Now consider the widespread use of English in Malay- 
sia, India, Ghana, Kenya, Bhutan, the Fiji Islands an so on. To speak of English as 
a global language is to speak only in the most economical and, if taken to be de- 
scriptive of actual linguistic conditions, deeply erroneous ways. In the attempt to 
recognize English as global language while acknowledging the unique ways in 
which it is realized within particular contexts, Kachru suggests that it is linguisti- 
cally accurate to speak of 'World Englishes'. 

It is certainly the case that the spread of English is lied to colonial processes 
Avhich dislocated, marginalized, or even erased local linguistic and philosophical 
systems. Nevertheless, the language was taken up in different parts of the world 
in ways which, to follow Wittgenstein, were tied to local 'forms of life'. It is the 
specificity of the ways in which grammar, tied to the life-world, is realized which 
makes it possible for us to speak of Jamaican, Kenyan, and Indian English. These 
linguistic realizations, on the argument of the sociolinguist, are not impoverished 
forms of the norms for English set by British aristocracy, which is only one form 
of life among many. Rather, they are complex linguistic systems in themselves. In 
. other words, the norms of standard English are not linguistically inherent, but ap- 
>Cear so within specific historical contexts. 

In addition, the spread of English is often seen as being hegemonic because 
the theories which drive explanation link language to power in an overly deter- 
ministic manner. The common users of English are represented as oppressed and 
alienated from language for historical reasons. Such explanations run the risk of 
reproducing the power relations they seek to undermine, for they deny creativity 
to the users of language in which these theorists of domination and subordination 
wish to argue. Moreover, such a view presupposes a romantic linkage between 
an essential 'self" and 'expression'. Regardless of the philosophical position we 
take on this presupposition, it is hard to maintain when considering language use 
in a world-historical context. 

Let us take up the idea of World Englishes, lajiguageJie^J^JoijiUorDiii-of 
life, in greater detail. Consider the following example from Indian English. The ut- 

1 90 DiAsroRA, Identity, and Language Communities 

terance "I am going to go" can be said to follow the same rules of syntax as '1 am 
going to read,' 'I am going to eat,' 'I am going to run,' and so on. Within the In- 
dian context the utterance 'I am going to go,' presents no semantic confusion. A 
British or American speaker might need recourse to some Katzian 'evidential cir- 
cumstance' in order to make sense of the utterance. By referring to the context, 
the utterance could meaningfully interpreted as ' Do not hassle me, I ain leaving," 
'I most definitely, most certainly mean to go," and so on. Even so, the expression M 
is an emphatic in these cases as it is not within the context of Indian English. That " 
is, in order to make the sentence not only syntactically permissible but also 
meaningful we have to rely on extensionality. This example provides us with a 
good opportunity to criticize Katz's valiant attempt at developing an intentional 
semantics even as it points us to the significance of context in the ascription of 
meaning. In other words, this example demonstrates that meaning is made in Eng- 
lish in a manner which preserves the idea of a globally spread speech community 
while pointing to the local forms of life to which language use is tied. 

Kachru's 2001 argument for World Englishes suggests the creative ways in 
which people learn and use languages, even under conditions of imperialism. 
Such creativity should be far more in evidence after colonialism. Kachru's discus- 
sion of language offers another strategy for undertaking international philoso- 
phy: for doing philosophy after colonialism. It makes possible, and legitimates, 
philosophy in Indian English: the language directly tied to the forms of life out of 
which the concepts it seeks to articulate emerge. However, since philosophy is 
undertaken in English, these linguistic systems might be different, but are mutu- 
ally intelligible. In other words, Kachru's arguments within linguistics make pos- 
sible the global articulation of local philosophical concepts. His view of the global 
use of English naturalizes the metaphysics of meaning. The possibilities and limi- 
tations presented by the spread of English for Indian philosophy fomi the bitter- 
sweet legacy of colonialism. 

Let us take the case of the modernization of Chinese. In response to com- 
municative and educational technologies like typewriters, the printing press, and 
the new electronic media, the Chinese writing system has slowly started to 
change away from a strictly ideographic system to one that is more alphabetic. 
The protocols and regimes of these emerging technologies of communication 
might require a shift to sentential syntax, since the architecture of many of these 
systems rest on sentential logic. Such emerging shifts in gnimniiir occur as a result 
of changing forms of life which require a shared metaphysics in order to share 
meaning. Such sharedness, however, does not necessarily imply cultural atrophy, 1 
or even death. To insist on such attenuation is not only to refuse the creativity of ^ 
the users of language, but also the possibility of occupying many metaphysical 
positions using one linguistic system. As pointed out so well by Neil Tennant 
1997, it is not enough to criticize Whorfian suiprise at the Hopi exhibition of an 
Einsteinian metaphysics. It is just as important to note that English speakers are 
not doomed to inhabit a non-Einsteinian world; that it is just as easy to say space- 

Pradeep Dh illon : The longest wayhome 191 

time as it is to say space and time. In other words, grammar may not be metaphysi- 
cal destiny. 

Kachru's Hnguistic analyses of English taken up from a Wittgensteinian per- 
spective offers hopeful and constructive strategies for doing international phi- 
losophy after colonialism. In all the alternate strategies taken up in this essay, In- 
dian thought remains inextricably linked to Western philosophy for reasons of 
grammar, history, and geography. Most of these strategies are unequal to the task 
of giving us a way to think of doing philosophy in a democratic international 
context. They remain inadequate primarily because they rely on a monolithic 
view of language. Thinking about language and metaphysics in an international 
context returns us to Wittgensteinian naturalism. In other words, if naturalism 
made for the critical, deconstructive, moments in Wittgenstein's philosophy, it 
also opens the door for a therapeutic metaphysics firmly tied to a language and a 

If Wittgenstein posed the central questions of philosophy in the twentieth 
century, as Katz tells us, then he may well be the philosopher we have to turn to 
in solving the riddles faced by philosophy in an international, diasporic, context. 
But, this should not surprise us at all. After all, it does not take great imagination 
to see that Wittgenstein was a multicultural, diasporic, international philosopher. 
Wittgenstein was a man who witnessed great suffering around issues of identifi- 
cation and exclusion and who thought philosophy was charged with the task of 
healing. Seeing him thus enables us to catch a glimpse into the earnestness with 
which he argued for thinking about the role of grammar in philosophy, the sig- 
nificance of history, and his insistent resistance to a metaphysics, and hence a 
politics, too quickly seized upon. The question we are left with is this: Why did 
we not naturalize our greatest philosopher of naturalism? Could it be that he is so 
hard to read because his philosophical investigations resist a metaphysics tied to 
an unreflective monolingual form of life? 

Under conditions of more overt forms of globalization, it could well be that 
Indian philosophy, as form of non- Western thought, is made an artifact to be dis- 
played in the museum of philosophy. The quest then is no longer to seek a way 
home to Indian thought. Rather, the idea is to labor intellectually in a manner 
which not only resists the 'museumification' of Indian and other philosophical 
traditions, but to return philosophy to its tasks proper. Philosophy can no longer 
be tied to a singular form of life, but must itself become diasporic and enable us all 
to feel at home in the world. 


An earlier version of this argument was presented to the American Philosophical 
Association, Eastern Division, 27 December, 1997, Philadelphia at the Symposium 
on International Cooperation chaired by Professor Hilary Putnam. 1 would like to 

192 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

thank the discussants, particularly Professor Hilary Putnam and Neil Tennant, for 
their thoughtful comments. 


Chakravarty, Dipesh, cited in Pradeep A. Dhillon. 1999. (Dis)locating 
Thoughts: Where do the birds go after the last sky? Critical Theories Un 4 
Education: Changing Terrains of Knowledge and Politics, ed. by Thomas" 
Popkewitz & Lynn Fendler, 89. New York: Routledge Press. 

Deleuze, Gilles & Felix Guattari, 1996. What is Philosophyl Translated by 
Hugh Tomlinson & Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press. 

Dhiixon, Pradeep A. 1996. The unhomeliness of philosophy's fictions. Thesis 
Eleven 44.87-99. 

. 1999. (Dis)locating Thoughts: Where do the birds go after the last sky? in 

Critical Theories in Education: Changing Terrains of Knowledge and 
Politics, ed. by Thomas Popkewitz & Lynn Fendler, 85-116. New York: 
Routledge Press. 

Kachru, Braj B. 1997. World Englishes 2000: Resources for reseach and teach- 
ing. World Englishes 2000, ed. by Larry E. Smith & Michael Forman, 68-89. 
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 

. 2001. World Englishes and culture wars. Arrivals — Departures and Re- 
turns: A Festschrift for Edwin Thonmboo, ed. by Tong Chee Kiong & Rob- 
bie B. H. Goh. Singapore: Oxford University Press. 

Katz, Jerrold. 1998. The problem of twentieth century philosophy. The Journal 
of Philosophy. 95:11.547-75. November 1998. 

Mehta, J. L. 1990. Philosophy and Religion: Essays in Interpretation. New 
Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. 

Monk, Ray. 1991. The Duty of Genius. Penguin. 

Tennant, Neil. 1997. Paper presented at the American Philosophical Association, 
1997, chaired by Professor Hilai'y Putnam; Special Session on International 



Tamara M. Valentine 

The diaspora of English has altered the linguistic behavior of its 
users and their attitudes toward the language, constructing 'new' 
social, personal, and literary identities. As Braj Kachru's schematiza- 
tion of the globalization of English illustrates, the teitn 'diaspora' 
applies not only to a mass migration of people but to the spread of 
languages as well. This chapter is directed at the relationship be- 
tween gender and the spread of English, with special reference to bi- 
lingual women from the multilingual settings of South Asia. It views 
the linguistic choices South Asian women make and the impact of 
these choices on their individual lives as well as on their social, per- 
sonal, and literary communities. Examining the three cultural com- 
munities of practice: women as writers, innovators, and transmitters 
of cultural, gender, and linguistic identities, this paper addresses is- 
sues challenging the limits of Western static, monolithic models and 
the monolingual norms. Just as the creation of new non-Western cul- 
tural and regional identities has emerged due to the diaspora of Eng- 
lish, so has a range of social identities of English developed and a 
range of attitudes toward the English variety defined by gender and 
other subcultural identities. 


Diasporic communities are usually identified as those groups of people who have 
dispersed from one place, i.e., their ancestral homeland, to many other places. Of- 
ten identified with the .Icwish experience and more recently with the ethnic expe- 
riences of African and Chinese transnationals, diaspora refers to a movement of 
people who continue to maintain dual national consciousness. As a result of dias- 
poric movements, most communities maintain strong links to their home environ- 
ments as evidenced by their strong religious, linguistic, and cultural bonds in their 
new environs. Often, however, few groups become displaced both physically and 
psychologically, breaking all ties with their homeland scattering members all over 
the world, to make newly-chosen cultural connections and embark on new cul- 
tural journeys. The South Asian diaspora with specific reference to Asian Indians 

Diaspora. Ideiuity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1. Spring 2001) 

1 94 DiASKjRA, Identity, and Language Communities 

will simply be identified as the spread of people from South Asia to other parts of 
the world who share a homeland, its history, and ancestry.' 

The first diaspora of the Asian Indian movement dates back to the nine- 
teenth century when from 1820-1910 the rural laboring and farm class hired as 
indentured workers filled labor gaps around the world in regions such as the 
Caribbean, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. After a discontinuous 
stream of and a decline of Asian Indian immigrants, a second wave occurred when 
urban, professionally-qualified Asian Indians increasingly immigrated for eco- 
nomic reasons to North America and later to Western Europe, Australia and the 
Middle East. The growing presence of Asian Indian immigrants was attracted to 
the Western 'pull' rather than the Indian 'push', draining South Asia of its re- 
sourceful young professionals, English-educated and trained in their technical, 
medical, and scientific fields (Bhardwaj & Rao 1990). 

The term 'diaspora' applies not only to a mass migration of people, but to 
the spread of languages as well, as Braj Kachru's dynamic schematization of the 
globalization of English illustrates. This paper, then, is directed at the relationship 
between the spread of English and gender, with reference to bilingual women 
who represent the multilingual settings of South Asia. Just as the creation of new 
non- Western cultural and regional identities has emerged due to the scattering of 
English-speaking diasporics, so has a range of social identities of English devel- 
oped and a range of attitudes toward the English variety defined by gender and 
other subcultural identities. 

More importantly, this chapter deals with language choice, the choice of the 
English language by women who have elected to speak, write, or promote it for 
specific purposes, and the impact this choice has made on their individual lives 
and on their social and personal communities. 1 view the relationship between 
gender and the English language in diaspora within and across South Asian mul- 
tilingual contexts in three cultural communities of practice^; women's writing 
COMMUNITIES, where English has become the new language of gender identity in 
the circle of South Asian bilingual women writers of South Asia; women's local 
COMMUNITIES, where the choice or promotion of English is linked to women's 
identities in their South Asian communities and to their attitudes toward English 
and toward their local and regional languages; and women's communities in 
TRANSITION, where South Asian immigrant women are pushing English into an- 
other phase at the expense of their nondominant home language. Within these 
three cultural contexts, then, bilingual women's creativity is one of the 'various 
strands of pluralism' in the diaspora of English — each strand stitched together to 
form a patchwork of English bilingual writers, innovators, and transinitters of cul- 
tural and linguistic identities both within and across Western and non-Western 
multilingual, multicultural contexts. 


Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 195 
South Asian English women writer's community 

One consequence of the long-term contact of English with other languages in 
multiUngual and multicultural contexts is the growing body of creative indige- 
nous writing in English and the development of contact literatures in English — 
literatures written by the users of English as a second language to convey a na- 
tional identity and a linguistic distinctiveness. Focusing on the historical and cul- 
tural contexts, observations and conclusions in most of the literature on World 
Englishes admit to the impact that the process of colonialism has had on the histo- 
ries of colonized countries and on its participants belonging to English users of 
the expanding and outer circles. Inheriting the literary and colonial history, the 
English language has produced a 'new' woman as user, writer, and speaker of 
English, who social historians, literary cultural critics, feminist theorists, and new 
historicists maintain acquired not only the language of the English reality but the 
ethos of the male reality. What effect, then, did the Englishizing process have not 
only on the contact literatures but on its colonial cultures, in particular. South 
Asian Indian women writing in English? 

Women's entry into the public literary sphere in India began in the mid- 
nineteenth century with two women writers born into well-educated, progressive, 
and elite families who chose English as their language of expression: fiction writer 
and poet. Torn Dutt (1856-1877) and poet and political activist, Sarojini Naidu 
(1879-1949). Toru Dutt's torment of writing in English is described as a sense of 
unreality: The woman writer found herself fearfully, perilously working her way 
towards a reality that had no readily conceivable form' (Alexander 1989:12). Sa- 
rojini Naidu, on the other hand, refused to speak English until she was nine. Her 
parents forced her to learn the English language or she was punished. But by the 
age of eleven she began writing poetry in the language she resisted, English 
(Tharu & Lalita 1991). 

It isn't until many years later that distinguished postcolonial Indian novelist 
Kamala Markandaya comes on the English-writing scene in 1954, then other no- 
table novelists such as Ruth Prawer Jhabwala, Nayantara Sahgal, and Anita Desai, 
that women writers begin to establish a respectable reputation alongside the male 
writers of English. Since these early times, an on-going debate rages, questioning 
the authenticity of bilingual English writers writing in a nonnative language for 
creative purposes: Why do these writers choose to write in the language of the 
colonial power and not their 'true' language, i.e., regional, local, or caste variety? 
Consequently, the quest for identity echoes the voices of other bilingual writers 
across the world who have expressed a collective concern about their schizolin- 
gual spirit and mixed feelings toward their second language. 3 

Many international women writers of the extended circle share the common 
concern that writing in English is a two-edged sword: Ghanaian English writer 
Ama Ata Aido comments, 'Whilst one is aware of the language issue as a big is- 
sue, it is better for a writer to write in English, than not to write at all' (James 
1990:9). Contemporary English-writer from Nigeria Zaynab Alkali finds herself in 

1 9 6 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

a similar predicament when she says, 'I find writing in Enghsh agonizing, to say 
the least ... Naturally, I would feel more comfortable writing in my own language 
(Hausa) but the audience, as you know, would be limited' (Jaines 1990:31). And 
Indian author Gita Mehta 1997, remarks that regional-language writers are being 
forced to write in the second language, English, in order to make a living. With 
despair she remarks: 'Are we more valid because the world has become more in- 
terested in us because we write in English?' £ 

Four processes of writing in English 

Particular to these women writers is an assortment of feelings toward their second 
language, English. For many bilingual women writers of South Asia, English is re- 
garded as one of the many South Asian languages, a cultural mirror, the universal 
tongue, but for other writers, the English language is an expression of anguish 
associated with alienation, rootlessness, and the post-colonial consciousness. For 
other women, English is the language of freedom, discovery, and rebirth; and for 
others, it represents linguistic defiance, a means to set up an alternative cultural 
model to define the female identity for which there is no existing model. Braj 
Kachru 1996a names this dual personality as the agony and ecstasy generated by 
the power of English. 

Labels used to symbolize the power of English 

Positive Negative 

National identity Anti-nationalism 

Literary renaissance Anti-native culture 

Cultural mirror Materialism 

(for native cultures) Vehicle for Westernization 

Liberalism Ethnocentrism 

Universahsm Permissiveness 

Secularism Divisiveness 

Technology Alienation 

Science Colonialism 


Access code 

The writings in English by South Asian women fall into four categories: 

(a) UNI VERS alization: the women writers accept English as one of their 
many Indian languages, creatively altering it to suit their native cultural m 
and social needs; 

(b) intellectual/linguistic mutedness: the use of English deprives 
women writers of articulating their native gender identities because 
women's reality, which cannot be expressed in its own terms, differs 
from the dominant mode of expression, which has been generated by 
the dominant communicative systems; 

Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 197 

(c) CREATIVE empowerment: the use of English empowers women writers 
by freeing them from the burdens associated with their native hnguistic 
varieties, programming meanings to not-yet-coded concepts, which 
their first language does not allow them to express; and 

(d) LINGUISTIC dehance: the women writers reject English in its present 
form. English is a linguistic and cultural construct only to be seized, 
dismantled, and reformed by women writers to encode their own new 
sounds, meanings, and structures. 

Universalization: English, what is the fuss? 

Universalization captures the complete identity of the South Asian writer with 
the English language as with any native Indian language. She doesn't choose her 
language, the language chooses her.^ South Indian poet Kamala Das, most noted 
for the naturalness of her Indian English, belongs to the category of poets who 
wonders what all the fuss is about. 

I write poetry in English because I have found writing in English a lit- 
tle less difficult than writing in Malayalam. 'Why in English' is a silly 
question. It is like asking us why we do not write in Swahili or Serbo- 
Croat. English being the most familiar, we use it. That is all ... (Lai 

Das (1973:45) further defends her use of the Indian variety of English with all its 
'distortions' and 'queernesses' in the poem 'An Introduction'.-'' 

I am Indian, very brown, born in 

Malabar, I speak three languages, write in 

Two, dream in one. Don't write in English, they said, 

English is not your mother-tongue. Why not leave 

Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins. 

Every one of you? Why not let me speak in 

Any language 1 like? The language I speak 

Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses 

All mine, mine alone. It is half English, half 

Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest, 

It is as human as I am human, don't 

You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my 

Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing 

Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it 

Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is 

Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and 

Is aware. 

Contemporary Bengali-Keralan novelist Arundhati Roy 1997a, b compares these 
cynics to 'disapproving parents' to whom she replies rather guiltily: 

198 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

language is the skin on my thought; the way I write is a reflex ... I 
don't choose to write in English because I have a choice, it is my first 
language, I do speak both Malayalam and Hindi, and I can't write in 
them as fluently. It is a choice that was made before I was of the age I 
could choose. I am a product of the colonial past and I cannot deny 
that. Colonialism didn't end in 1947, but continues. Colonialism tam- 
pered with our deepest cultural identity. [We] writers of English, stand 
in a third world colonized country but are privileged and part of elite. 

Veteran Indian novelist Anita Desai (1990:3), having learned English as her first 
language in a mission school, sums up her view of writing in English: 

... a writer in India must choose which is to be [her] particular instru- 
ment, tool or game ... But these choices are made so early in life they 
can hardly be called choices. They are made instinctively rather than 
intellectually and it is circumstance that dictates the choice. 

Later in life Desai becomes aware that when other writers thought hard and long 
about using a 'foreign language' to express Indian thought, modes of expression, 
and experiences, she reaUzes she had 'unconsciously . . . been evading (the lan- 
guage problems), by sticking her head, ostrich-fashion, into the sands ...' 
(1990:4). Not until she pushes herself into a trilingual writing situation (Hindi- 
English-German) does she feel a 'great feeling of release, almost abandon, at last 
able to employ the language of [her] infancy and childhood' (1990:9). 

Intellectual mutedness: English, the others' tongue 

The writer's identity with English is one of distance and exclusion. Traditional 
literary history has treated women as peripheral, advocated values of privilege es- 
tablished under the canon of Western culture and male thought, and resisted any 
shifts in the standard literary tradiuon. In practice, women have not been ac- 
corded equal opportunity to participate in the prestigious linguistic registers of 
religious ceremonies, political rhetoric, and poetry; their role as traditional oral 
transmitter in local communities has lost importance; and in general, as writers, 
they have been overlooked, undervalued, and denied recognition into the main- 
stream literary field. As a result, an historical silencing of women occuiTed at the 
highest levels of literary and oral expressions throughout time. The silencing and 
exclusionary nature of canonical language denied women not only of a body of 
knowledge but of a whole way of thinking — the way of thinking which holds 
power and prestige. At the same time, however, a linguistic schizophrenia splits 
women's personalities in two: validation through the use of English vs. aversion 
to English. 6 

Supporting the view that women who write only in English are 'imprisoned 
within the cognitive and cultural limits that language sets up', Meenakshi Muk- 
herjee 1994 argues that 

Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 1 9 9 

All through the nineteenth century English as a language of privilege 
in India set up a hierarchy of merit and gradually acquired an aura that 
was liberating and limiting at the same time, conferring prestige as well 
as exclusiveness on the Indian user ... this was basically a male pre- 
serve, and women belonged to an area of life that this language con- 
sciously or unconsciously excluded from its domain (1994:12).^ 

Like many English-bilingual women writers, Indian writer Ketaki Kushari 
Dyson (1994:184), too, recognizes the cross pressures of inequality that exists be- 
tween writing in two languages. She explains her language choice between Ben- 
gali and English as determined by the audience emphasizing her loyalty to and 
pride in Bengali, a national symbol of intellectual and cultural reawakening in 
(19th century) India, a language which 'preserves [her] freedom, dignity and in- 
tegrity' and the magnetism of English which is controlled by gatekeepers and 
carries 'the legacy of the Empire which translates into ethnocentrism, paternalism, 
and invisibility.' 

Creative expression: English, the language of freedom 

For some women writers, English becomes the language of freedom and inde- 
pendence, even of rebirth. Sharing a dual cultural background, South Asian and 
Western, they create new selves by assuming new identities, feeling that it is not 
English but their native languages that are bound with the trappings of tradition 
and constraining images of female roles and conventions. Therefore, for many of 
these writers, English becomes the authentic language — the undistorted, true 
reflection of their culture — inviting them to examine and explore their inner 
selves and providing a medium to reconstruct their past. This means of expression 
in English opens up a new awareness in bilingual women writers. 

Bharati Mukherjee, a Bengali-American immigrant author, who chose to set- 
tle and teach in the United States, identifies herself as an 'American from South 
Asia' (Shankar 1998). Claiming North American English as her 'step-mother- 
tongue' and the United States as home, she views herself as 'an American author 
in the tradition of other American authors whose ancestors arrived at Ellis Island' 
(Carb 1988:650; B. Mukherjee 1992). 'Emotionally and psychologically trans- 
formed' (Baker 1994:10), Mukherjee explains: 

I totally consider myself an American writer writing about ... a new 
kind of pioneer here in America ... Most Indian writers prior to this, 
have still thought of themselves as Indian, and their literary inspiration 
has come from India. India has been the source, and home. My roots 
arc here and my emotions arc here in North American (Meer qtd in 
Shankar 1998:59). 

Bruce King (1992:153) observes that writing in a personal voice is particularly 
empowering for Indian women writers, for a private voice allows them to 'free 
themselves from the linguistic standards of their colonizers and create a style that 

200 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

accurately represents what the writer feels ... instead of it being filtered through 
speech meant to reflect the assumptions and nuances of another society.' 

Linguistic defiance: Breaking tiie English language 

Indian poet Meena Alexander admits in her autobiography Fault Lines 'the 
forked power' of English. 'English alienated me from what I was born to; it was 
also the language of intimacy and bore the charged power of writing' (1993:1 16). 
Realizing that colonialism is intrinsic to the burden of English in India, she feels 
robbed of literacy in her own mother tongue (Malayalam). The burden of British 
English exposes the relationship between linguistic decolonization and her sense 
of femaleness. English becomes a part of her reaching out for this new world. She 
goes so far as to propose that such a predicament 'incites the female imagination 
into realms of almost inconceivable freedom' (1981:16), and 

yet even as these liberating thoughts came to me in EngUsh, I was well 
aware that the language itself had to be pierced and punctured lest the 
thickness of the white skin cover over my atmosphere, my very self. 
The language I used had to be supple enough to reveal the intricate 
mesh of otherness in which I lived and moved (1993:1 18). 

With English in mind, Meena Alexander hopes, 'I might some day unlock the 
feelings that welled up within me' (1993:1 16). And the only means by which she 
as a woman writer can unlock those feelings is to break the English language. 

To make poems in India with English is to be condemned to the use 
of a language that in its very being cringes from actuality. [English] 
will always remain a colonizing power till those whom it oppresses 
steal it for themselves, rupture its syntax till it is capable of naming the 
very structure of oppression (1981:23). 

Bapsi Sidhwa (1996:232-3), a Pakistani writer, fluent in Gujarati, Urdu, 
Panjabi, and English, distinguishes her writing in English as a Pakistani from the 
'new breed' of writers of South Asian origin. She claims that they use the English 
indistinguishable from that of the native populations of England and the United 
States, having lived in first-language circle countries and having absorbed the 
traditions of the language and the thought-patterns of its users. Thrilled to have 
'landed' with English, with pride she proclaims: 

We the excolonized have subjugated the language, beaten it on its 
head and made it ours! Let the English chafe and fret and fume. The 
fact remains that in adapting English to our use, in hammering it some- 
times on its head, and in sometimes twisting its tail, we have given it a 
new shape, substance, and dimension. 

As a result, then, of the spread of English and of the scattering of its users across 
the globe, the creation of new non-Western cultural identities has emerged and 
multiple social identities of English have developed. English has altered the lin- 

Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 201 

guistic behavior of women writers and their attitudes toward it. 'New' social and 
personal identities have evolved. 

South Asian women in their local communities: Guardians or mavericks? 

The spread of English is attributed not only to the diasporic movement of people 
to regions outside their homeland, but to community members' identity with and 
attitude toward English within local contexts. Women in urban as well as rural 
pockets of South Asia are very conscious of their language choice, actively en- 
couraging a 'change from above' by promoting the use of a non-Indian lan- 
guage, in this case of the highly valued, prestigious variety, English, over the lo- 
cal, regional, and caste varieties. English holds a positive function in the linguistic 
lives of these women. Language choice, then, has to do with who these women 
are, how they see themselves in the community, and how they want others to 
perceive them, observations that most studies fail to recognize as significant and 
important for further study. 

The role of women in the process of linguistic change has been a focus of 
discussion in sociolinguistic study since Peter Trudgill's and William Labov's 
quantitative work in the 1970s. Since then, variationist studies have presented 
female speakers as ambivalent in nature: conservative but innovative, prestige- 
conscious but group (solidarity )-oriented, agents of language change but guardi- 
ans of tradition, and linguistically corrupting but grammatically refined. A number 
of simple explanations have been proposed for women's paradoxical linguistic 
behavior and hypersensitivity to language usage and language choice: social and 
linguistic insecurities due to women's vulnerable position in society, societal ex- 
pectations to protect face and be polite, the degree of integration into their com- 
munities, and ascribed social values of femininity and femaleness. 

Framing language and gender identity, as traditional models have done in 
the past, views the social dimensions of gender and its relationship to language 
too narrowly. Although there are cases where the sex of the speaker is the most 
influential factor accounting for particular speech patterns, in most speech com- 
munities one's sex interacts with other variables, such as social status, caste, and 
ethnicity. Examining gender as the 'complex of social, cultural, and psychological 
phenomenon attached to sex' (McConnell-Ginet 1988:96) appears to be the most 
convincing approach to account for language differences. 

To help explain the ambivalent linguistic nature of female speakers, only re- 
cently has serious attention been paid to bilingual women and their linguistic be- 
havior within their social communities and to their role in maintaining certain 
standard linguistic forms and in determining the survival of certain local varieties 
or the shifting to nonlocal varieties. Providing evidence that bilingual women in 
South Asia play a primary role in initiating and furthering language change, 
Farhat Khan's 1991 linguistic study in northern India finds that the speech pat- 
terns of the female speakers in the traditional Muslim culture of Aligarh (U.P.) 
show a higher proportion of usage of nonprestigious forms than male speakers, 

202 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

rather than the expected reverse as is found in Western language studies. Social, 
religious, and cultural barriers limit these women's opportunities in public life and 
activities, prohibit social mobility, and offer less contact with the outside world; 
Indian women's position in Muslim society is reflected in women's linguistic be- 
havior. Non-Western studies seem to reflect that in parts of the world where 
women do not play an active role in public and social life, they are less likely to 
conform to the linguistic norms of the dominant (male) culture, whereas women of 
higher socioeconomic status and with greater educational opportunities show a 
higher proportion of usage of prestigious forms than males within this privileged 

Interacting with the many factors cited for language maintenance, shift, and 
death: numerical strength, social class, religious and educational background, pat- 
terns of language use, etc., is the factor of gender (Romaine 1995). As shown in 
anthropological studies, women across cultures are the primary educators for lan- 
guage development in children, are the principal promoters of literacy, and are the 
facilitators of second language acquisition. Women traditionally act as primary 
caretakers and transmitters of language norms serving as the model for children's 
speech. As in many parts of the world, in South Asia, bilingual women are identi- 
fied as the 'guardians' of the mother tongue or the protectors of the minority lan- 

In an Indian village of Karnataka (Ullrich 1992), women are responsible for 
maintaining the vernacular caste dialect, Havyaka, by speaking it themselves and 
by transmitting it to their children. Although these women may be linguistically 
limited and may not use the prestigious varieties, they do realize the positive 
value, professional importance, and social significance of being multilingual in 
EngUsh, Hindi, or Kannada; for economic advancement and higher education is 
dependent on mobility to urban areas where multilingualism is essential if not re- 
quired. Having the knowledge of multiple languages, one of which is English, 
gives these women a sense of power, not necessarily public power, but the power 
to have access to both private and public domains in their communities to pro- 
vide, for example, greater opportunities for their daughters in the marriage market. 
Although these women may never leave their village, be able to understand Eng- 
lish, or feel secure in their training in English, their strong positive feelings toward 
the language gives them access to its power. By promoting English awareness in 
the community, their self-image and social standing in the community improves; 
making a conscious effort to co-opt the prestige associated with their English- 
speaking children or grandchildren confers social status on themselves (Ullrich 
1992:125). So in the tradition of William Labov and Peter Trudgill, these women 
are gaining social status through linguistic means. 

One could argue that these women's continued use and transmission of the 
vernacular demonstrates loyalty to the group and a return to cultural nationalism 
and regionalism, but when the local variety does not have the power for access to 
employment opportunities, good marriage matches, or urban mobility, they may 

Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 203 

decide to transmit the language that will benefit their children, in this case Eng- 
lish. Therefore, although women are identified as guardians of the local language, 
they can also be identified as initiators of language change. Their identification 
with a language and positive attitudes towards it help to preserve its mainte- 

In contrast to the Karnataka village. Catholic Goan women have stood at 
the forefront in the marginalizing and displacement of the mother tongue 
Konkani and in promoting the dominant Western languages of Portuguese and 
English (Mascarenhas-Keyes 1994). Due to the historical legacy of Portuguese 
colonialism and to the modern-day emphasis on women's social roles as teacher, 
writer, and progressive mother, women have acted more favorably toward the 
prestigious Western languages and varieties. Strategically positioning themselves 
as agents of change, these bilingual women have enthusiastically furthered the 
language variety that they see is in the best interests of their community. As 
mothers and, too, as advocates for education, they sanction the promotion of the 
Western varieties, but at the expense and possible loss of the minority regional 
varieties. These women monitor the pulse of the society, shaping the modern face 
of Goa through their language choice of furthering the spread of English. 

And there is no doubt that female speakers of India make different language 
choices. R. S. Pathak's 1985 Hindi-English code-switching study in North India 
shows that educated women use Hindi-English mixed code more often than Hindi 
in certain domains: family, friends, education, and employment.; women use more 
English and Hindi-English mixed code than men in certain domains: family, 
friendship, education, and employment; yet, in the domain of neighborhood, 
women use less English or Hindi-English mixed code than men. Unfortunately, 
Pathak offers no explanation for this variation; if we consider findings from other 
studies, however, the use of the mother tongue by these women serves as a 
marker of solidarity which strengthens her social networking within the commu- 
nity, whereas the use of English presents the image of modernity, mobility, and 

To confirm this observation, Badri Raina (1991:266) notes that in contempo- 
rary Indian society, among the English-educated urban middle classes, many more 
women than men conduct their spoken interactions in English. She speculates 
that women's 'perception of the vernacular carries a cultural load which inhibits 
the desired status of a gender- free and autonomous self-hood.' When women 
want distance, self-esteem, aggrandizement, and command, they choose English, 
but when they desire mutually affective closeness, they use the vernacular. The 
English language is certainly becoming a significant factor in the development of 
a sense of self and identity in the Indian woman (Y. Kachru 1996). 

Many studies show that bilingual women play a primary role in initiating 
and furthering linguistic change in their native, local communities. Language 
choice is linked to their place in society, their social networking, their self image, 
and their attitudes toward the language. These women, then, within their commu- 

204 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

nities of practice, act and view themselves as botii guardians of their mother 
tongues and as innovators of language change; they certainly are not passive by- 
standers of culture allowing outside societal influences and knowledge to ma- 
nipulate them, nor do they behave like other community members. The strength of 
the status of English in South Asia is based, in part, on the choices women make 
to meet the needs of their speech communities and to achieve the desired results 
of a better future for their family and social group. With English fast becoming the 
language of necessity in South Asia, women as primary language caretakers are 
advancing the progress of English, which in turn helps it to gain acceptance and 
merit alongside the regional, caste, and vernacular dialects, both in private and in 
public environments. 

South Asian women in transition: Crossing borders 

The second diaspora of English is identified as the spread of English to non- 
Western linguistic and cultural contexts. A third phase of English, however, can 
be identified, whereby the language continues to cross borders and oceans to 
make its return to native shores. This stage of the spread of English is due to the 
second wave of South Asian immigrants (post 1965) crossing geographic, linguis- 
tic, and cultural boundaries. Since the 1980s, South Asians have increased their 
presence, becoming one of the fastest-growing North American and European 
immigrant communities today. 

The typical profile of the second movement of South Asian immigrants to 
North America is characterized as urban, college-educated, middle-class profes- 
sionals, with high English proficiency, who immigrate with their families for eco- 
nomic and educational reasons, and later for residence (Bhardwaj & Rao 1990; 
Bahri & Vasudeva 1996). By far, more males immigrate from India to the United 
States than females (61 percent to 39 percent) (Statistical Record of Asian Ameri- 
cans 1993), the predominant pattern of life choice for female immigrants being 
marriage and subsequent residence in the new culture. In fact, from 1972-76. 
South Asian females outnumbered males for just this reason (Bhardwaj & Rao 
1990). Wliile these women, too, make the transition from their homeland and ar- 
rive to these new situations highly educated, specially skilled, and fluent in the 
dominant language, English, they find themselves sheltered and isolated, having 
fewer opportunities than men to become fully integrated into the new culture. 

Often grouped together with other minority non-White groups of the ma- 
jority country to which they are assigned. South Asian women are contrasted to 
the White and European-American majority. Although work done on immigrants 
and refugees to the United States shows that women of color do not identify 
themselves as a homogeneous group, as a result of the artificial grouping, these 
South Asian immigrants often find themselves invisible and their native-language 
varieties holding minority status in the dominant culture. '^ 

The idea that not only the experiences of South Asian men and women are 
different, but that they hold different views toward the new culture and toward 

Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 205 

the second language suggests that mukihngual situations often place special bur- 
dens on minority women. South Asian immigrant women often become the pri- 
mary transmitters of native cultural, ethnic, religious, and linguistic identities in the 
new environment, fighting an uphill battle where the additional language is the 
language of a dominant group associated with power, prestige, and economic 
benefits overpowering the non-dominant home language, which holds no societal 
support. Many immigrant women comment that when they first come to a new 
land they 'revel in their status as an English-using person', but over time speak- 
ing the English language incessantly becomes tiresome. One female immigrant re- 
marks, 'My refusal to operate full-time in English was an unwillingness to incur ... 
a construction of my self which I felt to be now unacceptably alienatina' (Raina 

Like so many South Asian bilingual women writers, Bengali poet Shobha 
Ghose (1977:37-40) describes her marginalized linguistic existence in her poem 
"Of Poets and Poetry'; she speaks as a lost soul among millions because she can- 
not speak the 'tongue' of the foreign land. 

I have tried in time past 

to make myself understood 

slurred speech, feeble 

attempting communication 

lonesome in a foreign land 

amid total strangers: 

I picked up sounds, notes 

and lost them. 

My ears untuned to strange speech, 

I looked with sad eyes, dejected, 

incapacitated by a crippled tongue: 

innocuous groping 

cataract curtained eyes 

seeking light, speech 

for my feelings . . . 

Contemporary South Asian- American Sujata Bhatt (1993:359-64) in 'Search for 
my tongue' tells of a speaker whose mother tongue, Gujarati, is slipping away. 
The language, which for her now holds minority status in a foreign environment, 
must compete with the dominant language, English. In a setting where bilingual 
behavior is held circumspect, she must suffer with a foreign tongue in her mouth. 

Days my tongue slips away 

I can't hold on to my tongue 

it's slippery like the lizard's tail 

I try to grasp 

but the lizard darts away — 

mari jeebh sarki jai chay [my tongue keeps on moving] 

I can't speak — 1 speak nothing. 

206 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 


Kai nahi-hoo nathi boli shakti [nothing is; nothing can be said] 

I search for my tongue . . . 

You ask me what I mean 

by saying I have lost my tongue. 

I ask you, what would you do 

if you had two tongues in your mouth, 

and lost the first one, the mother tongue, 

and could not really know the other, 

the foreign tongue. 

You could not use them both together 

even if you thought that way. 

And if you lived in a place where you had to 

speak a foreign tongue — 

your mother tongue would rot, 

rot and die in your mouth 

until you had to spit it out. 

I thought I spit it out 

but overnight while I dream . . . 

In spite of being 'otherized', research suggests that these immigrant women tend 
to adapt better and at faster rates to their new cultural environments than do men 
(Bystydzienski & Resnik 1994) and to remain acutely aware of their national and 
cultural origins, their mother tongue, and their legal status (Gabaccia 1991). Not 
fully accepted by the dominant group. South Asian women continually relate to 
their homeland one way or another; in fact, they strengthen their allegiance to the 
national, linguistic, and ethnic identities of their native cultures, as well as to their 
religious practices, the strongest identifying factor among Asian Indians. To cope 
with the often economically exploitative, politically exclusive, and culturally al- 
ienating new society, females often become, in fact, more culturally rigid and so- 
cially restrictive than their male counterparts. Their family continues to play the 
most important role in shaping attitudes and beliefs and providing norms of be- 
havior. For an Indian woman's sense of self and identity is largely determined by 
patterns of socialization in infancy, especially the close affective relationship with 
her mother and others in the extended family (Y. Kachru 1996). Asian-Indian 
writer Feroza Jussawalla (1988:583) writes that Asian- American women 'are like 
'chiffon saris' — a sort of cross-breed attempting to adjust to the pressures of a 
new world, while actually being from another older one.' 

According to the Statistical Record of Asian Americans 1993, although 
Asian Indians are the largest Asian-American group to have high English lan- 
guage proficiency (primarily in the workplace), in over 82 percent of their homes 
a non-English language is spoken. So, in spite of women's linguistic alienation 
and marginalization, part of the South Asian immigrant experience is to find ways 
to reinforce native-community values in the new cultural environment and con- 

Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 207 

tinue the use of home Indian languages and traditional practices in their mother 

For fear of losing indigenous customs, British Gujarati immigrant women 
continue the use of the non-dominant language, Gujarati, in wedding songs (Ed- 
wards & Katbamna 1988). They insist that English cannot fulfill the traditional 
Indian social rituals and linguistic traditions of solidarity, of insult, and of concilia- 
tion. Asserting their native identity and the Asian world-view, these women con- 
tinue the guardianship role of transmitter of social and cultural messages in their 
native language. For these participants the message can be naturally and authen- 
tically expressed only in the native language not in a foreign tongue, whether the 
wedding takes place in native or nonnative settings. Language choice preserves 
the maintenance of gender roles according to private and public contexts. 

It appears that women's self and identity is extended to the context of 
South Asian homes in the United States as well, where women are regarded as the 
guardians of the minority language and by implication of ethnic identity. Kathryn 
Remlinger 1994 finds that English-bihngual women uphold the values, attitudes, 
and traditions of the South Asian culture: they tend to speak their regional varie- 
ties, practice and maintain the religious traditions of their fainily, and teach their 
children the mother tongue, whereas the male family members are left responsible 
for the domain outside the household, the public sphere. If the children are not 
able to speak their mother tongues, then these women feel that they have been a 
failure in instilling their children with insight into their cultural heritage. A divi- 
sion of linguistic responsibility is evident in the nonnative cultural settings: the 
daughters, sisters, and mothers are expected to know, use, and promote the 
mother tongue with each other, the sons, brothers, and fathers are expected to 
know and use English. Adult women use their first language with their mothers, 
but English with their fathers. 

These observations run parallel to the 1994 survey responses I collected in 
India from young, unmarried college students. When male and female students 
were asked to identify the language they preferred in the contexts of home, social 
life, and public situations, they answered that in the domain of home, both sons 
and daughters primarily used the mother tongue to their mother and English to 
their father. They identified their mothers as the traditional and strict maintainers 
of cultural identity. In public situations, however, it is becoming more common 
among the educated English-speaking Indian class for the children to use English 
to cither parent. 

The roles that women assume in their speech communities have an influence 
on their linguistic behavior and language choice, in pardcular on their preferences 
toward the use and promotion of their naUve languages as well as toward Eng- 
lish, depending on the public or private situation. When South Asian women 
make the move to a new cultural environment where their mother tongue plays a 
secondary role, they continue their primary roles as educators of language devel- 
opment, facilitators of second language learning, and transmitters of cultural hcri- 

208 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

tage. This phenomenon of 'keeper' of language and culture is carried across the 
globe from South Asian speech communities to South Asian households in Eng- 
lish-speaking settings. 


It seems clear then that the diaspora of English has altered the linguistic behavior 
of its users and their attitudes toward English and toward the local varieties. 
Gender identities are cultural constructs within social groups. One's total gender 
identity is a blend of multiple social and personal identities that changes from one 
interaction to another, changes over time, changes within lifetimes. These multiple 
social identities of English certainly left their mark on demythologizing the notion 
of one English language, one English literature, and one English speaker and ad- 
vocating a more inclusive model of many Englishes and multicanons of English 
literatures. For the new English, users in the many communities of practice in 
which women participate have different associations and attitudes toward their 
languages. English-bilingual women represent one aspect of this model of multi- 
cultural pluralism. 


*An earlier version of parts of this paper was presented at The Three Circles of 
English Conference: A Conference in Honor of Professor Braj B. Kachrit at Na- 
tional University of Singapore, Singapore, December 16-18, 1997. 

' For the most part, Asian Americans have been categorized under a single broad 
category inclusive of the Asian immigrants from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and 
South Asia. It is only recently that two separate groups have been represented: 
those members who originate from East/Southeast Asia, which includes China, 
Taiwan, the Koreas, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and the Philippines; and 
South Asia, which includes India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh. Sri Lanka, 
and Maldives (Shankar & Srikanth 1998). Although Asian Indians are a subset of 
South Asians, the two terms are often used interchangeably. 

2 I use Penelope Eckert & Sally McConnell-Ginet's 1992 definition of com- 
munity OF PRACTICE loosely. Rather than constructing a speaker's identity within 
the traditional notion of John Gumperz's 1982 speech community, their definition 
emphasizes the role of practice, social engagement, and members' activities: 'an 
aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in some 
common endeavor'. For this paper, then, community of practice is defined as a 
community of speakers who differentiate themselves from other communities by 
their membership in the community and the activities that they collectively en- 
gage in. 

3 A multitude of contemporary bilingual and bicultural writers have expressed 
their concerns of displacement, dislocation, and belonging in autobiographical 
narratives and memoirs. For interesting discussions on the reconstruction of self in 

Tamara Valentine: Reconstructing identities and gender in discourse 209 

the bilingual writer, see Eva Hoffman's 1989 Lost in Translation and Richard 
Rodriquez's 1982 Hunger of Memory, along with collected scholarly works ed- 
ited by Alfred Arteaga 1994, Angelika Bammer 1994, and Marc Robinson 1994. 

'' T thank Professor Salikoko Mufwene for making this observation. 

-'' Some feminist critics argue that Kamala Das' question about language is a wider, 
more significant one of the universal exclusion of 'women's use of high lan- 
guage, public political and literary of patriarchal societies' (Cora Kaplan qtd in 
Sumita Roy 1994:21). Such an interpretation reclassifies Das under the writing 
community of the intellectually/linguistically muted group. 

^Chinese-Malaysian writer Shirley Geok-Lin Lim 1990 presents a fascinating dis- 
cussion on Asian women's linguistic marginalization and the 'squeezing out" of 
Asian women writers from the literary world, the publishing field, national recog- 
nition, etc. 

^ Another example of institutionalized exclusion of women is noted by Meenak- 
shi Mukherjee 1994: the learning of English in the early nineteenth century was 
virtually taboo for middle-class Bengali women; in fact, a pervasive belief was 
held that women who learned English became widows. 

*^The first generation of Asian Indian immigrants to the United States is less ready 
to accept the label of South Asian. The first generation strives either to remain in- 
visible in the Anglo-American context or to integrate into the cultural and social 
mainstream of the American way of life; the second generation, in contrast, identi- 
fies itself with, and forms alliances with, other Asian minorities to attain greater 
representation, visibility, and recognition (Bahri & Vasudeva 1966). Problematic 
to the issue of defining the South Asian diasporic community is the issue of diver- 
sity within the South Asian communities. Other than tracing their roots to South 
Asia, Asian Indians share no other single identifying characteristic. Distinct to this 
community are the multiple identifies associated with caste, language, region, re- 
ligion, ethnicity, migrancy, etc. Therefore, smaller Asian Indian microcommunities 
based on region, religion, and language exist, factors which have an impact on 
language choice and language attitude. 


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Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. 




Robert D. King 

The topic of this chapter is the Yiddish language as an instrument of 
the survival of Jewishness in diaspora. Yiddish is only one of many 
Jewish languages that supplanted the ancestral languages, Hebrew 
and Aramaic, of the Jews. Almost everywhere Jews lived after their 
dispersion from the homeland, they created a Jewish variant of the lo- 
cal language. My paper discusses the Yiddish language and its emer- 
gence as a creative force in the Jewish Diaspora and as an icon of 
Jewish identity. Of all the languages of the Jewish Diaspora only Yid- 
dish produced a significant literature that inspired in its users a unique 
creativity and sense of belonging. Language is always an icon of eth- 
nic identity, but few languages have ever reified the spirit of its people 
as Yiddish did. Denied a country of their own, with religion a declining 
force for ethnic cohesion, the Jews of central and eastern Europe 
found their identity in their language — Yiddish. 


While my general interest here is the Jewish Diaspora and the language assimila- 
tion of Jews in exile from their homeland, my particular concern is with the Yid- 
dish language — the major linguistic creation of the Diaspora. But Yiddish is not 
an island language, so it is necessary to locate Yiddish in the larger context of the 
linguistic adaptation of a people who were, until the creation of the state of Israel 
in 1948, forever forced to live in the lands of other people. No matter where they 
settled, no matter how well integrated they were into the life of the countries 
where they Uved, no matter how much confidence they may have built up that 
their neighbors would leave them alone, the Jews were always apart, always dif- 
ferent, frequently hated and forever under suspicion: they were the Other. And 
out of the bitter tension between Guest and Other grew not only a language — 
Yiddish — and a culture — Yidishkayt — bound to this language, but, in the 
nineteenth century, an efflorescence of literary creativity in the Yiddish language 
that is unique in the annals of despised languages. 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001 ) 

214 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Yiddish was only one of tiie languages of the Jewish Diaspora and probably 
not the language the average person would associate with "Jewishness' [Yidish- 
kayt). That language likely would be Hebrew. Yiddish has had a complicated and 
at times a troubled relationship with Hebrew, but Yiddish is not Hebrew nor is it 
mutually intelligible with Hebrew: they are as different from each other as English 
is from French. Nor is Yiddish what the Hebrew language changed into when car- 
ried into the Jewish Diaspora. The Hebrew language is, however, the place where 
the story begins — the story of the Jewish Diaspora, the story both of Jewishness 
in general and the Yiddish language in particular. 

Hebrew was the ancestral language of the Jews, the language of the Bible 
(in Christian terms the language of the 'Old Testament' as opposed to the Greek 
of the 'New Testament'). As a spoken language, however, Hebrew had become 
ahnost completely extinct by two thousand years ago. Jews living in the Holy 
Land spoke either Aramaic or Greek (Jesus, living at the beginning of the Com- 
mon Era, spoke Aramaic). Though Hebrew was by the Common Era no longer a 
'living language', a language acquired in the ordinary way of give-and-take 
among parents and siblings and playmates, at no time in Jewish history did it dis- 
appear as a liturgical language and as the principal language of disputation 
among rabbis. People whose cradle language had been anything in the world but 
Hebrew composed substantial works in the language, often elegantly and with 
originality. Every Jewish boy had to learn Hebrew in the Hebrew alphabet — 
well or badly, as is true today — in order to become bar mitzvah, signifying that 
he had reached his thirteenth birthday and had, therefore, attained the age of re- 
ligious duty and responsibility. 

The reason why Jewish languages like Yiddish and Ladino are written in 
Hebrew characters goes back to the widespread literacy of Jews — of Jewish 
males at least — during the 'Dark Ages'. Observant Jewish males had to be bar 
mitzvah, though not females, who did not have a coming-of-age ceremony. 'Lit- 
eracy' is of course not nearly the same thing as 'fluency': to be literate simply 
meant that religiously-observant Jewish males could read Hebrew. 

AH that aside, Hebrew had become by the onset of the Common Era a 
'dead' language in the ordinary sense in which people speak of 'dead lan- 
guages'. It was, nevertheless, a 'holy language': it had iconic value, a symbolic 
historical value, in Jewish life. Something of the nature of the symbiosis between 
Hebrew and Yiddish is suggested by the fact that, in Yiddish, Hebrew is normally 
referred to as loshn-koydesh 'holy language' or 'language of holy men', whereas 
Yiddish is mame-loshn 'mother tongue'. ('Mother tongue' is not quite the right 
translation of mame-loshn, for mame in Yiddish suggests as much 'momma' as 
'mother', implying an entirely different and far more intimate association between 
a language and its people in emotional affect than what is conveyed by the con- 
ventional label 'mother tongue'.) 

The Holy Land had passed from Jewish to Greek control and then into Ro- 
man rule during the centuries predating the Common Era. After the Roman gen- 

Robert King: The paradox of creativity in diaspora 215 

eral Titus successfully assaulted Jerusalem and burned the Second Temple to the 
ground in 70 C.E., the shadows on Jewish life in its ancestral home began to 
lengthen. Time was up, and it would be only a short while until the Jews were 
driven into exile from the Holy Land. ('Exile', Hebrew Galuth, Yiddish Goles, is 
an enduring Jewish literary trope.) The Jewish Diaspora had begun. (On Jewish 
history in general see Ben-Sasson 1976, Dubnow 1967-73, and Roth 1966.) 

Some of those forced into exile settled in other countries in the Middle East; 
some emigrated to countries that could be reached by easy sailing over the Medi- 
terranean; some held on in Palestine. Some doubtless converted to Islam a few 
centuries later when Islam in its militancy of a hard birth swept through the Mid- 
dle East. Many of the Jewish exiles went to Italy with the Roman legions, as sol- 
diers — the Jews were highly valued as warriors, events like those at Masada 
providing the explanation if any were needed — and as what today we would 
call 'support personnel'. Armies need middlemen to procure horses, grain, food, 
portable lodging, and repairs. Jewish traders were good at this kind of thing since 
apart from anything else they were likely to have enough book-Hebrew to nego- 
tiate with other Jewish merchants along the path of conquest as the Roman Em- 
pire expanded north, west, and east out of Italy. 

Language choices in Jewish diaspora 

As Jews dispersed from their ancestral homeland in Palestine into Europe and the 
lands bordering the Mediterranean, it came naturally to them that they would be- 
gin to speak the language of the country in which they had settled. Linguistic 
choices in diaspora — and everywhere else — are almost overwhelmingly driven 
by economic advantage. Thus, Jews in Spain spoke medieval Spanish — perhaps 
a Judaicized variant of Spanish in some cases, but Spanish nevertheless. Jews in 
France spoke Old French or, again, very likely an identifiably Jewish dialect of 
Old French. Jews living along the Rhine and Danube Rivers in Germany spoke 
Middle High German of one sort or another — the German of 1050 to 1350 C.E. 
— probably always with a Jewish flavor and accent. In fact, in almost every land 
where they settled, a Jewish version of the local vernacular developed: Judeo- 
Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Slavic. And other possibilities existed: the great 
Jewish philosopher and rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), born in Spain but 
resident in Egypt, composed his works in Arabic but printed them in the Hebrew 

When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, they settled for (he most 
part around the Mediterranean — in northern Africa, Italy, Greece, Turkey — but 
the language they took with them was Spanish. In lime their Spanish changed — 
though not by much — and matured into the language now usually called Lad- 
ino: Spanish with admixtures from Hebrew and the languages of the lands to 
which the Spanish emigrants had tied. Many of these Jews gave up their ances- 
tral Spanish altogether and acquired the language of the country to which the 

216 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

winds had blown them. This branch of the Jewish people is called the Sephardim 
from the medieval Hebrew word for 'Spain'. 

A different set of language choices obtained among the Jews who had set- 
tled during the Diaspora in western Europe north of the Pyrenees, primarily in 
Germany and eastern France. The centers of settlement lay mainly along the 
Rhine and Danube Rivers in then nascent towns such as Cologne, Mainz, Trier, 
and Regensburg. These Jews are called the Ashkenazim, after the medieval He- 
brew word for 'Germany'. Until the eleventh century C.E. Jews had lived in most 
of western Europe in relative peace and security, legally but often no doubt only 
notionally under the protection of the Holy Roman Emperor. This changed terri- 
bly for the worse with the onset of the Crusades in 1096. What began as a war 
against the 'Saracens' — 'Arabs', 'Turks', 'Moors' — to reclaim the sacred ge- 
ography of Christianity rapidly became a war against 'infidels' of every kind, and 
so Jews were expropriated and massacred and expelled until finally there was 
nothing left but wholesale emigration away from the troubles — or conversion, 
though there was remarkably little of this outside of Spain. 

There was no sanctuary in the west of Europe. In practical terms, the need 
for refuge meant fleeing to Poland and other countries of central and eastern 
Europe, where there was at the time little anti-Jewish sentiment and where kings 
craved the instant creation of a lively middle class to energize their hopelessly 
feudal economies. The language the fleeing Jews carried with them was medieval 
German which, on the soil of eastern Europe and in isolation from the German 
language in Germany, developed into the language called Yiddish. 

The Yiddish language 

The period in question, then, is roughly between 1100 and 1600 C.E.: the birth 
centuries of the Yiddish language. Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet, like 
Ladino and virtually all Jewish languages (Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo- 
French), but is some 80% German in vocabulary, 15% Hebrew, and 5% Slavic. 
The exact percentages depend on style and the writer's pretensions and intensity 
of involvement in traditional Jewish life (Mark 1954), very much as the amount of 
Sanskrit that modern Indian writers inject into their vernacular is a matter of style 
and affect (King 1997:12). The marginal vocabulary of Yiddish depends on where 
the Yiddish language is spoken — American Yiddish borrows from American 
English, French Yiddish borrows from French. During the glory years of eastern 
European Yiddish language creation, Polish Yiddish borrowed much from Polish 
in phonology, morphology, and the lexicon. However, the basic grammatical 
structure of Yiddish has remained thoroughly German. 

Hebrew, the ancestral Jewish language, lay dormant — never completely 
dead, not completely alive, either — its use confined to the rabbinate and the 
synagogue. The language had a long slumber. In the late nineteenth century, 
however, there began a revival of the Hebrew language both in eastern Europe 
and in Palestine, as it was called then. The force behind the revival was more 

Robert King: The paradox of creativity in di astora 217 

secular than religious: its purpose was to proclaim one's 'Jewishness' against a 
hostile European world that sanctioned every form of anti-Semitic excess, from 
the Dreyfus affair in France to 'blood libels' and pogroms in Russia to the mind- 
less dissemination and widespread acceptance, even among people who knew 
they were a forgery, of the notorious Protocols of the Elders ofZlon. 

Language as icon 

To speak Hebrew became, therefore, an iconic act. Language as icon, as a symbol 
of identity and unity against an outside world, is perhaps the most basic social 
function of language. As the great British linguist, J. R. Firth (1957:185), wrote: 

The bonds of family, neighborhood, class, occupation, country, and re- 
ligion are knit by speech and language. We take eagerly to the magic 
of language because only by apprenticeship to it can we be admitted 
to association, fellowship, and community in our social organization 
which ministers to our needs and gives us what we want or what we 

Thus, to speak Hebrew in the everyday situation — to speak it as a secular act, to 
speak it in the orchard and the smithy, not only in the synagogue — was an act 
of defiance: it was to assert that one belonged to the worldwide community of 
Jews and was a proud member of that small but growing band of Zionist pioneers 
who had returned to the ancestral home. By the 1920s a majority of the Jews liv- 
ing in Palestine spoke Hebrew, though this represented only a tiny minority of the 
world's Jewish population. But, even as late as 1881, it is highly improbable that 
Hebrew could have been the sole language of anyone anywhere in the world. 
(On the rebirth of the Hebrew language, see Bar-Adon 1975, Blanc 1968, Chom- 
sky 1957, and Fellman 1974. On specifically the literary reinvigoration of Hebrew 
in the modern period, see Patterson 1961, 1989). 

World War II and the Holocaust brutally reduced the world's Jewish popu- 
lation from some 11,000,000 to around 5,000,000. Jews gained the right to emi- 
grate to Palestine, and they did so in large numbers. When, in 1948, the new 
country of Israel wrested its independence from the British, the question was: 
what should the language of the new country be? If such things could be settled 
by population statistics, Yiddish would have been the leading candidate since 
most of the eastern European Jews who had survived the Holocaust and man- 
aged somehow to get to Palestine were speakers of Yiddish. Yiddish, however, 
suffered under various disabilities, one of which was that it was stigmatized as the 
'language of the ghetto': it was thought of as a victim's language. One could not 
imagine Ladino as the language of free post- 1945 Israel — nor Gennan, obvi- 
ously. (Though, to mention German as a possible language of Israel now appears 
cruel, which is not what I mean at all. There was a time, well before Hitler's rise to 
power and the Holocaust, when German was so widely regarded as "the language 
of science' that its use for teaching science and engineering was advocated, even 
in then Palestine.) English would have been a possibility since Israel (as Palestine) 

218 DiAsmRA, Identity, and Language Communities 

had been an English protectorate, and educated Israelis knew English well. Other 
things being equal, probably English would have been chosen over Hebrew or 

Other things are never equal, however, when it comes to language and its 
iconicity; practical considerations pale into insignificance alongside the power of 
the icon: Hebrew it would have to be, the national language of the newly reborn 
Israel. Nothing else, no other language could possibly do for a new Israel — not 
Enghsh, not Yiddish, not Ladino. Hebrew, as 'dead' a language as it had been 
over most of its Common Era history, linked the Jewish past and the Israeli future 
as no other language could. Hebrew was a sublime symbol of hope, of aspiration 
— not only of Jewishness but of a muscular strain of Jewishness that would 
never permit another Holocaust to massacre its people: Never Again! became the 
rallying cry of modern Jewish pride and militancy. The Hebrew language is its 
symbol, its icon. 

The moral of the story of the revival of Hebrew is that, sometimes, rarely, al- 
ways under very special circumstances, though usually not even then, the iconic- 
ity of language can contribute to the making of a miracle. In the normal scheme of 
things, the attempted revival of Hebrew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth 
century would have failed — such is the fate of almost every language revival 
that has ever been attempted in the history of Unguistics. Languages once dead 
normally stay dead; unlike Lazarus, they do not rise again. Diaspora is not a fa- 
vorable environment for the preservation of a language, let alone its revival. The 
fact that Hebrew was the language of the Bible — which gave Hebrew a mighty 
iconic salience — was probably a necessary condition for the initial success in 
reviving the language, but that fact taken by itself would have been far from a 
sufficient condition for the eventual wholesale rebirth and subsequent stabiliza- 
tion of the Hebrew language in Israel. Life in diaspora — in every diaspora — is 
always heavy with icons of memory. 

There were people who did not believe Hebrew would long remain the lan- 
guage of reborn Israel. The novelist and essayist Arthur Koestler was one of them. 
Koestler (1949:311-5) felt that there were too many problems with the script, 
which he thought should be romanized, and the archaic nature of the language, 
which, he felt, could not be brought up to the requirements of the twentieth cen- 
tury. But Koestler underestimated the power of the Hebrew language to mod- 
ernize and adapt. Always somewhat 'tone deaf in matters Jewish — he was him- 
self Jewish, though raised in a thoroughly assimilated Hungarian family — 
Koestler completely overlooked the unique salience of the Hebrew language as 
an icon of Jewish identity. He did not understand that part of the power of the 
Hebrew language as icon derives from its script: the script of the Bible, holy. 

Linguistic question mark 

In the context of diaspora, there is almost always a linguistic question mark hov- 
ering over the future prospects of the language: will our language survive in di- 

Robert King: The paradox of creativity in diaspora 219 

aspora? The answer, sadly, is in most cases: No. The rebirth and restoration of the 
Hebrew language in Israel is an event unique in the annals of language history. 
The Irish attempted the same heroic act in regard to the Lish language. (The term 
'Irish' is the preferred designation for this language in Ireland today, rather than 
'Gaelic'.) A short digression would be useful here, for preservation of language 
(and more generally cultural identity) is a major question in diaspora studies. The 
Hebrew and Irish cases limn the spectrum of possibilities. 

Although by the late nineteenth century the Irish language already seemed 
destined for extinction, having been replaced by English over several centuries of 
English hegemony, it secured standing as a badge of community by becoming 
transformed into an icon of Irish identification, hinting at a lost Celtic past — wild, 
stormy, magical — which, if restored, might make anything possible, even freedom 
from British rule. The decline of the Irish language was regretted, and efforts were 
made to resurrect spoken Msh and increase the numbers of its speakers. Clubs 
were formed, prizes for the best poems and essays offered, but nothing arrested 
the decline. 

The Gaelic League was founded in 1893. One of its goals was to 'de- 
Anglicize' Ireland; another was 'to foster Irish as the national language of Ireland 
and to spread its use as a spoken language'. The restoration of the Irish language 
as the national language of Ireland became a major item in the Irish nationalistic 
agenda. The fusion of nationalism and language is, of course, by now a common- 
place. (See King 1997:23-28 for a brief introduction to the topic with a number of 
bibliographical references for further study. On specifically the attempt to restore 
the Irish language see Breathnach 1956, 1964, Macnamara 1971, O Cuiv 1969, 
and Thompson 1968.) 

The Gaelic League would probably have been one more well-intentioned 
effort to come to naught had it not been for the growth of revolutionary senti- 
ment in favor of Home Rule, which culminated in the establishment of the Irish 
Free State in 1922, after much suffering and bloodshed, including a civil war. The 
leaders of the Home Rule movement were almost all prominent members of the 
Gaelic League. 

When the Irish Revolution ended with independence from Britain in 1922, 
the whole situation changed almost overnight. Those who thought that Irish 
would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of British occupation because a new 
Irish government was in command were soon to be sadly disappointed. A daunt- 
ing array of problems faced the Irish government new to power; there were unan- 
ticipated challenges, new accommodations to be made, new alliances to be 
formed, reasons to reorder priorities, new hardships to replace the familiar ones. 
Understandably, perhaps, though on the face of it paradoxical, the creation of the 
Irish Free State brought with it a neglect of the Irish language revival. What was 
there that did not have priority over language as Ireland grappled with independ- 
ence? The energy generated by the linguistic movement to resurrect the Irish lan- 
guage was absorbed in the success of the political movement, and even though 

220 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

the protection and expansion of the Irish language ranlced high on the official 
agenda of the free Irish government and still does, the hfe had gone out of the 
Irish language movement in the cold dawn of 1922. Since independence, the Irish 
government has undertaken heroic measures to restore the language, but its de- 
cline continues, though, through a combination of official measures and for a va- 
riety of complicated reasons, something like stasis has been reached. 

A parenthetic comment is in order here. Contrary to what I have generally i 
and most sadly believed and written about (cf. King 1997:34-35), I think now 
that the Irish language will never die out though it is not likely to become in any 
practical sense 'the national language of Ireland' again. I base this conclusion on 
the observations from a research trip there in November, 1998. The difference be- 
tween the situation of Irish in Ireland and minority languages elsewhere fighting 
for their continued existence lies in the resolve of the Irish government. The gov- 
ernment will spend any amount of money to support any initiative that might just 
possibly increase the number of Irish speakers by even one, and they will do that 
forever. Lucky indeed the endangered language that has a government behind it. 
Even luckier — and rarer — is the language whose homeland government is in a 
position and of a disposition to nurture it in diaspora. 

But, to return to the Jewish Diaspora, one must observe what happened and 
what did not happen in that Diaspora. What did not happen was that the ances- 
tral language of the Jews, Hebrew (or its sister Semitic language, Arainaic, which 
replaced it and became a regional-religious lingua franca), survived into exile as 
the spoken language of the Jews. It survived only in the way I have described. 
Hebrew survived in something like the way Sanskrit has survived in Hinduism or 
Latin in Roman Catholicism. Jews gave up whatever language they carried with 
them into Diaspora and acquired the language of the country in which they set- 
tled. In some cases, and perhaps in most, they created Jewish versions of those 
languages (Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-French, Judeo- 
Slavic, and so on), but what they did not do was to preserve the languages they 
brought with them into exile. 

The exiled languages 

Certainly these ancient languages endured here and there for a time, for a genera- 
tion or two or even longer, depending on who was speaking them, and the famil- 
ial commitment of those who were speaking them. This is the way of diaspora. 
But it is also the way of diaspora that exiled languages expire without constant i 
reinforcement from the homeland; and sometimes they expire even then, espe- ' 
cially in a melting-pot country like America. A two-way traffic in culture and Ian- : 
guage is required for the survival of a language, and that the Jews did not ever j 

What did happen, however, was that Jewishness survived. The Jewish re- 
ligion survived wherever Jews survived: in Europe, in the Middle East, in North 
and South American, in India (among, for example, the 'Black Jews' of Cochin), 

Robert King: The paradox of creativity in diaspora 221 

and even in China. And this fact is in itself perhaps the most remarkable in all of 
Jewish history: survival. One might well say that the most creative act in the 
whole of the Jewish Diaspora was this: that Jewishness survived. As Irving Howe 
(1969:93) has written: 

The will to survive — whether in some distant villages of Iraq or 
in the major centers of Western civilization — remains a factor of pro- 
found moral weight. It cannot simply be explained by any of the usual 
socioeconomic categories. Jews have wanted — apparently as a 
value-in-itself — to remain Jews, and at least until recently that has 
been the dominating fact in their history. 

There is so much about all of this — about preservation of national feeling, 
of religion, of language and culture in diasporic situations — which we do not 
understand. The Jews lost their Palestinian homeland to alien rule two thousand 
years ago. They were dispersed all over the face of the earth, persecuted, massa- 
cred, and subjected to intolerable pressures to assimilate. Yet they never lost their 
ethnic and religious identity, their feeling of Otherness. For two thousand years, 
even in the darkest times, even in the ghettos of eastern Europe during the Holo- 
caust with slaughter of their brethren audible in the streets, devout Jews, and 
many not so devout, have finished the Passover meal with the cry 'Next Year in 

The Celts, on the other hand, once lived throughout most of western Europe 
and well into central and eastern Europe. The Celts of the British Isles had their 
island isolation, the natural defense of the Channel against invaders and the cul- 
tural and religious fevers of the Continent, every possible excuse for remaining 
apart and different. Yet they lost their national feeling except for pockets of 
Celtic-ness in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. On the Continent, only the Bretons 
remain as a reduced remnant of a once mighty pan-European Celtic presence — 
and the Bretons are Celts returned from the British Isles. 

The Jews lost their land but somehow managed to hang on to their sense of 
nationality in the Diaspora for two millennia. The Celts remained in their land, in 
their islands, yet lost their sense of nationality under foreign conquerors in less 
than a millennium. Why did things turn out so differently? Why were these 'eth- 
nic identities' — Jewish and Celtic — ■ so opposite in their doggcdness? Tentative 
and suggestive answers to these questions are easily formulated; rarely can we 
find compelling answers to our questions. Modesty becomes those of us who pre- 
tend to understand the exigent bonds between language, identity, nationalism, 
and preservation of culture in diaspora. 

Creativity in Yiddish 

Let us consider now the Yiddish language and its emergence as a creative force 
in the Jewish Diaspora and as a unique and paradoxical icon of Jewish identity. 
Of all the languages of the Jewish Diaspora — Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo- 
Persian, Judeo-SIavic — only Yiddish produced a significant literature that in- 

222 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

spired in its users a unique creativity. And here we must consider how Yiddish 

The traditional view of how the Yiddish language came into being can be 
found in Weinreich (1954, 1980). The question of the origins of the Yiddish lan- 
guage has been a very lively area of research in the past two decades, and vary- 
ing degrees of revisionism can be found in Faber & King 1984, Jacobs 1975, Katz 
1985, 1987, King 1987, 1990, 1992, and Wexler 1993. Eggers 1998 gives a bal- 
anced analysis of opposing views. Finally, the Language and Culture Atlas of 
Ashkenzic Jewry (Herzog, Weinreich, Baviskar 1992) is a monument of uniquely 
impressive intellectual distinction. Students of other diasporas will do well to 
study the LCAAJ to see just how much can be accomplished in recording the cul- 
ture and language of a vanished people: in this case, the Jews of eastern Europe. 

The Yiddish language was formed between 1100 and 1600 C.E., the result 
of Judeo-German transported to the Slavic east and allowed to develop there in 
relative isolation from the German dialects of Germany proper. Some of the earli- 
est Yiddish literature consisted of fantastic tales written especially for women — 
something they could read to fight off boredom during services in the synagogue 
as the men discharged the major responsibilities of worship. 

In common with many of the vernacular languages of Europe, it was not un- 
til relatively late — the nineteenth century — that Yiddish started gaining ground 
in its arduous progress toward respectability as a language. People unfamiliar 
with their histories often take it for granted that languages of western Europe 
such as German and Italian have always been esteemed and taken seriously. It is 
not true, of course. French was not always loved. German in 1700 was not re- 
garded as a socially acceptable language; it was not 'clubbable'. German scholars 
wrote in Latin, while French was favored for other purposes. 

In 1685 Berlin was a town of 15,000 inhabitants whose swinish proclivities 
and lack of polish were a mortification for their ruler, Friedrich Wilhelm, the Grand 
Elector. In that year the Edict of Nantes, which had pledged religious toleration 
to the Protestants in France, was revoked. Some 25,000 Protestant Huguenots 
emigrated to Brandenburg on the invitation of Friedrich Wilhelm. Five thousand 
of these refugees settled in Berlin, increasing its population by a third. The Berlin 
upper classes inevitably were pulled toward the Huguenots, with their superior 
French ways, their culture and their couture, their eclat. Huguenots became the 
cultural doers and leaders in Brandenburg. They were held to be models of de- 
portment and good breeding. They established themselves as teachers in the best 
Brandenburg schools. One of their pupils was the son of Friedrich Wilhelm, later 
to become known as Frederick the Great, greatest of German francophiles. Vol- 
taire was his teacher, and Frederick all his life spoke French in preference to Ger- 

Voltaire regarded German as tit only for talking to soldiers or to horses. He 
wrote, in 1750 (Welles 1985:268): 

Robert King: The paradox of creativity in diaspora 223 

Je me trouve ici en France. On ne parle que notre langue. L'allemand 
est pour les soldats et pour les chevaux; il n'est necessaire que pour la 

I might as well be in France. Only our language is spoken. German is 
for soldiers and horses; you do not need it, save when traveling. 

By the end of the century, by 1800, however, Gemian had become a language 
that had to be taken seriously: a supple, subtle, stylish instrument of literary crea- 
tivity with great writers like Goethe and Schiller as its representatives. The story 
of how this happened — how in one century German went from being a lan- 
guage thought fit only for soldiers and horses to a language that could take its 
place alongside French and English — is elegantly told in Blackall (1978). 

Yiddish was not essentially different; only its literary ripening came later, 
and much more falteringly and never with the self-assurance of German or Dutch 
or the Scandinavian languages. An essential aspect of diaspora is that people live 
in a land which is not their own, in which they are a minority. Germans had a 
place they could call home, even if there was, politically and legally, no 'Ger- 
many' until 1871; even if the notion of 'Germany' was only an amalgam of king- 
doms and principalities with little in common save something like a common lan- 
guage. As Jacob Grimm said in 1 846: 'a nation is the totality of people who speak 
the same language.' How much easier it is to accept the Grimm axiom when the 
totality of people speaking the same language coexist on the same piece of geog- 
raphy, as did the Germans and Italians (whose unification likewise came late). 
What was one to make of the 'Jewish nation' of eastern Europe — a totality of 
people speaking the same language, Yiddish, but scattered among a dozen coun- 
tries? The true answer to that question is that they were indeed a nation, the 
Jewish nation, and that they were bound by language, religion, and culture to 
themselves — but other people, non-Jews, often did not see it that way. Jews 
were always the Other, at most tolerated Guests — a people without a country. 

Absent a homeland, a people almost inevitably has to struggle with insecu- 
rity, with alienation, even with self-hatred. The Yiddish language reflects the 
Jewish struggle with self-hatred. Sander Oilman (1986:1) puts the case in this 

Of all the strange phenomena produced by society, certainly one of 
the most puzzling is self-hatred. Indeed, when the history of Western 
attitudes toward those perceived as different, whether black or Jew or 
homosexual, is studied, the very idea of black, Jewish, or homosexual 
self-hatred seems a mordant oxymoron. Why hate yourself when there 
are so many willing to do it for you! But the ubiquitousness of self- 
hatred cannot be denied. And it has shaped the self-awareness of 
those treated as different perhaps more than they themselves have 
been aware. 

224 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Yiddish as a self-hating language 

Yiddish was a self-hating language, a despised language. Despised not by every- 
one, of course, and despised not especially by anti-Semites, who despised the 
people who spoke it rather than the language itself, and who probably were not 
interested one way or the other in language, but by many Jews for whom Yiddish 
was their native language. It was looked down on by German-speaking Jews as 
'bad' German, 'corrupt' German: this was the legacy of Moses Mendelssohn, 
leader of German Jewry during the Enlightenment, who had demanded of his 
coreligionists that they forswear Yiddish in favor of 'real' German, i.e. German 
without a Yiddish accent or flavor. Yiddish was looked down on by the lovers of 
Hebrew as an unworthy instrument — a language of women, children, and 
tradesmen, not intellectuals — a tainted, unworthy implement of expression. 

Advocates of adaptation and assimilation demanded that Jews give up Yid- 
dish and speak the language of whatever country they lived in: Polish, Russian, 
Romanian. It was said that Yiddish 'had no grammar'. One of its most squeamish 
opponents, an otherwise distinguished German-Jewish historian of the nineteenth 
century, Heinrich Graetz, called it a 'semi-animal language', a 'repulsive stammer'. 
For a time, in the late nineteenth and well into the early twentieth century, the ac- 
cepted term for the Yiddish language, even among intellectuals writing creatively 
and well in it, was Zhargon 'jargon'. 

One wonders how a language could survive so much self-dislike, so much 
self-contempt, so much paradox, so many obstacles, but survive them Yiddish did 
(though the inferiority complex has always remained, even until today). However, 
by the middle of the nineteenth century writers had begun to take their talents 
into new literary territory for this scorned language. Most of them experimented 
in their early days with writing in other languages — Polish, Russian, Hebrew — 
but to write in Polish or Russian was for a Jew to make a statement redolent of 
assimilation to the world of the non-Jew, the goy, the Gentile; and to write in He- 
brew was to write for a tiny elite. Writers may want many things, but above all 
they want people to read what they write, and they want people to buy their 
books and editors to publish their stories and poems. They want to make a living 
from their writing, and that means writing in a language that people can read and 
understand. For these eastern European Jews, who were testing their literary lim- 
its in the late nineteenth century, that desire for acceptability soon came to mean 
writing in Yiddish, the despised language, the Zhargon. 'Jargon' it may have 
been to some, but it was a language that people spoke and read, and they bought 
books and magazines and newspapers in this maturing language. 

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century there were masters of Yiddish 
prose, especially short fiction: Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholom Aleichem, and 
Y. L. Peretz. Of these, probably Sholom Aleichem is best known outside of Jewish 
letters: Fiddler on the Roof was put together from his stories. These writers set 
the stage for an extraordinary nourishing of Yiddish literature. Y. L. Peretz (1852- 

Robert King: The paradox gfcreativiti' in diastora 225 

1915) exemplified the complicated intricacy of creativity enmeshed in conflicting 
traditions (Liptzin 1947:12): 

Peretz experienced all the ferment and restlessness that swept Jewish 
life from the mid-nineteenth century until the First World War. He was 
reared in the orthodox religious tradition that had persisted with but 
slight changes since the Middle Ages. Early in life, however, he ate of 
the sweet and somewhat poisonous fruit of the Enlightenment or Has- 
kala. Nor did the heady wine of Jewish Romanticism or Hassidism pass 
him by without leaving profound imprints upon his personality. He 
participated in the rejuvenation of Hebrew and led the movement for 
the elevation and purification of the Yiddish tongue. He was part of 
the cultural revival in the lands of the Diaspora, but there also pene- 
trated to him the call of the Lovers of Zion. 

By the 1920s Yiddish literature, as Sander Gilman (1986:279) puts it, 'entered the 
age of modernism with a flourish, producing modernist poets and novelists of 
world rank'. This literature was self-inspired, but its creativity was fired by devel- 
opments in other languages such as German, Russian, and English. After the mas- 
sive emigration of Jews from eastern Europe to the Lower East Side and points 
west — a Diaspora, as it were, within a Diaspora — some of Yiddish poets did 
their best writing in America (Hrushovski 1954:265): 

Concerning the manner in which the influence of foreign litera- 
tures was experienced, we should add that the stimulus which upset 
the old melodic equilibrium did indeed come from German expres- 
sionism and Russian modernism (in addition to the changes in Jewish 
life). But true free rhythms were created in Yiddish in a significant 
degree primarily in America. The influence of the American moderns is 
strongly in evidence, both in content and in means of expression, and 
even more perhaps in the manner of poem construction in free 
rhythms. It was only in America that the Yiddish poem freed itself of 
counted measures and equal stanzas. 

The American experience — the Diaspora within a Diaspora — encouraged 
literary risk-taking in the Yiddish brought by writers to America. Though much of 
their subject matter remained embedded in eastern Europe, in the villages and 
towns of Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and Russia, Yiddish writers came quickly to 
see things through the wider window of opportunity that America offered (Howe 

The beginnings of Yiddish literature in America are prosaic in 
circumstance, utilitarian in purpose, often crude in tone. The poetry 
and prose that Yiddish writers started publishing in the 1880s ap- 
peared mostly in newspapers devoted to ideological persuasion; it 
had to compete with a mushrooming of cheap popular romances, 
shundromanen, bought for a few pennies by the immigrant masses; 
and it was cut off from both world literature and the blossoming of 

226 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Yiddish prose fiction that had begun in eastern Europe. At a time 
when Yiddish poets in America were still entangled with the rudi- 
ments of craft, Mendele, Sholom Aleichem, and Peretz, the classical 
trio of Yiddish literature, were producing major works in Poland and 
Russia. Yiddish writing in America, at this point, had a relation to 
Yiddish writing in eastern Europe somewhat like that which a cen- 
tury earlier American writing had to English. 

The Yiddish language brought forth creativity in all genres: in poetry, in the 
theater, in the short story, in the novel, in literary criticism. (Liptzin 1963, 1972 
and Roback 1940 are comprehensive surveys of Yiddish literature. Roskies 1984 
and Wisse 1991 probe into the deeper recesses of creativity in Yiddish literature.) 
Sholem Asch and I. J. Singer, the prematurely deceased brother of the better- 
known Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, were writers whose Yiddish novels 
became bestsellers and critical successes in English translations in the 1940s 
(Howe 1976:448-451). Eventually, of course, Yiddish in the New World began to 
decline as the immigrant generation aged and their children became fluent in 
English. The Holocaust (1939-45) ended traditional Jewish life in the Old Coun- 
try — Yidishkayt. 

How Yiddish made the progress from a language thought contemptible 
even by people who spoke it to a language which earned for one of its greatest 
masters, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, is a topic for 
another day. A major culture-linguistic milestone was the First Yiddish Language 
Conference, held in 1908 in Czernowitz (Yiddish spelling: Tshernovits), then a 
modest trans-Carpathian outpost of the Austrian Empire, now a drab post-Soviet 
city located in Ukraine not far from Chernobyl (Fishman 1991; Goldsmith 1976, 
1997; King 1998). 

Language conferences cannot make of a language something it is not. The practi- 
cal consequences of the Czernowitz Conference have been much debated among 
linguists and others, but it was at the very least a symbolic watershed event in the 
long march of the Yiddish language toward equality, dignity, and respect. It 
sorted out, to the extent then possible, the roles that Yiddish, Hebrew, and non- 
Jewish vernaculars were to play. After Czernowitz, nothing would ever be quite 
the same for Yiddish, for Yiddish-speaking scholars and intellectuals, and for Yid- 
dish literature. The Yiddish language had arrived. The language was on the move 
from L(ow) to H(igh), as sociolinguists put it, and if Hebrew or Russian or German 
thought they had a monopoly on H functions in Jewish life, they would now just 
have to move over and make way for this pushy upstart that had grown up in the 
small towns (shtetlekh) of eastern Europe in a complex environment at once 
warm and nurturing on the inside, yet inhospitable and always threatened from 
the outside. 

Robert King: The paradox of creativity in diaspora 227 


Language is always an icon of national and ethnic identity, but few lan- 
guages have ever reified the spirit of its people as Yiddish did. Denied a country 
of their own, with religion, which had bound them together through two thou- 
sand years of 'Next Year in Jerusalem!', no longer the shared monolith it had 
been for so long, the Jews of central and eastern Europe found their identity in 
their language. It became, to use a phrase of W. H. Auden's, 'a way of happening, 
a mouth'. That this once despised language came so far is the consummate act of 
Jewish irony, of paradox — the ultimate act of creativity in the Jewish Diaspora, 
[t was, after all, the instrument of Jewish survival. 


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Constructing Religious Discourse in Diaspora: 
American Hinduism 

Rajeshwari V. Pandharipande 

This chapter discusses the following topics related to the con- 
struction of the identity of the Hindu community in the U.S.: (a) the 
rationale for choosing religion as the marker of identity, (b) the role 
and the patterns of language(es) used in the religious discourse, (c) 
the change in the (Hindu) religious discourse in the U.S., and (c) the 
issue of 'authority' which licenses the change in the religious prac- 
tices (including language-use) in the diasporic community. The major 
thesis of the chapter is that the construction of the diasporic religious 
identity is primarily a process of contextualization (Pandharipande 
1997) of the religious system in the new socio-cultural context. This 
process involves adaptation/change in Hinduism in order to meet the 
needs of the new context. Moreover, the paper claims that 'author- 
ity' which authenticates the remaking of the discourse is not a frozen 
concept; it is continuously and contextually constructed. 


Research in the past two decades (Appadurai 1996, Clifford 1992, 1997, 
Needham 1975, Safran 1991, and Hall 1996, among others) has described diaspora 
from various perspectives. As a process, it is characterized as 'globalization', 
'traveling', or 'displacement' of cultures. As a resultant state of 'displaced' cul- 
tures, it is labeled 'hybrid cultures', 'mixed cultures', or 'dwelling-in-displace- 
ment', while as a differentiating marker of a community, diaspora is often de- 
scribed as hyphenated identity: 'U.S. -Indian", 'Canadian-Indian', etc. (for further 
discussion of various interpretations of diaspora, see Clifford 1997). Although 
|thcy differ with respect to the details of their displacement from the homeland and 
their new sociocultural contexts, all diasporas share two features in common, i.e., 
'dwelling-in-displacement' (Clifford 1997:288), and construction of a new dis- 
tinctive identity. Clifford (1997:287) refers to the latter as, 'forms of community 
consciousness and solidarity that maintain identifications outside the national 
time and space in order to live inside with a difference'. 

Diaspora. Identity, and Language Communities 
(Siudies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

232 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

Thus, the construction of a diasporic identity displays continuation of roots 
(or selective features of the native culture) as well as accommodation of selected 
features of the new sociocultural context. Diaspora is a meeting point of the 
processes of globalization (exemplified in the travel to and accommodation of the 
new host culture) and localization (manifested in an identity different from the 
host culture but similar to the native culture). 

It is becoming increasingly evident from the current research (Appadurai 
1996, Chow 1993, Rex 1997, and Hall 1996, among others) that diasporas differ 
from one another in their past histories, present situations, and future aspira- 
tions/goals. As a result of these differences, diasporas show significant variations 
in their motivations for, and the processes of reconstruction of, their identities in 
new sociocultural contexts. Thus, the medieval Jewish Mediterranean (as well as 
Greek and Armenian) diaspora, the modern 'black Atlantic diaspora' (Gilroy 
1993), and the post-modern diasporas after the decolonization of Asian, African, 
and South American countries significantly differ from one another. Safran's 
(1991:83-84) six features of diaspora (history of displacement, memories/vision of 
homeland, alienation in the host country, aspiration for eventual return to the 
homeland, continued relationship with the homeland, and a collective identity de- 
fined by this relationship) do not adequately characterize every case of diaspora 
across time and space. 

A study of a diasporic identity has a dual significance: theoretical/universal 
and empirical/culture-specific. As a universal quest, it provides insights into uni- 
versal issues such as (a) the motivations and processes of the re-making of the 
identity of a displaced culture in a new context; (b) the determinants of the selec- 
tion of identity markers; (c) the phenomenon of crossing borders, with regard to 
whether it is unidirectional, i.e., whether both the guest as well as the host culture 
cross the borders of nationality, religion, and social structure; (d) whether the re- 
construction of the identity is interactional so that both cultures 're-construct" 
their identities by integrating the 'other'; and, finally, (e) how the discourse is 
constructed between tradition and transformation on both sides of the borders. 

The empirical/culture-specific dimension of the study of diaspora aims at (a) 
identifying the rationale for selecting certain markers of diasporic identity in a 
specific sociocultural context, (b) examining the difference between the diasporic 
identity markers and their respective native counterparts, and (c) evaluating the 
processes of authenticating the new diasporic identity in the new sociocultural 

In the context of the above background, this chapter examines the diasporic 
identity of the Hindu immigrant community in the U.S. In particular, the following 
questions are addressed: (a) Why does the Hindu community choose religion as 
the dominant marker of its Indian identity (the question of selection of the iden- 
tity marker)? (b) Is the pattern of religious discourse homogeneous (the question 
of variation in discourse patterns)? (c) What is the role of language in the con- 
struction of these discourse patterns? (d) How are the patterns authenticated (the 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 233 

question of authenticity and authority)? (e) How is religious discourse in the U. S. 
different from its counterpart in India (the question of interpretation, representa- 
tion, and translation)? (f) Are the patterns of discourse the same across genera- 
tions (the question of transmission of identity)? 

The major thesis presented here is that, in order to understand diasporic dis- 
course, it is necessary to have a thorough knowledge of the 'authority' which 
authenticates the re-making of the discourse in a new sociocultural context. 
Moreover, it is pointed out that 'authority' is not a frozen concept; it is continu- 
ously and contextually constructed. It will be demonstrated that the devices used 
to authenticate Hindu religious discourse in the U.S. show the adaptation of the 
discourse to the new host culture. 

A majority of the current studies on the Indian/Hindu diaspora in the U.S. 
(e.g., Fenton 1988, Rangasamy 1998, Saran & Eames 1988, WilUams 1996, among 
others) primarily describe its historical, social, and religious, and cultural dimen- 
sions. However, these studies do not adequately address the questions mentioned 
above, and the general question of the role of the language has not received 
much attention from scholars. 

It is this motivation to understand the Hindu religious discourse in the U.S. 
which has driven me to address this topic. I feel privileged because I have had a 
small part in the process of the construction of religious discourse. Three years 
ago, a Catholic priest in Champaign and I together constructed a text for a wed- 
ding ritual containing a mixture of Sanskrit (the traditional language of Hinduism) 
and English. The groom was Catholic and the bride was Hindu. Both wanted 
their respective faiths to be represented in their wedding ritual. The priest and I 
performed the ritual together. While the couple and the congregation believed in 
the efficacy of the ritual, it left me with several questions: Was the mixed text 
authentic? Was it right? Should we not have mixed these two languages and tra- 
ditions? Why did the couple want to have a mixture of both traditions? These 
questions need to be answered in order to understand the structure and function 
of the diasporic discourse. It is in this context that I locate the present discussion. 

The following example of a popular devotional song (bhajan) at the 
Venkateshwara Hindu temple in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, succinctly summarizes 
the process, form, and function of diasporic Hindu discourse in the U. S. and 
marks the consecration of diasporic (Hindu-American) identity in the U.S.' 

penhil-nilaya-rddhe govinda 
sriguru-jayguru- vithahi-govinda 

'Victory to Govinda, who has now made Penn Hills in the U. S. his home. He 
is (our) Guru, he is Vitthal, he is Govinda'. 

This is an example of the discourse of the Hindu diaspora in the U. S., its dis- 
placement or travel away from the homeland, its remaking in the U. S., the choice 

234 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

of religious rituals as its identity marker, and, most importantly, the use of Sanskrit 
(mixed with English words) as its expression. 

In the following discussion, Sections 2 and 3 provide a brief profile of the 
Hindu community in the U.S. and the rationale for selecting religious discourse 
(rituals in particular) as an identity marker. Section 4 discusses the role of lan- 
guage in the religious rituals and the patterns of language used in these rituals, 
and explains the function and the process of authentication of diversity of these ■ 
patterns. Section 5 focuses on the question of interpretation of the religious Ian- ^ 
guage in the new host culture. Section 6 concludes the discussion and raises 
some questions related to the diaspora in general and the Hindu diaspora in par- 

A profile of the Hindu community in the U.S. 

At present, there are about 1 .5 million Indian immigrants in the U. S. A majority of 
them arrived in the U. S. during the late sixties or early seventies. 85 percent of 
them are Hindus (for further discussion on the history of immigration of Indians, 
see Saran 1988 and Rangasamy 1998). Although their major concentrations are in 
and around large cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, Hindus live 
in various parts of the U. S. They belong to various castes and sects of Hinduism 
and have diverse regional and linguistic backgrounds (for further discussion on 
the Hindu immigrants, see Fenton 1988, 1996). They have come from different 
parts of the world (e.g., the U.K., Uganda, Kenya, India, and South Africa). What 
they commonly share is religion (Hinduism), which they choose as the major 
marker of their diasporic identity, and Hindu rituals, which have become the ex- 
pression of that religious identity. 

Fenton's 1988 survey shows that 20 percent of his informants said that 
they became more religious and ritualistic after they came to the U. S. In order to 
understand the structure of the religious-discourse diaspora, it is important to un- 
derstand the goal of religious discourse, and the context within which this dis- 
course is constructed. When communities and cultures emigrate, there is physical 
as well as psychological displacement from the native context. 

However, we need to remember that not all traveling communities re-form, 
re-make, or re-construct their identities in exactly the same way. Their roots and 
routes of travel differ and so do their goals in retaining or reconstructing their 
identities in the host, or new cultures. Some strive to reconstruct or maintain their 
identities, while others choose to negate it. What they share in common is that i 
their inherited identity is always the reference point to which they return or from 
which they depart. As the author Jamaica Kincaid (cited in Katrak 1997:202) re- 
marks, referring to her Antiguan identity, T do not know how to be there, but I 
don't know how to be here without being there'. In contrast to this, Bharati 
Mukherjee (cited in Katrak 1997:211), a well-known South Asian immigrant and 
author, claims that one has to murder one's earlier self or cultural identity for the 
remaking of the new self. According to her. There are no hamiless, compassion- 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 235 

ate ways to remake oneself. We must murder who we were so we can rebirth our- 
selves in the image of dreams'. 

Indian immigrants at large fall between the two extreme positions sketched 

out above. They choose to retain their identity by adapting it to the new context. 

It is crucial to understand the goal behind this re-construction or maintenance of 

their identity in order to understand their choice(s) of identity-markers(s) and the 

I patterns of variation in their diasporic discourse. 

The purpose of reconstructing identity in diaspora:: Identity marker 

Fenton 1988, Pettys 1994, Rangasamy 1998, and Saran 1988, as well as my own 
survey of Hindu communities in Illinois and Indiana, have shown that for a major- 
ity of first generation Hindus the purpose of reconstructing identity in diaspora is 
two-fold; (a) to repair their fractured or disturbed grammar of culture or self, and 
(b) to transfer the grammar of culture to the next generation. Although this dis- 
turbance and remaking of the grammar of culture occurs in the native context as 
well, the causes of the disturbances, the methods to repair it, and the situations to 
which it must adapt are different in diaspora. The cultural self (or grammar of cul- 
ture) can be seen as a construct of three interdependent components: (a) Cogni- 
tion of the world or the worldview (philosophical component), (b) Expression of 
this world view through social patterns of behavior (e.g., language, art, language 
etiquette, etc. (social component)); and (c) Goals, aspirations and desires (idea- 
tional component). The grammar of culture is disturbed when these three compo- 
nents are not aligned. 

In the first-generation diasporic community, the obvious missing component 
is the native social context (native religious, political, social, linguistic, and educa- 
tional institutions of India) which generally sustains and propagates the philoso- 
phical content and helps build the ideational self. Thus, the diasporic Hindu com- 
munity chooses the identity marker(s) which (in addition to preserving the 
authentic philosophical content) provide them the social context (group solidar- 
ity) within which they can sustain, reinforce, and perpetuate their world-view; 
and this must be transferable to the next generation. One of my interviewees said, 
'We want our children to inculcate our religious/social values so they can avoid 
the pitfalls in the American culture such as breakdown of famiUes, drugs, violence, 
and excessive materialism'. 'After all' she said, 'they [children] have the advan- 
tage of the heritage of a religiously-grounded ancient culture which should help 
ktheni combat the challenges of the new times'. Although a majority of the Hindus 
rwant to maintain their religious identity, they do not want it to hinder their pro- 
gress in their professional and social lives, which they share with the other Ameri- 
cans. Thus, the marker they choose must construct the 'local' distinctive identity 
with an added important condition: it must not obstruct, but rather perpetuate 
globalization — or in other words, efficient function — in the new, host culture 
(American culture in this case). 

236 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

It is not suqjrising that religion has been chosen as the marker of cultural 
identity by the Hindus. Religion provides what Geertz 1973 calls the authentic 
''model for' and "model of the grammai' of culture, i.e., the world view, 
moral/ethical values, patterns of behavior, and, more importantly, the rationale for 
their existence and interdependence. Culture is 'an historically transmitted pat- 
tern of meanings embodied in symbol, a system of inherited conceptions ex- 
pressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and 
develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life' (Geertz 1973:89). Re- 
ligion provides authenticity and authority to the cultural identity; it gives auton- 
omy to the community, since there is no interference from the host community in 
this domain. It is perceived as a timeless framework which has been transferred 
from one generation to the next and it is believed to be universal, and therefore 
adaptable, to new social and cultural contexts. 

Historically, India's cultural identity is shaped by religion. Whenever India's 
cultural identity has been threatened in the past (during the Mughal and the 
British rules within India), Indians have always chosen to hold strongly to their 
religious identities. Furthermore, religion — Hinduism in this context — is distinc- 
tive enough (at least from the perspective of the host community) to give the 
Hindu community an identity separate from those of the the rest of the Americans. 
On the other hand, it is flexible enough to allow Hindus to participate in the ac- 
tivities related to other religions (e.g., Christmas festivals and Thanksgiving). Re- 
ligious identity is commonly shared by the diverse groups of Hindus who have 
arrived in the U. S. from various parts of the world and who have had diverse his- 
tories (Hindus from Uganda, Kenya, the U.K., the Caribbean); therefore, it serves 
as an integrating force among Hindus of diverse linguistic and national back- 

Additionally, the host culture allows the practice of group/personal religion 
in the U.S. The choice of language as a marker is not feasible because it does not 
serve as a unifying factor among them (because of the linguistic diversity among 
Hindus). Moreover, maintenance of a language other than English is exceedingly 
difficult among immigrants in the U.S., because it is not effective in the public do- 
main (school, professions, etc.). 

Finally, the Hindu identity does not create any impediment to the effective 
function of Hindus in the host/American culture, since Hinduism has not had any 
confrontation with the mainstream religions in the U. S. (i.e., Christianity and Ju- 
daism). Within the religion, the Hindu community chooses religious rituals (as op- 
posed to a scriptural or philosophical base) as the major marker of its identity for 
the following reasons: (a) rituals are authentic markers which have been used for 
thousands of years, and, therefore, they mark the continuity and credibility of 
Hindu identity; (b) they function powerfully to unite a community whose mem- 
bers do not necessarily have common linguistic and geographic roots; (c) there is 
an explicit experiential dimension in the practice of religious rituals (as opposed 
to philosophy, which lacks such a dimension); (d) rituals present a concrete struc- 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 237 

ture of Hinduism which can be transferred to the next generation, (e) rituals have 
a concomitant social dimension as well which allows community participation and 
reinforcement of community values and world view, and (0 rituals form the only 
organized dimension of Hinduism which can create a religious ambiance inspite of 
non-Indian sociocultural context. Rituals provide a social platform for the Hindu 
community from which to consolidate, express, and transfer its cultural heritage to 
the next generation. Thus, the religious rituals have become a major context for 
reconstructing the diasporic cultural identity of Hindus in the U.S. 

Language in religious discourse 

Language plays an important role in constructing ritualistic religious discourse. 
Hindu rituals are performed in a group, family, or individually at public (temples) 
or private places (at home). It is the language used in every ritual, which along 
with ritual actions reflects and constructs the religious, cultural, and social experi- 
ence of the community. Traditionally, the power or efficacy of the ritual is partly 
attributed to the language of the scriptures, mystics, priests, and of the religious 
music. It is through the form and the content of the language that the religious 
discourse is constructed and this in turn constructs the cultural identity. However, 
there are many languages (Sanskrit, Modern Indo-Aryan and Dravidian and Eng- 
lish) which have been used historically in the religious discourse of Hinduism. 
One must ask what determines the choice of one language over others in dias- 
poric religious or ritual discourse. The patterns of use of these languages vary 
from one context to another (as public vs. private) and from temple to temple, 
from one sect of Hinduism to another, from priest to priest, and from saint to saint. 
In the following discussion, I will examine some of the dominant patterns of lan- 
guage used in religious discourse, and then attempt to discover the rationale for 
this variation and the rationale for the integration of the "other' in both Hindu 
and Armenian communities in the U.S. 

Hindu rituals, similar to rituals in other religions, encompass a wide range 
e.g., rituals related to life cycles such as birth (janma). naming of baby 
(nfiinakarana), initiation into education (iipanayana), marriage (vivdha), funerals 
(cintyestT); family rituals, such as the house-warming ceremony (grhapravesa); 
daily or occasional worship of the family deity;celebration of special birthdays of 
the deities (e.g., mahalaksmlpuja) 'worship of the family goddess Mahiilaksml', 
janmas t a ml 'b'nih&cxy of the god Krsna', rdmnawm'i 'birthday of god Rama'); or 
worship dedicatedto deities, such as ganesa puja 'worship of the god Ganesa', 
several festivals such as dlwall 'the festival of lights', holi 'spring festival' in 
north India', and pongal 'the day of the equinox' celebrated in south India. Ad- 
ditionally, some rituals performed in a group, such as the consecration of temples, 
chanting of religious scriptures, attending services presided over by priests, mys- 
tics, and saints from India who periodically visit the U.S. and participating in wor- 
ship (including devotional songs), pilgrimages to sacred places in India and in the 
U.S. Rituals such as meditation, daily prayers, and reading of scriptures are per- 
formed individually. 

238 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

Although the distribution of places for rituals is generally maintained, it is 
not absolute. Hindus may choose to perform rituals at home or in temples, with 
the family or with the community, depending upon the tradition within the family, 
caste, or their region. 

In the following discussion, the major patterns of language used in religious 
rituals will be presented, and then the determinants of the choice will be dis- 
cussed. The difference between these patterns and their counterparts in India will 
be pointed out, and finally, the question of authentication of the new patterns in 
the new context will be examined. 

Pattern 1 . Sanskrit, which is considered to be the most sacred language of 
the ancient Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas, Upanisads, and the Puranas is 
used in the entire ritual. This is generally done when the ritual is performed by a 
traditional Hindu priest who has been trained in Indian religious tradition. The 
audience in this case constitutes the first or the second generation Hindus who 
may or may not fully understand Sanskrit. Typical examples of this pattern are 
wedding rituals, fire sacrifices {homo), as well as other rituals performed at home 
or at the temples. Most of the pan-Hindu rituals related to the life cycle are per- 
formed by priests and are in Sanskrit. 

Pattern 2. The second pattern includes both Sanskrit and a modern Indian 
language such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, etc. In this case, Sanskrit is used for the 
actual ritual and the modern Indian language is used to explain the ritual to par- 
ticipants who do not understand Sanskrit. For example, in a ritual performed for 
the well being of the members of the family, the priest recites the mantras, the sa- 
cred formulas from the religious scriptures, in Sanskrit and then explains them in 
the language of the family (e.g., in a modern Indian language such as Gujarati, 
Marathi, Hindi, etc.). In a sacrificial ritual performed at St. Louis in August 1998, 
the priest performed the ritual in Sanski'it using Telegu (a modern Dravidian lan- 
guage) intermittently to explain the ritual. In another context, the priest may use 
Sanskrit for the riUial, while the participants use modern Indian languages for 
chanting or singing the prayers which follow the main ritual. 

Pattern 3: In the third pattern, Sanskrit and Modern Indian languages are 
alternadvely used by the mystic or the saint in devotional music. For example, 
Amritanandamayi, a contemporary woman saint of India who visited Chicago in 
July, 1998, sang devotional songs dedicated to various deities such as Rama, 
Krsna, Siva, KaPi, etc. in Sanskrit, Malayalam, and Hindi alternatively. 

I was in the congregation of about 1800 people (80 percent American, and 
20 percent Indian or of Indian origin). This phenomenon of mixing languages is 
fairly common among the congregations of various mystics who visit the U.S. 
from India. 

Pattern 4. In the fourth pattern, Sanskrit and English are used alternatively, 
the ritual is performed in Sanskrit, and it is explained in English for the congrega- 
fion as well as for the participants. For example, in a wedding ritual, the priest re- 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 239 

cites the scriptural injunctions in Sanskrit and then explains these to the partici- 
pants (the bride, the groom, their parents, etc.) and the congregation, which in- 
cludes American as well as Indian people. In this case, the priest generally does 
not translate the actual original Sanskrit text, rather, he provides overall meaning 
/function of the ritual and the Sanskrit text. 

The following example is an illustration of this pattern: 

In the beginning of a wedding ritual, the priest offers worship to the 
fire god, requesting him to carry the prayers of the participants in the 
ritual to the gods in the heaven (since Agni 'fire' is believed to be the 
priest ipurohita) who acts on behalf of the performers of the ritual). 
The priest recites the following verse in Vedic Sanskrit: 

agniinlle purohltain yajnasysya (leva rtvijam hotdram 


(Rgveda 1.1) 

Literal translation: 'Agni we adore, the foremost placed, the deity of our (sacrifi- 
cial) ritual, the priest, the invoker, the highest source of the treasure'. 
The priest generally briefly explains, 'Now we worship the fire god and ask for 
his blessings in the beginning of the ritual'. 

Another typical context where this usage is observed involves a recitation 
of a religious text/scripture followed by a discussion on the theme of that text. 
While the text is recited in its original language (Sanskrit), the discussion is carried 
out in English. 

Pattern 5. In the fifth pattern, the entire religious discourse is in a modem 
Indian language. A typical example of this is the reading of the religious 
texts/scriptures in modern Indian languages (the reading language). Some typical 
examples are the recitation (pdtha) of the 15th century religious text Ramacarit- 
manas (in Awadhi), Jnaneshwarl (in Marathi), etc. Reading of a few chapters from 
the scriptures is a common ritual followed in Hindu families as well as in religious 
congregations. In this context, the members of the group are generally first- or 
second-generation Indians. 

Pattern 6. In the sixth pattern, the entire discourse is in English (with a few 
Sanskrit phrases). In the Vedanta Center in Chicago, which is a monastery of the 
Ramakrishna order, the morning prayer is entirely in English. An example is given 

'Song of the SanyasT' 

Strike off thy fetters! 

Bonds that bind you down, 

of shining gold or darker baser ore; 

Love, hale, good, bad — and the dual 


Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, 

not free; 

240 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

For fetters, though of gold, are not less to bind; 
Then off with them Sanyasl bold! 
say, 'om tat sat! Om!' 

Note that except for the last line (which is in Sanskrit), the entire prayer is in Eng- 
lish. This is not an English translation; rather, the original composition is in Eng- 
lish. The last line in Sanskrit {om tat sat! om!) means, 'that (the divine) is (indeed) 
the truth/eternal reality'. Also, in the Hindu tradition in India it is customary to m 
end a prayer or a religious discourse with this line. ^ 

Another example where English is used for the entire discourse is in the 
reading or recitation of traditional Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavadglta in 
English translation at the temples of thelnternational Society of Krshna Con- 
sciousness in Chicago, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii. While reading of the scrip- 
tures in Sanskrit is also accepted, devotees who are not trained in Sanskrit are 
free to read the scriptures in translation. The above pattern is prevalent among 
American devotees. 

Pattern 7. This pattern involves a mixture of excerpts from the Sanskrit 
and English texts accepted as scriptures of Hinduism or Christianity, respectively. 
This particular pattern is a very recent phenomenon and has not been discussed 
yet in any studies. This pattern is manily emerging withing the context of wed- 
ding rituals, when the bride and the groom belong to two different faiths (e.g., 
Hinduism and Christianity) and want to preserve their own traditions while ac- 
commodating the religious traditions of the other person. As mentioned earlier, I 
have been an active Iparticipant in constructing a wedding ritual of this type 
where the breide was Hindu and the groom was Chrisitan (Catholic). An ordained 
Catholic prieest from a local church and I constructed a ritual, which inlcuded 
wexcerpts from the Vedas and the Bible. An example of the mixture of the two 
scriptures is given below: 

Excerpt from the Sanskrit (Vedic text): 

yatprajndnamuta ceto dhrtisca yajjyotirantaramrtiain prajdsii 

yasmdnna rte kimcana karma kriyate tanme manahsivasanj- 


(Yajurveda 34.3) 

'May my mind abide in the auspricious one, the supreme knower 
and the intelligent one, the eternal light which shines like the very es- j 

sence of all beings, and without whose power no action is ever ac- A 

complished. Let my mind firmly abide in the ausicious one." 

English Biblical text: 

'Love is patient, love is kind, and envies no one. Love is never boast- 
ful nor conceited, nor rude.' (Corinthians 13:1-3) 

A close examination of the above 7 patterns shows that the choice of one 
over the other is determined by various socio-religious factors such as faith in the 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 241 

religious authenticity of the pattern and/or its pragmatic function(s) within the 
ritual (e.g., consolidation of linguistically, and regionally/geographically diverse 
Hindu groups, integration of the Hindu and non-Hindu/American participants, or 
of the first- and second-generation Hindus). Functional distribution of the lan- 
guages may be presented as follows: 

(a) Sanskrit; traditionally accepted as the most sacred language of 
the Hindu scriptures (the Vedas, and the Upanisads) and believed to 
be the divine language {devavdnl). Therefore, Sanskrit provides 
authenticity to the ritual. In the diasporic context, it functions to in- 
tegrate a Hindu community which has diverse linguistic and geo- 
graphic roots (see Pattern 1). 

(b) Regional (modern Indian) languages can also function as lan- 
guages of Hinduism. However, they express regional Hindu identity 
(as opposed to the 'pan-Hindu' identity of the ritual). Thus, their ex- 
clusive use in rituals generally functions to express or reinforce the 
regional character of the ritual, and they are used when the congre- 
gation consists of the Hindus from a particular region such as Ben- 
gal, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, etc. (See Pattern 5). In another context, 
in addition to Sanskrit, a modern Indian language may be used to 
explain a ritual to the audience in their regional language (Pattern 2) 

(c) When modern Indian languages are alternatively used with San- 
skrit (Pattern 3) by the mystic/saint, they provide integration of re- 
gional and transregional/pan-Hindu identity of the religious system. 

(d) English does not have the status of a religious language in tradi- 
tional Indian Hinduism. However, in the diaspora, it has acquired a 
twofold function: it can act as the language of communication be- 
tween the priest and the English-speaking audience. (Pattern 4, the 
ritual is performed in Sanskrit and it is explained in English.) Addi- 
tionally, it is viewed as the language of religion for Hindus of certain 
religious orders whose primary language is English (Pattern 6). 

(e) The mixture of Sanskrit and English scriptures (Pattern 7) func- 
tions as a process of globalization and integration of both the guest 
(Hindu) and the host (American) cultures. 

The above patterns of language-use in the Hindu rituals in the U.S. raise two ma- 
jor questions: Do these patterns differ from the paiicrns of language used in the 
Hindu rituals in India? What is the authority which authenticates these patterns in 
the US.? The answer to the first question is that the use of many different lan- 
guages in religious rituals is part of the Hindu tradition. Although Sanskrit is 
viewed as the most ancient language of the Vedas, the oldest Hindu scriptures, 
modern Indian languages (both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian) are also accepted as 
legitimate languages of Hinduism. Scriptures have been composed in all of the 
modern Indian languages that are widely understood (as compared to Sanskrit, 


242 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

whose intelligibility is very low among common people). Addilionally, as men- 
tioned above, the scriptures in modern Indian languages reflect regional cultural 
beliefs and religious themes. Therefore, while Sanskrit is used in major pan-Hindu 
rituals (for example, weddings, funerals, etc.), the modern Indian languages are 
used in the region-specific rituals (e.g., the worship of the goddess Ekavira in 
Maharashtra, or of Kali in Bengal, etc.). Also, the distribution of the languages 
across rituals is dictated by the ritual themes (regional vs. pan-Indian). (For further 
discussion on the thematic diglossia, see Pandharipande 1992). 

It is important to note that although the use of different languages in relig- 
ious discourse is not uncommon in India, when more than one language is used, it 
is generally used alternatively. Languages are not mixed in the same ritual text. 
Code-mixing is rare. Moreover, the use of English is prohibited in religious dis- 
course in India, since it is viewed as the language of the inleccluis, the 'spiritually 
polluted'. Traditionally, it is viewed as the language of the British, the political 
rulers, who were excluded from the religious domain of Hindu life. English wields 
power in the secular realm, but it is powerless in the religious realm (for further 
discussion on the relative power of Indian languages in the religious domain, see 
Pandharipande 1986). 

Another major difference between the patterns of language-use in India and 
the U.S. is that explanation is not a part of Hindu rituals in India. When I asked 
one of the priests in India last year (1998) why he did not explain the ritual since 
a majority of the people in the audience in the Ganesa temple {siddhivindyaka) in 
Mumbai did not understand Sanskrit, his answer was that the 'ritual action' 
{karma) and language {mantra) have an efficacy of their own; they are timeless 
and unchanging, and therefore sacred and powerful. Explanation belongs to the 
secular realm; it changes with time, while mantra does not. According to liim, the 
people in the congregation knew what the ritual was about, and therefore, there 
was no need for any explanation. When I asked him whether he would consider 
the inclusion of explanation to be legitimate (although he himself did not do it), 
he condemned the priests who included explanation in the ritual, since according 
to him, such action negates the boundary between the secular and the sacred. For 
him the authority and authenticity of the religious rituals comes from the timeless- 
ness of the scriptures and the scriptural language. 

In contrast, the priest in the U.S. did not agree with this. His argument for 
mixing Sanskrit with English for explanation was that 'the ritual is being per- 
formed in a different space {desa), time {Kdla) and situation {sthiti). Just as our . 
god appears in different incarnations, (fish, tortoise, Rama, Krishna, etc.) so does | 
our language (changes its forms) to suit the context. There is nothing wrong with 

What is important about the two opinions is that they both authenticate 
their views by rooting them in the Hindu tradition. This explains why what is 
authenfic is determined by what is viewed as the authority. This may explain the 
inclusion of explanation in the diasporic discourse. However, the question still j 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 243 

remains as to why it is acceptable to the community. What is the authority in re- 
ligious speech-communities which licenses the patterns discussed above? 

All discourse patterns are conventionalized by some authority. However, 
when they have been fully conventionalized and have acquired the status of 
'grammaticalness', the authority is never questioned or examined (i.e., we never 
ask why 'Be quiet' is a command and 'Can you pass the salt' is a request. How- 
ever, when new discourse patterns are introduced, their conventionalization takes 
place through authority. Therefore, in order to understand the change (syn- 
chronic or diachronic) and the conventionalization of new patterns, it is neces- 
sary to examine the authority which licenses these changes. For example, Eng- 
lish-Hindi mixed code is licensed in India by the 'social elite' (For further discus- 
sion, see Kachru 1983). Knowledge of the authority will be important for pre- 
dicting the occurrence/nonoccurrence of certain patterns of language use. 

Close observation shows that there are two major sources of authority 
which authenticate these discourse patterns in India and in the U.S. One is the 
scriptural (and relatively fixed) and the other is that of the mystics and saints, 
which is dynamic and interactional since they vary in time and space. Let us ex- 
amine the patterns of language from these two perspectives. 

First, let us examine the scriptures. Across religious traditions, the language 
of religious scriptures is ipso facto accepted as the authentic language of religious 
discourse. Thus, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Sanskrit are authenticated by the 
authority of the scriptures (recall Pattern 1). Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas 
(the ancient Hindu scriptures). However, in Hinduism, scriptures have also been 
composed in medieval, as well as modern Indian languages (e.g., Awadhi, Tamil, 
Telegu, Marathi). Therefore, Pattern 5 is also authenticated. It should be noted 
here that in this context Sanski'it is mixed with these medieval/modern Indian lan- 
guages, but the point is that they are not Sanskrit. 

The second and perhaps the most powerful authority is that of the mystics, 
saints, or visionaries (rsi) in whom the community has faith or whom the commu- 
nity views as the 'enlightened ones'. Hinduism was not founded by any one sin- 
gle person, but was perpetually authenticated by various mystics and saints at 
various times during its history. In fact, the scriptures, including the Vedas, receive 
their authenticity because of the people's faith that these were revelations of the 
truths narrated by the rsis, or saints, who had experienced them. It is traditionally 
believed in India that the mystics indeed are Avatars, or divine incarnations, who 
contextualize the truths for the people at a given point in time and space, and, 
therefore, it is further believed that the language of the mystics is divine and is the 
most appropriate for that particular group at that time and place. Thus it is the in- 
teraction of people's faith in the mystic and the mystic's use of the language (or a 
combination of languages) that grants authenticity to a language in a religious 

The belief that the mystic uses a particular language in order to make the 
timeless divine truths relevant in a particular context is particularly significant in 

244 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

that it explains Patterns 3 and 6. Let us look at Pattern 6 first. Prabhupada, the 
founder of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (1964), a major 
Hindu movement which allowed conversion of non-Hindu to Hinduism, used 
English as the language of Hinduism for Americans. A monk at the Hare Krishna 
temple in Hawaii said to me, 'Our guru Prabhupada said to us "you must pray in 
the language which is close to your heart, if it is not English, so be it!'" Similarly, 
several mystics and saints from India who periodically visit America authenticate 
the use of English as the language of their religious discourse when they inte- 
grate the linguistically-diverse Hindu community with Americans. As mentioned 
above, I attended one such congregation recently in July (1998) in Chicago 
where Amritanandamayi (a woman saint of contemporary India) sang devotional 
songs from different Indian languages, using Malayalam for her own speech and 
having her devotee provide a simultaneous English translation (Pattern 3). Since 
the saint in whom the community has faith allows the use of different languages, 
their occurrence in discourse is immediately authenticated. 

It may seem on the surface that the language known to the people becomes 
the language of the discourse. However, this is not necessarily the case. It is the 
faith of the devotees in the authority that authenticates the use of a language. 
The following examples illustrate this. A large number of young second-gener- 
ation young Hindus insist on the use of Sanskrit (which they do not understand 
at all), as opposed to English, for Hindu rituals because they perceive Sanskrit as 
the language of their tradition and not English, which they equate with American 
non-Hindu culture. In contrast to this, the monks in the Vedanta Center know 
Sanskrit and yet use English for their morning prayer because their guru Viveka- 
nanda (who established the monasteries of the Ramakrishna order) used it. 

Finally, (the most debated) Pattern 7 where Christian and Hindu scriptures 
are mixed, is gradually being accepted in the Hindu community. Should we say 
that the vision of authority is changing? Note that the example given for this pat- 
tern contains the most authentic Hindu scripture (the Vedas) and also integrates 
the most authentic religious scriptures of the Bible, making the ritual acceptable 
to both Hindus and Christians. I think this ritual reveals the most salient feature of 
the postmodern globalization or a new definition of fusion of the guest or dias- 
poric culture with the host culture where each culture assimilates with the 'other' 
without giving up the difference. 

In the discussion so far we have seen that the pattern of discourse is authen- 
ticated by authority which is determined by the faith of the community. There- 
fore, although the use of English in religious discourse or mixing Sanskrit with 
English (mixing the Biblical text with the Vedic text) might seem to be an aberra- 
tion in the contemporary Hindu tradition in India, it in fact conforms to the age- 
old Hindu tradition of contextualizing religious discourse in the language of the 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 245 

Constructing the meaning of the message in religious discourse 

Now I move to the second part of this discussion, which is the construction of the 
meaning of rehgious discourse in the U. S., or in other words, the interpretation of 
Hindu religious beHefs as well as of Hindu religious practices. Similar to the pat- 
terns of language-use, the interpretation of the Hindu religious beliefs and prac- 
tices undergoes change in the diasporic context. It is important to examine the 
difference between the meaning/interpretation of the religious beliefs in the U.S. 
and their counterparts in contemporary India, and, furthermore, to understand the 
rationale for the change or the difference. I propose in the following discussion 
that new interpretation of beliefs is the method or a device used by authority 
(mystics, saints, as well as scholars) to authenticate religious beliefs in the context 
of the U. S., especially for the young, second-generation Hindus and non-Hindu 
Americans. It should be noted that although not all mystics, priests, and scholars 
subscribe to this view, it is on the rise. This process of new interpretation is impor- 
tant for understanding how the 'other' is integrated into the structure of both 
guest and host cultures. This change can be seen as part of the overall process of 
contextualization of the religious system (Hinduism) in the new context where 
both the guest and host cultures converge. 

Although the process of reinterpretation of Hindu beliefs is widespread, in 
this discussion, I will concentrate on only one aspect of it, i.e., the interpretation 
of the images and statues of Hindu deities, along with some of the worship prac- 
tices. It is a well-known fact that Hindus worship images and statues of their dei- 
ties. In the U. S., the statues of millions of Hindu deities, their vehicles (mouse, ea- 
gle, serpent), and ritual practices such as breaking a coconut before offering it to 
the deity in a worship ritual, are interpreted symbolically. For example, Narayanan 
(1987:166), while describing the interpretation of the Hindu beliefs in the US., re- 
fers to a temple publication named 'Saptagiri Vani' which illustrates the interpre- 
tation of the religious rituals and beliefs, 'When one burns camphor, the priest 
burns all your past notions, beliefs, conclusions etc. — the act of burning the 
camphor stands for Guru Upadesha; breaking the coconut symbolizes breaking 
of the ego or ahamkara and so on'. She further points out that the symbolic in- 
terpretation of the beliefs extends to the vehicles of gods such as the eagle {ga- 
ruda) which according to the symbolic interpretation, 'stands for soaring ambi- 
tion and desires, the elephant i^aja) a symbol of ego, the serpent (sesa) a symbol 
of anger. Their treatment as vehicles of gods is equated with 'disciplining one's 
undesirable qualities and is symbolized in a subtle manner by taming and con- 
quering an animal' (Narayanan 1987:167). "Similarly, in a sermon, a Hindu 
woman-priest in Chinmayananda Mission (1992:165) says, 'The ritual of wor- 
shipping God represented by an idol or symbol is replete with significance. The 
elaborate rituals of Tiru Aradhana are prescribed for propitiating the lord sym- 
bolized in an idol. Narayanan (1987:166) provides a rationale for why such inter- 
pretation is presented in the U.S. by quoting from Saptagiri Vani, 'If one has to 
appreciate the real essence of Hinduism, one must learn to appreciate the science 
of symbolism. In absence of such an understanding, Hinduism will appear funny. 

246 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

unintelligent, and absurd. In the process of knowing this science of symbolism, 
one discovers the deeper meaning of the real Hindu tradition which apparently 
appears to be superficial'. According to Narayanan, this interpretation is moti- 
vated by the need felt by the Hindus in the U.S. to explain their religious beliefs 
on the basis of the logic of symbolism which will be acceptable to the people in 
the U.S. Narayanan claims that such interpretation deviates from the contempo- 
rary Srivaisnava tradition in South India where the deities, their vehicles, and 
practices are viewed exactly as they are (deities and practices). Narayanan 
(1987:166) claims, 'These sentiments are at variance with traditional Srivai.snava 
acaryas who held that the deity in the temples totally, completely God; the area 
(literally, 'that which is worshipped') has a nonmaterial form composed of 
nonearthly substance called suddha sattva, and the incarnation in the temple is as 
real as the incarnation of Rama or Krsna'. According to Narayanan, this symbolic 
interpretation is a way in which the Hindus attempt to authenticate their tradition 
in the alien context of the U. S. She continues, 'It is my impression that many 
Hindus in this country accept the symbolic meaning as their heritage and their 
generic neo-Vedantic package seems to be entirely acceptable to them. They are 
almost relieved that their rituals have a symbolic meaning'. 

The above discussion shows that the interpretation of the Srivaisnava tradi- 
tion in India has changed in the U.S. The questions which we need to address is 
what is deviant in this context? Is the symbolic meaning/interpretation of the or- 
thodox Srivaisnava tradition deviant or is the process of adapting the interpreta- 
tion of the beliefs to the new context deviant? Although the answers are com- 
plex, it is extremely important for understanding the maintenance and shift of the 
tradition in the construction of the meaning of religion in diasporic discourse. It is 
clear that the symbolic interpretation of the Srivaisnava beliefs about the statues 
of the deities deviates from the orthodox sectarian Srivaisnava tradition. How- 
ever, the adaptation of rituals to new social contexts and their reinterpretation 
suitable to the context are very much part of the Hindu tradition. K. K. A. Venka- 
tachari (1987:178) correctly points out that 'Such adaptation preserves the vital- 
ity of ritual in new social settings and functions to preserve the tradition at the 
time it is being transformed'. Venkatachari quotes an interesting example from the 
same SrivaLsnava tradition which reinterpreted a Vedic belief and changed the rit- 
ual accordingly. He points out that, according to Vedic tradition, a corpse is pol- 
luted and polluting. Therefore, during the ritual of cremation, the sons wear the 
sacred thread (yajnopvita) on the right shoulder, which is opposite to the normal 
practice of wearing it on the left shoulder. However, the Srivaisnava tradition 
does not treat the body as polluted or polluting after death because it has pro- 
vided a vehicle for the soul to attain the supreme abode (paramapada). There- 
fore, the Srivaisnava tradition allows sons to wear the thread on the left shoulder 
during the cremation. The hymns of the Alvars (non- Vedic Dravidian saints) are 
chanted during this ritual. This mixture of Vedic and non- Vedic practices in the 
ritual is accepted by the Brahmins and they are part of the Tamil doctrines. 

R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 247 

I agree with Vekatachari that adaptation of rituals to new social contexts is 
not new to Hinduism. Starting from the Brahmana literature (6th century B.C.E.) 
to the 10th century commentary {Mitdksara, Hindu rituals have been adapted to 
the needs (socio-religious and political) of the people. In 12th century, Maharash- 
tra, Jnaneswar, a mystic saint, revolutionized the Hindu tradition by authenticat- 
ing Marathi, the local regional language, as the legitimate language of Hinduism 
on a par with Sanskrit; the local deity Vitthal as a legitimate Hindu deity equal to 
the traditional Hindu deities such as Visnu and Siva; and pilgrimage to the abode 
of Vitthal (Pandharpur) as a legitimate ritual similar to the traditional Vedic rituals 
involving elaborate fire sacrifices. On the one hand, Jnaneswar legitimized the re- 
gional language, deity, and rituals, and contextualized Hinduism suited to the time 
and needs of the people for whom the traditional language of religion (Sanskrit), 
and rituals had become inaccessible. Additionally, the BhagawadgTta in the 3rd 
century C.E. adapted Hinduism to the need of the time to integrate diverse castes, 
paths to the goal, and ontologically different forms of existence by reinterpreting 
Hindu belief in the oneness and divinity of all (for further discussion, see Pand- 
haripande 1998). In the 20th century, Gandhi reinterpreted some of the basic 
Hindu concepts such as topas 'performance of severe mental and physical exer- 
cises', and ahimsa 'nonviolence' to adapt Hinduism to the politically and socially 
relevant (for further discussion on Gandhi's interpretation of Hinduism, see Bon- 
durant 1958). What these reinterpretations have in common is their deviation 
from contemporary orthodox interpretations of the Hindu beliefs; they extended 
the domain of Hindu beliefs by making them relevant in the context, and they 
were based on some fundamental principles/beliefs in Hinduism. 

In the diasporic context, (similar to the native context) the tradition 
changes; however, the difference is, the change is more abrupt in time and space 
in a diasporic context, and therefore it is more noticeable. The interesting question 
is not whether or not the tradition changes, but what is the function of the 
change in the new context or what needs does it meet — and how is this change 
authenticated and how is it rooted in the system of Hinduism? Let us look at the 
symbolic interpretation in the context of these questions. 

One of the major reasons for Hindus in the U.S. to construct and maintain 
religious identity is to transfer it to the next generation and help them construct 
their own Hindu identity. Second-generation Hindu youth has lost contact with 
the traditional Indian sociocultural context where the authority of the transmitted 
religious world or ritual actions is questioned neither by the Hindus nor non- 
Hindus. However, in the context of the U.S., where the second-generation is 
growing up, the meaning of the Hindu tradition needs to be first understood and 
then explained to non-Hindu. 

The symbolic interpretation is convincing for the young second-generation 
Hindus because it explains the diversity of deities (i.e., the one divine can be ex- 
perienced through diverse symbols) within and outside of Hinduism and thereby 
places all religions (Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, etc.) at the same level. 

248 Diaspora, Identity, and Linguistic Communities 

Moreover, the symbolic interpretation fits into the modem method of logic or ra- 
tional explanation for religious meaning (i.e., why break a coconut? Because it is 
metaphorically or symbolically a breaking of the ego). Thus, in this case, it is the 
method of symbolic reinterpretation which is used by the authority, (i.e., the 
saints, mystics, and scholars) to authenticate the religious meaning. We may ask, 
'Is it secularization of the religious meaning?' This is a difficult question to an- 
swer in the context of Hinduism, because as discussed earlier, the Hindu beliefs 
have been periodically re-interpreted in varied social contexts and authenticated 
within the history of the Hindu tradition. The most fascinating fact to note in this 
context is that Hinduism was not always a religion of images or statues of deities. 
Rather, until about the 5th century B.C.E, it was a religion of abstract divinity. 
(For further discussion on the philosophy of the Upanisads, see Hiriyanna 1973.) 
The concept of the abstract divine was concredzed in the form of actual stone 
and clay images to make religious concepts intelligible and the divinity accessible 
to common people for whom it was difficult to conceptualize the nameless and 
shapeless divinity. However, it was not assumed that the divine was limited to 
any one image; rather, there was always an effort to legitimize many forms of the 
divine. The doctrines of treating different deities as (a) incarnations (Avatdra) (b) 
various powers (sakti), and (c) functions of the same divine, provide evidence for 
the continued effort within Hinduism to explain the diversity of deities without 
giving up their essential unity. Therefore, the symbolic interpretation can be seen 
as a strategy for accommodation of the 'other' within and outside of Hinduism. 


The above discussion focused on the following dimensions of the religious dis- 
course of the Hindu diaspora in the US.: (a) the rationale for choosing religious 
rituals as the marker of the diasporic Hindu identity; (b) the patterns of language 
used in rituals and their functions; (c) the authority that authenticates those pat- 
terns, (d) the construction of the meaning of religious beliefs in rituals and the 
question of its legitimacy and authenticity. It was pointed out that the patterns of 
language-use and the meaning of the religious beliefs undergo change in the di- 
asporic context, and that change is motivated by the need to adapt the Hindu 
system to the new/host American context without giving up the essential conti- 
nuity of the system. 

The discussion shows that religious discourse in the Hindu diaspora in the 
U.S. is neither homogeneous nor is it unidirectional. The patterns of languages 
used in the Hindu rituals are diverse, and the choice of one as opposed to others | 
is determined both by the function of languages in the Indian/Hindu tradition as 
well as by their role in the new host/ American culture. The process of transforma- 
tion can be seen as the process of globalization (i.e., it incorporates features of the 
host culture (the use of English in the Hindu rituals)) as well as localization (it re- 
constructs the non-American Hindu identity). It is also observed that 'Hindu 
identity' itself is not a monolithic concept. It depends on the perception of what 
constitutes Hindu identity by the individuals and groups. The diverse patterns of 


R. V. Pandharipande: American Hinduism 249 

language used in rituals renect this diversity of perceptions of Hindu identity 
(pan-Indian vs. regional). Additionally, the construction of the discourse is also 
influenced by the immigrants' aspirations for themselves in the new context, (i.e., 
their ideational self). In other words, the patterns of language-use as well as the 
reinterpretation of religious beliefs show beyond doubt that the religious dis- 
course in diaspora is constructed between the perception of the inherited Hindu 
identity and its desirable projection in the host culture. Unlike Safran's definition 
of diaspora, a majority of Hindu immigrants in the U.S. neither aspire to return to 
India, nor do they want to assimilate completely with the host American culture. 
They want to construct a Hindu-American identity rooted in both Hindu and 
American cultures, but not identical to either. This goal necessitates accommoda- 
tion of selective features of both cultures, e.g., mixing of English with Indian lan- 
guages, symbolic interpretation of Hindu deities, etc. Safran's definition of dias- 
pora does not take into account the convergence of the guest and the host cul- 
ture in the new diasporic identity. In general, the process of constructing dias- 
poric identity involves translation of original identity in a new social setting. The 
translator has to blend two cultural codes, which gives rise to a mixed cultural 
code of diasporic identity. 


' This devotional song is recorded on an audio cassette which was released in 
1 986 from the Sri Venkateswara temple in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania. 


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Marc Deneire 

This chapter presents Jack Kerouac, the hero of the beat genera- 
tion, as a minor, diasporic writer. The first part of the paper describes 
the author's failed attempt to compensate for the lost French- 
Canadian community of his youth in Lowell, Massachusetts, through 
a search for a new 'religious" experience. Kerouac hoped to reach 
this transcendent state through his association with minorities, out- 
casts, and 'ethnics', all of whom reminded him of his migrant ances- 
tors. The second part of the paper focuses on Kerouac as a diasporic 
author, on the way he undermined traditional English prose to both 
espouse and distort his various experiences, and on his works in 
which his search for identity completely dissolved, leading to his 
early death. 

Like Kafka's beast, language now listens to this unavoidable and 
growing noise from the bottom of its burrow. And to defend itself 
against this noise, it has no choice but to follow its movements, be- 
come its loyal enemy, and allow nothing to stand between them but 
the contradictory thinness of a transparent and unbreakable partition. 
We need to speak continually, as long and as loudly as this indefinite 
and deafening nose — longer and louder — so that by combining our 
voice with it, we might succeed, if not in silencing and mastering it, at 
least in modulating its uselessness into this endless murmur we call lit- 
erature (Michel Foucault 1994: 255). 


Most chapters in the present volume relate to the challenges and difficulties en- 
countered by 'foreign' individuals and communities in new environments. At the 
center of these experiences arc the questions of identity and difference, and of 
ways in which new identities are shaped. Indeed, most of the lime, migrants and 
their children accommodate to their new countries by adopting some of the val- 
ues and behaviors (including language) of the receiving cultures and, at the same 
time, still adhering to some of their ancestors' traditions and habits. 

Diaspora. Identity, and Language Communities 
(Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

254 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

This chapter deals with a special case: that of an author who tried to use 
language and literature to 'follow the movements' of his new culture, but who 
ultimately failed in both his attempts to accommodate to American culture and to 
maintain a French-Canadian identity. This trial was doomed from the start. Indeed, 
language itself always maintained, in Foucault's words a 'transparent and un- 
breakable partition' that made it impossible for the author to have a grasp on re- 
ality. At the same time, language led him on a road from which there was no way m 
back to his French-Canadian roots. ^ 

The first part of this chapter focuses on Kerouac's quest through his life and 
works. The second part tries to answer the question whether Kerouac should be 
called a French-American author (an ethnic author), or rather, a diasporic (or mi- 
nor) writer. 

Jack Kerouac: From Lowell to 'America' 

Who was Jack Kerouac? What was his 'quest'? How did he weave his French- 
Canadian heritage with the variety of American cultures and subcultures? What 
made this 'minor' writer a major American writer? These are the questions we will 
try to answer in this chapter. 

Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the third child of his 
French-Canadian parents, Leo and Gabrielle Kerouac (known as Meniere in his 
novels). He spent his early years with his brother Gerard, who died slowly of 
rheumatic fever at the age of nine. Gerard was considered as a saint in the com- 
munity, and Kerouac's life has sometimes been seen as a long, not least by himself, 
quest for his lost brother. Kerouac wrote: 'The whole reason why I wrote at all 
and drew breath to bite in vain with pen and ink, . . . because of Gerard, the ideal- 
ism, Gerard, the religious hero — 'write in honor of his death ' (Visions of Gerard 

Kerouac spoke only French until the age of six and still had an accent when 
he made up his mind, while still in high school, to become a major American writer. 
However, it was as a football player that he first won any kind of recognition. In 
1939, he entered Horace Mann High school in the Bronx with the promise of a 
football scholarship at Columbia if he could prove himself academically. He had 
to give up his scholarship after being injured, and joined the Navy, from which he 
was discharged as a 'schizoid personality'. He returned to New York, where he 
became a close friend of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and other members of 
the generation that he would later call 'Beat' and with whom 'he kept talking 
about the same things [he] liked, long lines of personal experience and vision, 
nightlong confessions full of hope that had become illicit and repressed by war, 
stirring rumblings of the new soul' (Plummer, New York Times, 30 December 
1979). In the middle of the 1940s, he met Neal Cassady, embodied as the charac- 
ter Dean Moriarty in On the Road, who became his lifelong fellow-traveler, his 

Marc Deneire: A quest for language 255 

'long lost brother', and the 'Holy Goof, a literary model, an alchemist who re- 
deemed life from darkness, just as Kerouac was trying to do in his writing. 

However, Kerouac would never be satisfied with this kind of wandering life 
and his sense of loneliness and search as a 'religious wanderer' or 'Dharma bum', 
as he called himself, would be clearly expressed as he delved into Buddhism in 
the late 1950s. This new experience would not bring him to the end of his search 
for the sainthood of his lost brother. He increasingly withdrew into paranoia and 
alcoholism and died in 1969, after going to France and Quebec in search of his 

Why did Jack Kerouac leave Lowell? 

Kerouac's life and writings mainly emerge from his dissatisfaction with American 
society and from his relentless quest for a condition that would transcend himself 
and America. In his first book, The Town and the City, the decline of the Martin 
family is presented as a result of their naive belief in the American Dream. The ne- 
gation of the myth of success and upward mobility comes to the fore in George's 
(the father) letter to his wife: 

The poor American people! All the world takes us for millionaires 
living in mansions. ... Some poor devil who works his heart out be- 
cause his parents and grandparents had to work so hard and taught 
him the life of work too. And he is such a peaceable man. the Ameri- 
can, the first really peaceable man (cited in Weinreich 1983:76). 

The Martin family represents the ideal good, hard-working American family that 
deserves its share of the pie, but they never get it. George dies poor, his business 
swallowed up by large money concerns. As a reaction against this state of affairs, 
the three Martin brothers struggle to set themselves free from their father, and 
through that struggle, from the life-styles associated with authority and responsi- 

However, all of them experience loss, including the loss of their hopes, as 
they move from the town to the city, even though this 'rite of passage' is seen as 
a necessary rebellion for survival. The paradise lost can only be regained through 
a quest for new meanings and new identities, through a series of acts of transgres- 
sion. Unfortunately, these acts only lead the three brothers to restlessness and of- 
ten to despair. At the end of the novel, the father dies a poor man, and the sons 
still have not found an answer to their questions about their identity and their 
place in American society. 

In Doctor Sax, Kerouac expresses his doubts about the Catholic religion. 
Through Doctor Sax, a figure that represents both the author's anxieties and fears 
and his literary development, Jacky Duluoz (alias Kerouac) rejects Catholicism, 
which, for him, is inextricably linked with death. At the beginning of the book, he 
writes: 'I gave up the church to ease my horrors — too much candlelight, too 
much wax'(1959:66). However, Kerouac's position was always more ambivalent. 

256 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Indeed, not only would he describe himself 'a Catholic mystic' at the end of his 
life, but even in Doctor Sax, he suggests that Jacky's allegiance to Doctor Sax is, 
in fact, rather dangerous, as it may involve the loss of heaven. Unlike his friends, 
who, by hving the lives of workingmen, will be protected from hell on earth, 
Jacky may lay himself open to mutilation of body and soul in his search for a 
world beyond Lowell. For Kerouac, leaving the church in search of a mystic ex- 
perience also meant leaving behind all certainty about life. The feeling of loss was 
immediate. He felt that there was no turning back, he judged that 'he was being 
torn from [his] mother's womb, from home Lowell into the Unknown — a serious 
lostness that has never repaired itself in [his] shattered flesh ....' 111). 

Kerouac's disillusionment with a self-satisfying but oppressive post-war 
America is also a recurrent motif in his 'road novels'. During the first of the four 
trips in On the Road, Sal Paradise (alias Kerouac) arrives in Cheyenne during 
'Wild West Week'. The streets are crowded with 'fat businessmen in boots and 
ten-gallon hats, with their hefty wives in cowboy attire'. Sal is 'amazed, and at 
the same time [he] felt it was ridiculous' in [his] first shot at the west [he] was 
seeing to what absurd devices it had fallen to keep its proud tradition' (33). Sal, 
who was searching West for the 'real' and the 'authentic' American identities, 
only finds, in Baudrillard's terms, simulacra, that is, a world in which reality and 
tradifion have been lost and replaced with another reality that is similar, but 'even 
better', and even 'more authentic'. In the novel, the 'real' is represented by some 
native Americans who 'watch everything with their stony eyes' (35). 

At the end of the novel, as they travel through Mexico, Sal and Dean meet a 
group of shawled Indians: 

All had their hands outstretched. They had come down from the back 
mountains and higher places to hold forth their hands for something they 
thought civilization would offer, and they never dreamed the sadness and 
the poor disillusion of it. They didn't know that a bomb had come that 
could crack all our bridges and roads, and reduce them to jumbles, and we 
would be as poor as they someday, and stretching out our hands in the 
same, same way (299). 

The sense of dissatisfaction can also be found in Kerouac's earlier and later nov- 
els. In Doctor Sax, when the Merrimac river threatens to flood the town, the boys 
wish that it would rip through the dull, adult dominated life of Lowell. When it 
does, they are shocked, but Kerouac regrets that 'there was something that can't 
possibly come back again in America and history, the gloom of the unaccom- 
plished mudheap civilization when it gets caught with its pants down from a 
source it has long lost contact with' (180). America is about to lose contact with 
man and nature, and the 'mudheap civilization' is about to repress the natural 
forces of life and nature. In The Dharma Bums, Ray Smith (Kerouac), who is told 
that it is against the law to sleep on the river bed, reacts: 'The only alternative to 
sleeping out, hopping freights and doing what I wanted, I saw in a vision would 
be to just sit with a hundred other patients in front of a nice television set in a 

Marc Deneire: A quest for language 257 

madhouse where we could be "supervised"" (96). Again, we find some of the 
themes that would become dominant ten years later. 

Kerouac's literary pursuits 

Kerouac's main quest should be seen as above all a literary pursuit. Indeed, his 
trips through America are motivated more by his urge to write and his need to 
find materials than by a personal quest for identity. It is to a large extent the 
American author Thomas Wolfe who sent him 'on the road'. In Vanity of Duluoz, 
Kerouac remembers that: "He just woke me up to America as a Poem instead of 
America as a place to struggle around and sweat in. Mainly this dark-eyed Ameri- 
can poet made me want to prowl, and roam, and see the real America that was 
there and that had never been uttered' (1968:75). Kerouac suddenly realized that 
all his dreams as a football player had been futile, and that 'we were all crazy and 
had nothing to work for except the next meal and the next good sleep'. Pushed 
into the 'American night, the Thomas Wolfe darkness', he sees that 'little winding 
dirt road going west to my lost dreams of being an American man'. However, 
Thomas Wolfe also reminds him, through the title of one of his most famous nov- 
els, that 'You Can't Go Home Again'. Unfortunately, as we will see, Kerouac 
would be less successful in following this part of his master's precepts. 

Kerouac's road goes west, but it is also a road that leads him into the uncer- 
tainty of future. At the beginning of On the Road, Sal Paradise makes it clear that 
his trip is pure exploration. When a car picks his companion and himself up, the 
driver asks them: 'You boys going to get somewhere, or just going?' Sal answers: 
'We didn't understand the question, and it was a damned good question' (1957: 
22). What seems to be most important in the road novels is for Kerouac to turn his 
back on the past. In On the Road, Alain Fournier's novel Le Grand Meaulnes is 
used to illustrate the choice he makes between the past and the future, between 
east and west. As Sal travels through Arizona, he gives up reading Fournier's 
novel and prefers "reading the American landscape'. This sense of anomie, of not 
belonging to any specific place or group, also appears in other parts of the novel. 
After a few days of his first trip, Sal 

woke up as the sun was reddening, and that was the distinct time in 
my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was . . . 
I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a 
haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the 
dividing line between the East of my Youth and the West of my fu- 
ture, and maybe that's why it happened there and then ... (1957:17). 

However, the distinction between past and future, between East and West is 
not always clear-cut. A little later, Sam meets the Ghost of Susquehanna who 
claims that he is headed for 'Canady'. He looks for a bridge which he never finds, 
and is going west while he thinks that he is going east. The same confusion reap- 
pears in Kerouac's later novel Pic, where he asks: 


258 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Slim, who was that man?' I asked him, and he said 'Shoo, that was 
some kinda ghost of the river, he's been looking for Canada in Vir- 
ginia, West Pennsylvania, North New York, New York City, East Ar- 
thuritis and South Pottzawattony for the last eighty years as far as I 
can figure, and on foot too. He'll never find the Canady and he'll 
never get to Canady because he's going the wrong way all the time 
(cited in Waddell 1990:13). 

These situations reflect the whole difficulty and ambiguity of Kerouac's search. 
The America 'that is there and has never been uttered" is that of lost identities, or 
at the very least, of identities that have been marginalized by the mainstream of 
American society. Throughout On the Road, Kerouac celebrates America's racial 
diversity. Mill City, where Sal Paradise's friend Remi Boncoeur lives, is described 
as 'the only community in America where Whites and Negroes live together vol- 
untarily', and in California, Sal, the Franco- American, and Terry, his Mexican- 
American girlfriend, eat in a Chinese restaurant and spend a pleasant evening 
with an African- American family - a racial 'mixture' that was much less common 
in the fifties than today. Sal wishes he were anything but a white American: 

At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights 
of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a 
Negro ... I stopped at a little shack where a man sold hot red chili in 
paper containers; I bought some and ate it, strolling in the dark myste- 
rious streets. I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor 
overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a 'white man' 
disillusioned. All my life I'd had white ambitions ... (1957:180). 

He envies the Negro family that 'knows nothing of disappointment and 'white 

However, while finding inspiration for his writing in these margins of soci- 
ety, Kerouac never goes very far in experiencing Black or Mexican 'sorrows'. In 
spite of his sincere and profound sympathy for the outcasts of society, his de- 
scriptions of racial difference often dissolve into stereotype or cultural fantasy. He 
does not have, nor does he take enough time for such experiences, since, as he 
later writes in On the Road: 'I was rushing through the world without a chance 
to see it' (1957:205). His failure to live the lives of other minorities is highlighted 
by his returns to his mother at the end of his trips. Not only does Kerouac fail to 
understand other identities, but he also fails to extricate himself from the grip of 
his own French-Canadian roots. Indeed, much has been written about Kerouac's I 
pathological relation to his mother. The same could be said concerning the way 
he essentialized the French and French-Canadian communities. Indeed, these 
were changing rapidly, but Kerouac always represented them as the 'paradise 
lost' of his childhood. Thus, he somehow succeeded in exploring the many mar- 
gins of America, but forgot that such an enterprise also means that 'you can't go 
home again'. 

Marc Deneire: A quest for language 259 

It must be noted, however, that Kerouac's quest is not foremost a search for 
his own identity. It is also a quest for a form of transcendence, for a new sort of 
religious experience that would enable him to go beyond identity. The inherent 
contradiction and tension between these two quests and his inability to solve 
them ultimately explains why he failed in both. 

Thus, On the Road can also be read as Kerouac's search for his lost brother. 
To the sainthood of Gerard corresponds the symbolism of Dean Moriarty as a 
passionate American youth, the hero of the beat generation. In a church in his 
hometown, Kerouac had a vision that told him that the real meaning of 'beat' was 
'beatific'. In the novel, Dean is 'beat' as a member of the beat generation who 
could not care less about the rules and conventions of mainstream middle-class 
America, and also 'beatific' in the sense that he converts his rejection of conven- 
tions into a mystic experience. 

Dean is a kind of Nietzchean hero, beyond good and evil. He represents 
pure transgression (as does Kerouac's writing) and the antithesis of the good fa- 
ther, the faithful husband, and the hard-working middle-class American, all of 
whom he abhors and despises. At the beginning of the novel, Kerouac presented 
him as 'a youth tremendously excited with life', and though he was a con-man, 
he was only conning because 'he wanted so much to live and to get involved 
with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him' (1957:10). Kerouac 
compares Dean with his New York intellectual friends and finds Dean's intelli- 
gence 'every bit as formal and shining and complete without the tedious intellec- 
tualness". Dean is the symbol of what Kerouac is looking for: 'A western kinsman 
of the sun, Dean. Although my aunt warned me that he would get me in trouble, I 
could hear a new call and see a new horizon' (10). The clash between Dean's 
exuberance and traditional American values is best depicted in what has been 
called his 'trial'. In the scene, the wife of one of his disciples accuses him of being 
guilty of irresponsibility, of using people, and other buffoonery. However, Ker- 
ouac makes it clear that it is his moralistic assailants, not Dean, who are guilty. In 
fact. Dean is 'purely uplifting', 'never complains' and has given all of his ungrate- 
ful aggressors 'a damned good time'. This scene gives Kerouac an opportunity to 
criticize societal institutions, as well as all the influences that try to curtail individ- 
ual attempts to invigorate this dormant society. Indeed, unlike George Martin 
who 'did everything right' in The Town and the City, but died poor. Dean Mori- 
arty violates all rules; he is beyond conventions, and, therefore is a real American 

This transcendent character, this higher state of being which irrepressibly 
attracts Kerouac is referred to in his novels as 'IT'. In On the Road, it is in move- 
ment and in exuberant characters that he tries to find this state of ecstasy: 

The only ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, 
mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, 
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, 
burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles, exploding like spi- 

260 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

ders across the stars and in the middle you see the centerUght pop 
and everyone goes, Awww! (1958:8). 

Later, Rollo Grab, a minor character that Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty meet at a 
party in New York provides us with a complete embodiment of the state of 'IT'. 
Indeed, Rollo danced in an almost subconscious way, 'he lisped, he writhed, he 
flopped, he moaned, ... he fell back in despair, ... he was so excited with life', and 
Dean tells Sal: 'That's what I want to be, I want to be like him ... If you go like i 
him, you'll finally get it' (1957:127). 

Kerouac's search for 'IT' leads hiin to an exploration of Buddhism in the 
novel The Dharma Bums. According to his friend Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac was 
particularly interested in the Three Marks of Existence: first, existence contains 
suffering; second, experience is transitory, and third, there is no permanent self. At 
this stage, Kerouac seems to have given up his search for a single unified identity, 
but rather sees suffering and impermanence as a way to move beyond both his 
roots and his idea of an American hero. He now seems to have accepted loneli- 
ness as his fate. In Dharma Bums, as he hitch-hikes, the narrator Ray Smith sings a 
song called 'Everybody's got a home but me'. He also speaks of the bleak feel- 
ings of homelessness that oppress him in cheap hotel rooms along the road. How- 
ever, at the end of one of his later novels {Lonesome Traveler), Kerouac reaffinns 
his faith in the ultimate goodness and oneness of existence; he minimizes life's 
significance and sums up man's purpose here as the need to suffer to prepare for 
golden Eternity; a very Catholic conclusion to a Buddhist experience. 

It is in Desolation Angels that Kerouac comes the closest to pure mystic ex- 
perience, to the Void that constitutes the 'IT'. On top of the mountain where he 
works as a guard for the army, he realizes that 'Homozeen is the Void — at least 
Homozeen means the void to my eyes' (cited in Charters 1995:320). For a few 
days at least, he has managed to free himself from all contingencies, 'to be and 
not to be'. He sees the future as one in which he will no longer experience any 
need for identity and territory: 'regain [his] life and go down from this mountain 
and simply be-be-be the infinite fertilities of the mind of infinity, make no com- 
ments, complaints, criticisms, appraisals, ... just flow, flow' (322). At this point, he 
no longer feels the need to travel or to physically move since 'I will be the void, 
moving without being moved' (323). 

Unfortunately, Kerouac's descent from the mountain also turned out to be a 
descent into hell and to his own death as he fell prey to alcohol, drugs, and prosti- 
tutes. His visit to his friends at Big Sur (also the title of one of his novels) becomes 
a metaphor of his own death. The sandy paths that lead to the sea are there to 
engulf him. He is scared by the sight of the carcass of an old car which he sees as 
his own body, and when he accidentally poisons a mouse, he compares himself to 
Cain, the first murderer of humanity. The sainthood of his brother is forever lost. 
Kerouac turns away from his Buddhist inspirations and returns to his Catholic im- 
agery. As he wakes up one morning, he hears the cries of a Salvation Aimy priest: 
'Satan is the cause of your alcoholism, Satan is the cause of your immorality, Sa- 

Marc Deneire: A quest for language 261 

tan is everywhere working to destroy you ..." (Charters 1995:388). As one of his 
friends later wrote: 'Jack clung to his origins. He was given the benefit of a lot of 
rope, but the road was always that rope that would finally hang him'' (Hamelin 

Kerouac: A French-American writer 

In a letter to Franco-American journalist Yvonne Le Maitre, Kerouac writes: 'All 
my knowledge rests in my 'French-Canadianness' and nowhere else. The English 
language is a tool lately found ... so late (1 never spoke English before 1 was six or 
seven), at 21, 1 was still somewhat awkward and illiterate sounding in my speech 
and writings. The reason I handle it so easily is because it is not my own lan- 
guage. I refashion it to fit French images, do you see that?' (Anctil 1990:v). 

Kerouac learned the art of story-telling in the French-Canadian community 
in Lowell, Massachusetts, where his parents came together with other families in 
the traditional veillees where people sang, drank, and told numerous stories. His 
famous novel On the Road can be read as a series of little stories on America. 

However, the French language only appears in his three 'Lowell novels', 
those that relate directly to the time when he was using French in his family and 
his community. Furthermore, Kerouac was very much aware that his readers 
would not understand his joual (French-Canadian) dialect and therefore trans- 
lated all his French phrases into English. 

Thus, French is used only as a private code to talk about the Church, the 
family, his brother Gerard, and the kitchen where he spent most of his time. It 
helps the Franco-American reader penetrate the intimacy of Kerouac' s family 
while keeping others out. It also helps Kerouac give a better picture of how re- 
stricted the use of French had already become, with most public functions being 
performed in English. 

It is upon his literary style, however, that Kerouac's French heritage had the 
most profound influence. In 1951, Kerouac began experimenting with language, 
sketching his words on paper in the manner of an impressionist painter or a jazz 
musician. This method allowed him to write words as they came to his mind^ — in 
standard English, in slang, or in French — and freed him to explore his French 
heritage. It was a way for him to deal with his bilingualism — the riddle of how to 
assimilate his first language to the development of an American prose style. As 
literary critic Maurice Poteet recognized: 

The spontaneity of Doctor Sax (do not stop to think, baroque phras- 
ing and form, word-play, bilingual texts, film-book comparisons) per- 
mits Kerouac to build bridges to and from a number of inner and local 
realities which otherwise might not 'become" American at all. In other 
words, 'spontaneous' writing and effect are one answer at least to an 
ethnic situation that in many ways resembles the 'double bind' of 
psychology: if a writer cannot be himself in his book (a minority 

262 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

background) he is lost; if he becomes an 'ethnic writer' he is off on a 
tangent. Also, 'spontaneous' writing, as a technique, reflects a cul- 
tural set of values which pins hopes upon the individual ('I had a 
dream') who can come up with something original and new (cited in 
Charters 1990:185). 

Thus, it is not his use of French that made Kerouac a 'French-American' 
writer, but rather that fact that, in Henri Miller's words: 'Kerouac did something 
to our immaculate prose from which it may never recover' . According to Deleuze 
& Guattari (1997:105), Kerouac is a minor author who writes in a minor language. 
In these authors' definition, a minor language is not a minority language, but 
rather 'the dialect or rather idiolect, on the basis of which one can make one's 
language minor'. Thus, minor languages are 'not simply sublanguages, idiolects or 
dialects, but potential agents of the major languages entering into a becoming- 
minoritarian in all of its dimensions and elements' (Deleuze & Guattari 1997:106). 
Thus, the authors conclude, 'That is the strength of authors termed "minor", who 
are in fact the greatest, the only greats: having to conquer one's own language, in 
order to place it in a state of continuous variation (the opposite of regionalism^)' 
(Deleuze & Guattari 1997:106). In their book on Kafka, Deleuze & Guattari argue 
that minor literatures are characterized by three main features: (1) deterritorializa- 
tion; (2) a poUtical aspect; and (3) a collective nature. In our discussion of Ker- 
ouac's writing, we should add a fourth one: writing against death. 

(a) Deterritorialized language 

As a user of English as a foreign language, Kerouac first tried to reterritorialize his 
language. He rewrote his first novels many times, trying to adopt the style of the 
major American writer he respected most (Thomas Wolfe). However, when he 
later developed his own style, this style reflected the intensity of his writing,'^ the 
beat of jazz music. He uses the dash, just as Celine, one of the authors he admired 
most, used exclamation. 

When William Burroughs writes about Kerouac that 'he was a writer', what 
he is telling us is that, in spite of the autobiographical nature of his writing, Ker- 
ouac's novels should not be read as the story of his own life. He recognizes that 
there is a gap between speech, language, and writing on the one hand, and mem- 
ory on the other, between 'the saying' and 'the said' (Ducrot), between the act 
of enunciation and what is enunciated. As Deleuze writes in Proust and the 
Signs: 'The work of art not only interprets and not only emits signs; it produces 
them, by determinable procedures' (cited in Mottram 1983:53). Kerouac was 
deeply aware of these procedures as he exposed them in his 'Essentials of Spon- 
taneous Prose'5. He was also aware that, as Deleuze adds for Proust, 'the search is 
oriented to the future, not the past' . However, he also attempted to shape the ma- 
terials he collected during his numerous trips and changing experiences. There- 
fore, the search gives rise to an inevitable tension between past and future, be- 
tween memories and words. As Roland Barthes writes in his Degre zero de 
I'ecriture, 'it is because there is no reconciliation within present society, that Ian- 

Marc Denefre: A quest for language 263 

guage, necessary and necessarily oriented, creates a situation fraught with con- 

At the end of his life, Kerouac became disillusioned with himself, but also 
with his success (or lack thereof) as an author. In his novel Vanity of Duluoz, he 
writes to his wife: 'a writer whose very 'success' far from being a happy tri- 
umph as of old, was the sign of doom himself; and he adds: "Insofar as nobody 
loves my dashes anyway, I'll use regular punctuation for the new illiterate gen- 
eration' (1968:9). It is therefore not surprising, in view of his return to 'his roots', 
that Deleuze & Guattari present Kerouac in ihtxx Anti-Oedipus as: '... the artist 
with the soberest means who took revolutionary 'flight', and who later finds him- 
self immersed in dreams of a Great America, and then in search of his Breton an- 
cestors of a superior race. Is it not the destiny of American literature that of 
crossing limits and borders, causing deterritorialized flows of desire to flow, but 
also always making these flows transport fascisizing, moralizing, puritan, and fa- 
milialist territories' (Deleuze & Guattari 1075:232). Therefore, for Deleuze and 
Guattari, Kerouac represents the contradiction within certain forms of American 
ideology which see American society as 'future-oriented', but whose values al- 
ways refer to territory, nation, religion, and 'order'. 

(b) The political nature of Kerouac's language. 

Kerouac was not interested in politics. Yet his writing is one of the most powerful 
political statements of his generation. It is the search for the communal soul that 
was being dissolved following WWTI, the search for the many 'paradises' and 
roots that were forever lost; it is the rejection of new middle-class America. 
Through Kerouac's books, a whole generation expresses its anxieties, its anger, 
and its desire to live. Kerouac's literature represents all minorities (Mexicans, Afri- 
can-Americans, etc.), those rejected by mainstream society, those who are burned, 
and burn to live 'like fabulous roman candles'. 

(c) Everything has a collective value. 

Kerouac is always a 'we': the 'we' French-Canadians, the 'we' Catholics, the 
'we' Americans, the 'we' beat generation. His identity is not characterized by 
hybridity, but rather by constantly shifting identities. Allen Ginsberg explains 
how Kerouac's discovery of general semantics helped him dissociate 'words from 
ideas and events', avoid the 'is of identity', so that he could empathize with the 
American boy, the football hero, the sophisticated litterateur, or the old drunk, al- 
ternatively. In every situation, the other is himself and he is the other. 

(d) Writing against death 

The death of his brother Gerard, but also that of many other children in Lowell 
developed an early awareness of mortality in Kerouac. The events recalled in his 
Lowell trilogy {Visions of Gerard. Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy) are most often 
related to mortal visions and remembrances. These visions are most vivid in Doc- 
tor Sax. a product of Kerouac's imagination which represents both death itself, 
and a superhero that helps him fight death and his (Mhcr anxieties. Schooled by 

264 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

the dead (many of his Lowell friends died at a very young age) and the memory 
of his brother who died a saint at the age of nine, Jacky (Kerouac) fears death, but 
finds it seductive at the same time. Interestingly, these flights of imagination also 
lead to the awakening of his interest in art and literature. At the end of the novel, 
Doctor Sax takes Jacky to 'the pit' for "judgement day'; 'I leaned on a stone, the 
Pit yawned below, I looked down to face my horror, my tormentor, my mad-face 
demon mirror of myself .... I found myself looking into the dark. I found myself 
looking into IT. I found myself compelled to fall. The snake was coming for me!' 
(238). When the snake disappears, when Jack's fears are released in language. 
Doctor Sax is transformed into a man, his purpose is fulfilled. Kerouac 's quest, his 
courage to face 'IT', the Void allows him to build walls against death through 
language. However, since 'IT' and the void also represent language, he needs to 
keep writing against death. This is only possible because he reappropriates and 
'minoritizes' the English language and turns against it as a majority language. 

Following Foucault's definition of literature used in the epigraph to this 
chapter, Kerouac listened to 'the unavoidable and growing noise' of post World 
War II America. He followed its movements on the road and its discourse, and op- 
posed his own language to it as a loyal but distorting mirror image, hence the dif- 
ferent styles that correspond to his various experiences, and the numerous fights 
he had with his editors who wanted to change his use of punctuation. He suc- 
cessfully managed to make himself understood in English, while maintaining an 
unbridgeable distance with the 'conventional English sentence'. Even though, 
through his death, he eventually fell into the Void he had created for himself, this 
Void (his writing) is still with us as a sign (or signifier) of the English of all the 
American English-speaking minorities he encountered, a Void that needs endless 
shaping and reshaping to give voice to the constantly changing conditions of 
these minorities. 

Kerouac's life and works have often been described as a quest, both by his 
many biographers and by himself. The variety of his experiments with writing in- 
dicates that this quest could not be satisfied. It was Foucault again who pointed 
out that the search for identity and immortality through language was something 
of the past when he wrote that: 'Where a work had the duty of creating immor- 
tality, it now attains the right to kill, to become the murderer of its author' (my 
emphasis). He added that: 'If we wish to know the writer in our day, it will be 
through the singularity of his absence and in his link to death, which has trans- 
formed him into a victim of his own writings" (Foucault 1977:117). Kerouac may 
have failed to understand that, once his writing had led him on the inextricable 
network of American roads, avenues, streets, and dead ends, a single, well-defined 
idendty could no longer be recovered. While he succeeded in becoming a dias- 
poric writer, his quest for his roots went in the opposite direction. These could not 
survive together; the writer survived, but the author died. 

Marc Deneire: A quest for language 265 


' The French writer and philosopher Bataille defines this tension between the T 
and the 'void', between identity and the language into which this identity dis- 
solves, as an opening which is communication: 'at this point, there is no need to 
elaborate; as my rapture escapes me, I immediately reenter the night of a lost child, 
anguished in this desire to prolong his ravishment, with no other end than ex- 
haustion, no way of stopping short of fainting. It is such excruciating bliss' (cited 
in Foucault 1977:43). 

2 In his Visions of the Great Remeinherer, Ginsberg writes: The mind supplies the 
language, if you don't interfere. Thai's something I learned from Jack Kerouac — 
how to let the mind supply the language ... Language is a vehicle for feeling, lan- 
guage itself does not mean anything' (cited in Mottram 52). 

Indeed, if Kerouac's style varies incredibly from novel to novel, if he experi- 
enced with poetry, music, and other forms of art, it is because he was giving ex- 
pression to his experiences to language. Writing for him does not mean shaping 
reality into a linguistic form (that of the novel, the poem, etc.), but rather shaping 
language to make it fit feelings and experience. 

3 As his friends and biographers often noted, Kerouac was very 'intense' when 
writing: he wrote extremely fast (it took Kerouac only three weeks to write On 
the Road) and typed vigorously. This led literary critic Truman Capote to write 
that 'this isn't writing, it's just typing'. 

^ Kerouac describes his 'procedure' as follows: 'Time being of the essence in the 
purity of speech, sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of per- 
sonal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on the subject of image'. 
It is interesting to observe how Kerouac integrated the different cultural rhythms 
(linguistic, musical, etc.) in his own language. It is mainly through these rhythms, 
most notably jazz music, that he managed to weave the expression of these 
groups in his own language. 

5 See for example the rather peculiar syntax and the use of dashes in the follow- 
ing extract from the Book of Dreams : 

For the rrsttime — dreamed I climbed a gradual cliff from slope to 
slope and got up on top and sat down but suddenly in looking 
down I saw it was not a gradual cliff at all but sheer — in the dream 
no thought of getting down on other side — in the dream as always 
in Highplaces Dreams I'm concerned with getting down the way I 
came, or rectifying my own mistakes — and even though I know it's 
a dream, within the dream I insist I must get sown off the high cliff I 
climbed — the same old fear grips me in mortal throes — 'but if it's a 
dream then the cliff is not real', I tell myself 'so just wake up & the 
cliff will vanish' — I hardly believe its possible, and trembling, open 
my eyes & the dream is gone, the cliff is gone, the terror is gone This 
is the sign ... (cited in Charters 1985:587). 

266 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Kerouac writes about his own style: 'My position in the current American literary 
scene is simply that I got sick, and tired of the conventional English sentence 
which seemed to me so ironbound in its rules, so inadmissible with reference to 
the actual format of my mind as I had learned to probe it in the moderns spirit of 
Freud and Jung, that I couldn't express myself through that form any longer' 
(cited in Charters 1995:486). 


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de Jack Kerouac. In Anctil et al. 1990, 93-106. 

, L. DUPONT, R. Ferland, & E. Waddell, (eds.). 1990. Un Homme Grand: 

Jack Kerouac at the Crossroads of Many Cultures. Ottawa: Carleton Uni- 
versity Press 

Bouchard, Donald F. (ed.). 1977. Language, Countermemory, Practice: Se- 
lected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 

Burroughs, William. 1983. Kerouac. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 3:2. 

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Deleuze, Gilles, & Felix GUATTARI. 1975. L'Anti-Oedipe: Captitalisme et Schizo- 
phrenic. Paris: Editions de Minuit. 

& . 1975. Kafka: Pour une litterature mineure. Paris: Les Editions de 


& . 1997. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 

Transl. by Brian Massumi. London/Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 

FoucAULT, Michel. 1977. Preface to transgression. In Bouchard 1977, 7-9. 

. 1977. What is an author?. In Bouchard 1977, 1 13-38. 

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Ewald, 250-61. Paris: Gallimard. 

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Review of Contemporary Fiction 3:2.7-14. 




Tej K. Bhatia 

The aim of this chapter is to present a profile and pattern of In- 
dian diaspora together with the causes which led to the emigration of 
Indians from India. In the process of presenting various faces of In- 
dian diaspora, the paper seeks answers to the following questions: (1) 
What does the term 'diaspora' mean and how does it relate to the In- 
dian diaspora? (2) What are the defining features of the Indian dias- 
pora? Does it make any sense to use labels such as 'Indian diaspora' 
in view of the highly diverse nature of the Indian presence world- 
wide? (3) What is the American perception of Indian Americans and 
does this perception match the self-perception of Indian Americans? 
(4) Are Indian Americans a part or yet apart in their transplanted envi- 
ronment? (5) What identity are the media either consciously or sub- 
consciously portraying for Indians abroad? (6) Do both ethnic and 
the main-stream media help or hinder in the promotion of the Indian 
identity? While attempting to answer these questions, some aspects 
of the tension between Indian identity as perceived by Indians and 
by the host nations are dealt with. 


An Ancient Indian Sanskrit text captures the essence of diaspora by saying: 

'There is no happiness for him who does not travel, Rohita! Thus we 
have heard. Living in the society of men, the best man becomes a sin- 
ner. Therefore, wander! 

The feet of the wanderer are like the Hower, his soul is growing and 
reaping the fruit; and all his sins are destroyed by his fatigues in wan- 
dering. Therefore, wander! 

The fortune of him who is sitting, sits; it rises when he rises; it sleeps 
when he sleeps, it moves when he moves. Therefore, wander!' 
The Aitreya Brahmanam, 7:15 (700 BC-600 BC) 

Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 
(.Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

270 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Ancient Indians were well known for traveling to distant lands and for explora- 
tions. The Hindu sages and Buddhist monks traveled to distant lands in search for 
knowledge, higher values of life, and to spread the word of the Buddha. Indian 
traders traveled to trade and acquire new skills. They were the pioneers of Indian 
diaspora, those who left their mark as far as Central Asia, and South-East Asia. 
That was perhaps the golden era (300 BC-800 AD) of the Indian diaspora. 

The golden period was followed by a wave of emigration which marked the 
darkest chapter in the history of the Indian diaspora. The stage and the tone of 
the new diaspora was set by the Gypsies and a crystal-ball reading foretold its 
fate. The Gypsies, who are often mistakenly identified as Egyptians, were actually 
north Indians, mostly Rajputs, who started their journey from India at the turn of 
the 4th century. Genetic blood tests, Sanskrit-based language, music, and customs 
strongly point to their Indian roots. (See Hancock 1987:7-15, Sutherland 1986, 
and Singhal 1982, among others, for the Indian roots of the Gypsies.) Their jour- 
ney has its own ironic twist. Chosen to defend India from foreign invasions 
(mostly Muslim), the Gypsies kept moving away from India, settled for a signifi- 
cant length of time in Persia, and then moved on to almost every part of the world 
— Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Africa, Americas and Europe — always 
yearning to return to their homeland but never able to do so. They were hunted, 
enslaved, and persecuted in Europe and other parts of the world and as a recent 
film graphically depicts, the curse on the Gypsies is still on (see 'Curse on the 
Gypsies' 1998). Although the fate of Africans and Jews in diaspora improved 
significantly during the post-World War II era, the fate of the Gypsies still awaits 
better understanding and treatment on the part of host nafions and communities. 
Perhaps the new century will turn the tide of what can best be characterized as 
the world's most despised and ill-fated diaspora group. 

The migration of Indians in the nineteenth century opened yet another dark 
chapter in the history of the Indian diaspora. In this period, many Indians went 
abroad in search of work to improve their economic conditions under the inden- 
tured-labor system, soon after the abolition of slavery in British (1834-1838), 
French (1848), and Dutch colonies (1863-1873). The Indian immigration to the 
United States began with an equally distressing situation when the Asian Exclu- 
sion League, consisting of White European Americans, virtually declared war on a 
handful of Indian laborers working in lumber and sawmills in the state of Wash- 
ington. Not only were the 'riots' organized, but the ugly blend of media attention 
and politics herded Indians out of Washington like cattle. However, the face of 
Indian immigration began to change radically during the second half of the twen- 
tieth century with a shift from a racial immigration policy to a secular one. 

By 1990, approximately two-thirds of Mauritians, more than half of Fijians, 
about half of Guyanians, and about one-third of Trinidadians were Indians. Indi- 
ans today live in many countries (Fiji, Trinidad, Mauritius, Guyana, Reunion, Ma- 
laysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom. The 
Netherlands, Germany, Australia, the United States, and many countries of the 

T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diaspora: Indians abroad 271 

Middle East.). See Clarke et al. 1990 for a complete list which reveals that Indians 
live practically in every country of the world. Their adaptability, entrepreneurship, 
solid work ethic, and technical knowledge have earned them a significant place 
among the global diasporic communities. Indians are considered one of the three 
most important global diasporic communities, the other two being the Jewish and 
Chinese communities (Kotkin 1993). The estimated size of the world-wide Indian 
diasporic population has jumped to an estimated 15-20 million, an increase of 
about 300-400% since 1960. 

Contextualizing diaspora 

The aim of this chapter is to seek answers to the following questions: (1) What 
does the term 'diaspora' mean and how does it relate to the Indian diaspora? (2) 
What are the defining features of the Indian diaspora? Does it make any sense to 
use labels such as 'Indian diaspora' in view of the highly diverse nature of the 
Indian presence world-wide? (3) What is the American perception of Indian 
Americans, and does this perception match the self-perception of Indian Ameri- 
cans? (4) Are Indian Americans 'a part or yet apart' in their transplanted envi- 
ronment? (5) What identity are the media either consciously or subconsciously 
portraying for Indians abroad? (6) Do both ethnic and the mainstream media help 
or hinder in the depiction of the desired Indian identity? 

In the process of answering these questions, I will present a profile and pat- 
tern of the Indian diaspora, together with the causes which led to the emigration 
of Indians from India. In this analysis I will consider some aspects of the tension 
between Indian identity as perceived by Indians and by the host nations. These 
questions will be answered with special reference to Indians in America for the 
following two reasons: (1) The Indian American community serves as a model for 
the Indian diaspora outside the United States and holds the key to the future of 
Indian diaspora world-wide; and (2) The Indian American community is all- 
inclusive in nature — both old and new diasporic Indian communities have come 
to America. In other words, the Indian community in America is a 'microcosm' of 
the Indian diaspora. 

The term diaspora can be defined in a number of ways. The broad notion of 
diaspora refers to 'dispersion from the homeland'. If one considers this broad 
definition, then all Indians, including the Gypsy communities of Europe, will form 
the Indian diaspora. However, if one considers a narrow notion such as the 'link 
(physical or psychological) with the homeland' as an important criterion for dias- 
pora, then the Gypsies would not be considered a part of the Indian diaspora be- 
cause they have lost their links to their homeland at both the physical and psy- 
chological levels. The diasporic Indian community that I will attempt to account 
for meets both these criteria. However, the next section presents yet another crite- 
rion which might tempt one to contest this label. For more details regarding the 
question of labels and the adequacies of labels such as 'Asian American', see 
Shankar& Srikanth 1998. 

272 DiA.SK)RA, Identity, and Language Communities 

Features of Indian diaspora 

Before I attempt to isolate the salient features of the Indian Diaspora, il is impera- 
tive to examine the causes and the history that led Indians lo leave their home- 
land. The first major migration olniodern Indians started from the nineteenth cen- 
tury and occurred in three waves. 

(a) Indentured System 

The first wave of emigration came from India soon after the abolition of slavery. 
This marked the onset of the indentured-labor system (often called the 'Coolie' 
system). Under this system, Indians were brought to the Caribbean area, Africa, 
and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans to work on sugar plantations, to fill a 
labor gap left by the emancipation of slaves, and to provide better economic op- 
portunities abroad (see Jain 1993, van der Veer 1995). Although the indenture 
system was terminated in 1920, the Indian immigration to the British colonies con- 
tinued. The linguistic, rehgious, geographical and gender identity of the immi- 
grants to the colonies is given in Table 1. 


T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diaspora: Indians abroad 273 




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274 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

(b) Non-indentured migration to South-East Asia 

The second wave of emigration that canie from India consisted of nonindentured 
migration. Mostly it was South Indian Tamils who migrated to South-East Asian 
colonies, such as Sri Lanka, Malaya, and Burma to work on tea and rubber planta- 
tions in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In addition to serving as plan- 
tation workers, they also became money-lenders and worked at blue-collar jobs. 

(c) Free migration to Africa 

Like the Chinese migration to the United States, the odyssey of Indians to East 
Africa began with the building of railways in countries such as Kenya and 
Uganda in the 1890's. They were neither indentured nor contractual plantation 
workers, but were largely free immigrants, who later played a very important role 
in the local economy. They worked as lower civil servants, small-business owners, 
professionals, and merchants. During this period, Indian merchants paid the immi- 
grants' way to set up businesses in South Africa to serve as satellites to the origi- 
nal core of the indentured Indian community. 

(d) Indian diaspora in the nineteenth century: 
Transplantation and transformation 

There are some striking parallels between the Indian diasporic tradition during the 
colonial era and the African Slave tradition in the United States. Although the In- 
dians were not chained, the experiences of crossing the oceans were equally 
traumatic for both groups. The conditions in the living quarters were equally dis- 
tressing. Some of the indentured laborers sought relief from such harsh conditions 
by returning to their home country, only to be betrayed by their homeland on ac- 
count of the belief-system of that time. In those days any one who crossed the 
boundary of the Indian Ocean was considered untouchable (see Bhatia 1986:1- 
2). In spite of this, unlike the African slaves in the United States, Indians enjoyed 
more freedom to maintain and practice their religious beliefs, family structure, and 
linguistic traditions. Naturally, these values underwent transformations under the 
new conditions. For example, the Hindi language changed after coming in con- 
tact with Creole languages of Trinidad. Bhatia 1988 gives an account of the three- 
generational linguistic changes which the language of Trinidad Indians under- 
went. The caste system among Hindus weakened to varying degrees, though In- 
dians of East Africa maintained their ties to the caste system more vigorously than 
their Caribbean counterparts. A recent archeological work (Armstrong 1998) 
provides a rare look and a unique account of the living quarters and evidence of 
the changing caste system among Indians in Jamaica. The living quarters of Indi- | 
ans reveal that they varied from both the African and the European communities 
in terms of having a far higher ratio of clothing items (primarily buttons) and 
adornment items (decorative objects such as metal tips) than the other two com- 
munities. They also differed from the other two communities 'in their limited use 
of bottled pharmaceutical items (health and hygiene items), presumingly prefer- 
ring herbs' (Armstrong 1998:394). An equal access to accumulation of material 

T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diaspora: Indians abroad 275 

goods might have weakened caste barriers on one hand and strengthened com- 
munity ties on the other. 

(e) Indian Diaspora: A Reincarnation 

After gaining independence from the former colonial powers, Indians made impor- 
tant strides in terms of their economic, educational, and professional situations. 
However, they failed to make any significant political gains. With the exception 
of Mauritius, Indians were not able to achieve political control in the independent 
nations of Fiji, Trinidad, Guyana, Mayanmar, Uganda or Kenya, despite their 
strong presence. The tensions between the native populations and the Indians 
often resulted in either expulsion, as was the case in Uganda under the dictator, 
Idi Amin, or in repression by violent military force, as in Fiji in 1987, when native 
Fijians prevented democratically elected Indians from taking power by using mili- 
tary means. These incidents started the flow of Indian refugees to the United 
Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, thus marking the renewal of the Indian 

Indian diaspora in the twentieth century 

Indian Diaspora in the United States 

The earliest record of an Indian arriving in the United States was of a man/visitor 
from Madras. It is reported that he visited Massachusetts in 1790. In 1851, six In- 
dians marched in the Salem Fourth of July parade, representing the 'East India 
Marine Society.' Some Indian traders made their way to America in the late nine- 
teenth century to trade silk, spices, and other commodities. The high point of the 
nineteenth century was the visit by the Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, who 
addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. The goodwill 
created by his visit took several steps backward during the dawn of the twentieth 
century, however, when the systematic pattern of the Indian immigration to the 
United States began. Indian migration to the United States took place in four 
stages in the twentieth century: 

Pliase I: J 907- J 924 

This was the darkest chapter in the history of U.S. immigration. The earliest Indian 
migrants were approximately 6,400 male Sikhs and some Muslims from rural Pun- 
jab. Most of them came via Canada and settled down on the West coast. After 
facing rejection and riots by the white workers of the Asian Exclusion League in 
the lumber-mills and sawmills, they returned to familiar professions, i.e. agricultural 
work. During this stage Indians were perceived as hostile groups because of their 
involvement with the Gadar movement to free India from Great Britain. The only 
silver lining was the election of the first elected Indo-American representative, 
Dilip Singh Saund, to Congress. 

276 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Phase-II: 1924-1946 

During the great depression, a decline in Indian population took place. Many In- 
dians returned to India in search of peace and self-respect. 

Phase-Ill: 1946-1965 

The change in U.S. immigration policies in the allocation of small quotas for Indi- 
ans reversed the pattern of Indian immigration during this era. The Nazi period in 
Germany called for soul-searching among Americans, and realizations about their 
own racial policies led Americans to liberalize their immigration policies. During 
1946-1965, about 6,000 Indians came to the US; among them were educated pro- 
fessionals who came for higher education in American universities and later de- 
cided to reside in America. 

Phase-IV: 1965-1974 

The shift in immigration requirements from quotas to professional skills marked a 
critical turning point in Indian immigration. Indian immigration increased dramati- 
cally - up 2,000%. Not only did the pattern of immigration to America experience 
a radical shift, with one-third of the total immigrants being female, but profession- 
als also made significant strides in terms of fulfilling immigration's professional 
skills requirements. From being an insignificant Asian group, Asian Indians be- 
came the fourth-largest ethnic group during this period, trailing only the Chinese, 
Japanese, and Filipinos. 

Phase V: The Late Twentieth Century Diaspora: Europe, Australia, and the 
Middle East 

In the 1950's and 1960's, the flow of Sikhs from Punjab to the United Kingdom 
marked the beginning of the Indian diaspora to Europe. They were lured there by 
the promise of blue-collar employment. During the same period, liberalized immi- 
gration policies also led Indians to migrate to Australia. In the 1980's, Germany 
and Austria attracted Indian professionals to migrate there. During the oil boom of 
the 1970's, Indians flocked to oil-rich nations of the Middle East, such as Saudi 
Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Indian Americans: Profile in the USA 

On October 25, 1994, the U.S. Congressional Caucus on India and Indian- 
Americans issued the following statement regarding the economic and political 
power of Indian Americans: 

Growing economically at a pace matched only by one other Asian 
group, Indians living in America now earn more than any other ethnic 
community in the United States and hence are positioned to exercise 
unprecedented political influence in the upcoming election. 

With a mean family income of about $60,000, the highest of any Asian group in 
the U.S.A. and more than 25% higher than the national average, the economic 
power of Indians is indisputable. Furthermore, in the area of education, the 1990 

T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diaspora: Indians abroad 277 

Census Bureau data reveals that 87.5% of Asian Indians in America have com- 
pleted their high school diploma. More than 58% hold Bachelor or higher de- 
grees, which is the highest among all Asian-American groups. Their presence in 
the fields of engineering, science, medicine, literature, and technology is stagger- 
ing. More than 5,000 Indians serve as faculty members in American universities. 
They have produced a number of Nobel laureates (e.g. Dr. Har Govind Khurana 
in medicine. Dr. S. Chandrashekhar in physics. Dr. Sen in economics). In select in- 
dustries, such as computer software, hotel and motel businesses, farm economies, 
their presence is also notable (see for details Helweg & Helweg 1990 and Kotkin 
1992 about the success story of Indians). 

Diversity and pluralism are two defining features of Indians in general and 
of Indian communities abroad in particular. Indian Americans will readily profess 
their affiliation to caste, color, linguistic, regional, and religious identities. They 
live with multiple faces and multiple identities in their daily activities. A cursory 
look at a matrimonial section of any newspaper targeted either at Indians or dias- 
poric Indians will confirm my claim (see Kachru 1992 and Pandey 1998). 

Indian diaspora: Its distinctive and unique nature 

Against this background of multiplicity and pluralism, it is natural to ask the ques- 
tion: What is common between Trinidadian/Hindu/Bihari/Brahmin, South Afri- 
can/American/Gurajati/Hindu, a clean shaven Punjabi-Mexican/Indian-American, 
■ and a Hong Kong/Ismaili-Muslim? Do they fomi a cohesive Indian diasporic 
community like the Jewish, Chinese, or African diasporic communities? While the 
Jewish diaspora can be viewed as unified on account of religion, the Chinese on 
account of language, and the African on account of race, the Indian diaspora is 
very distinct. It is true that Indians in America have not given up their caste, re- 
gional, linguistic, or religious identities; however, these affiliations have been ei- 
ther transformed or weakened. The weakening of linguistic identity is self-evident 
from the way Indian languages are dying among the diasporic Indian communi- 
ties and English is a source of one common bond. (For the treatment of language 
death, see Bhatia 1988 for Trinidad; Mistherie 1991 for South Africa; Gambhir 
1986 and 1988 for Mauritius and Guyana; Moag 1979 and Siegal 1988 for Fiji; 
and Singaravelou 1990 for Guadeloupe. Matinique. and Reunion). Because re- 
ligious identity crosses language boundaries, it takes a stronger hold than linguis- 
tic identity among Indians. While pluralism and diversity are the striking features 
of the Indian identity, unity in diversity is what marks Indianness in Indians. 
Overnativcness is another feature to which I will return later. 

One might take issue with my claim that there is a single unifying feature in 
Jewish, Chinese, and African diaspora. Perhaps, at a deeper level, these diasporic 
communities are as diversified as the Indian diaspora. But one thing is quite clear: 
the degree of diversity among Indians is quite staggering, both in qualitative and 
quantitative terms. 

278 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Perception of Indian Americans in America 

In order to seek answers to questions (3) and (4), over the past four years I con- 
ducted a survey in my honors undergraduate course at Syracuse University. The 
students were given the following task: 

When you (as an American) think of India/Indians and Asian Indians 
in the US, some dominant images involuntarily flash in your mind. 
Give the words (nouns or adjectives) which best characterize those. 

In addition to providing their own responses, they were asked to interview at 
least five other Americans for this survey. About 150 subjects have participated in 
this survey during the past three years. Although all kinds of labels about Indians 
in the U.S. were reported, including 'belly dancer', the most relevant and promi- 
nent ones include the following: 

Group characteristics: intelligent, quiet, friendly, serious, smart, educated, 
hard working, traditional, less integrated, varied, many religions, not outgoing, in- 
terested in sciences, reserved, rich, vegetarians, very religious, male-dominated, 
women discouraged from playing sports. 

Occupations: doctors, TAs, good jobs, little food/convenience-store owners, 
taxi drivers. 

Physical characteristics: eye of God (forehead dot), loose clothes, smelly, 
dark skin, dark eyes. 

Most of the subjects admit that their knowledge of Indians is very superficial and 
is primarily based on American newspapers, TV programs, and Hollywood movies. 
From the survey, it became clear that two perceptions coexist in America. One is 
of a generic nature which was best captured by the remark, 'I do not think any- 
thing about them, they are Indians.' This generic perception is a widely held be- 
lief among Americans. However, there is another side of the coin, too. A specific 
perception, which is usually formed by the main-stream media, Hollywood movies, 
and TV programs, also exists. This specific American perception of Indian Ameri- 
cans comes strikingly close to the self-descriptors used by Indians, in the sense 
that both pinpoint the diversity of Indians. Although both the generic and the 
specific perceptions suffer from over-generalization, some stereotypical features 
reflect deeper distancing and some racial tensions between the Indian Americans 
and the white Americans. This tension is evident from the following remarks made 
by the subjects: 

'fractionalized', 'We consider them inferior', 'cheap', 'late shift con- 
venient store workers', 'smelly.' 'annoying', 'enduring', 'hostile', 
'aggravated', 'upset', 'annoying accent — understand them', 'dis- 
criminated against', 'segregated', 'different cultural outlook', 'men- 
tally oppressed', 'fat', 'don't fit in', 'under-represented', 'funny ac- 
cent', 'business oriented', 'neighbor rolling in the grass', 'untouch- 
able', 'Mahesh yogi'. 

T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diastora: Indians abroad 279 

Although the task of separating myths from reaUty is outside the scope of this pa- 
per, Indian Americans do feel betrayed and exploited by the American media. It is 
their widely-held belief that the American media portrays Indians in an over- 
whelmingly negative light. The negative images promoted by the media include 
Indians as being fragmented, queer, and non-Christians who practice voodoo or 
cultist religions. To some extent, such images arc natural consequences and ex- 
tensions of the media's perception of India. Since Indian Independence, India has 
been portrayed as divided and fragmented. Predications about the disintegration 
of India are made often by political pundits. This fragmented view is one-sided, 
according to Indians. Gruesome images left by movies such as 'Indiana Jones and 
the Temple of Doom' do irreparable damage to the perception of Indians by 
Americans. Their sacred symbols, especially Hindu symbols, are exploited for 
commercial gains and damage their religious tolerance. Two recent cases in point 
are Madonna wearing the sacred Vaishnava Tilak (which is a symbol of purity) 
on her forehead, and the Aerosmith album cover that shows distorted and muti- 
lated images of Krishna. So swift was the reaction to the latter incident by Indian 
Americans that SONY had to withdraw the cover. (Interestingly, there was little 
uproar in India.) In short, although there are some areas of overlap between the 
American perception of Indian Americans and their self-perceptions, a gap still 
remains, which needs to be bridged by developing a more accurate and balanced 
view of Indian Americans. In short, Indian Americans are seen as 'a part yet apart' 
in the American perception. Indian discourse styles, including their accent, are still 
unappealing for Americans in general. Thi.s, in part, answers question (6). The 
mainstream American media poses considerable hindrances to forming and pro- 
moting a more accurate perception of Indian Americans in America. 

Constructing and negotiating Indian identity and media 

There are three major agents in constructing, negotiating, and transmitting the In- 
dian diasporic identity: (1) ethnic Indian media in America and other countries; (2) 
the Indian film industry, and (3) business networking with global and local busi- 

Indian ethnic media and tlie formation of Indian identity 

The ethnic/expatriate Indian media has a long tradition of promoting Indian iden- 
tity and are notable for THF.IR distinctive contributions and content. More 
than twenty Indian newspapers or newsletters were produced during the first half 
of the twentieth century which dealt with the formation of Indian identity, and 
the problems and concerns of the Indian diasporic community. The blueprints of 
the Indian identity were set by the weekly newspaper, the Hiiuliisidii Gadar 'In- 
dian Revolution", which was the main publication of the Gadar Parly. It appeared 
in both English and Punjabi. It was published by Dr. Lala Har Dayal, a noted In- 
dian Nationalist, then a Professor at Stanford University. The first issue of the 
newspaper (San Francisco, Oct. 22, 1913-July 8, 1917) ran the following adver- 
tisement, which best exemplifies Indian identity by way of setting the stage for 

280 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

the Indian nationalist movement among Indian Americans and the revolt against 
British colonialism in India: 

Wanted — Brave Soldiers to Stir Up Gadar in India: 

Pay: Death 

Prize: Martyrdom 

Pension: Liberty i 

Field of Battle: India {Gadar. the Urdu word for 'revolution') " 

The newspaper often published long lists of revolutionaries and their plights, car- 
toons depicting the excesses of the British empire, and detailed descriptions of 
relevant political events from all over the world with painstaking details. What 
was the impact of the ethnic press at that time in England and America? It sent 
shock waves to British authorities in India and to Britain, as an American ally. The 
movement produced the ingredients of a spy thriller and high-suspense court- 
room drama. Ram Chandra and the sixteen other members of the Gadar Party 
were arrested for Hindu-German conspiracy. 

In comparison to the availability of ethnic media during the first half of the 
century, there has been an explosion of print and electronic media forms in the 
second half of the century. A list of Indian-American newspapers. Radio, and TV 
stations is given in Table 2. Although the current state of Indian-American media 
may lack the thrill and the high drama of the Gadar era, it plays an important role 
in the promotion of the new Indian identity. The ethnic media get a further boost 
from the Indian media in achieving this shared goal. For example, the case of the 
coverage of Indian Americans in the most widely read magazine, India Today, 
shows the asymmetrical characteristics of the coverage of India and Indians on 
one hand and of the Indians in America on the other. The coverage of the former 
has the elements of sensationalism and sectarianism, and it depicts an image of In- 
dians which is quite familiar and predominant in Western media. The coverage of 
the Indian Americans is presented in a small special section of the magazine called 
the 'North American section'. Indian Americans are almost always presented as 
great role models. Indianness is depicted as a great virtue to which even the 
younger generation subscribes. The content analysis of the two sections reveals 
that the North American section places a special emphasis on the good news that 
one could use. The stories usually deal with high-profile achievers and success 
stories of Indian Americans. Students with perfect SAT scores, computer whiz 
kids, and Valedictorian speeches in Sanskrit by Harvard graduates are covered in 
abundance. Although problems of Indian Americans are addressed, such stories | 
are overridden by the 'model' and 'success' stories, with their evidence of 
genuine pride in their subjects' Indian heritage. 

T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diaspora: Indians abroad 281 

Table 2: Ethnic Indian-American Media 


India Abroad, News India limes, India Monitor, India Tribune, 
Na\a Padkar (Gujarati), India Today, Asia on Line, India Post, India 
Journal, Masala Magazine, Voice of Asia, Indo-American News, 
Asian News, India Herald, Kerala Darshan (English & Malayalam), 
Little India, India Light, India Chronicle, Chicago India Times, In- 
dia West, Financial World, Kerala Express, Kerala News Digest, 
Pravasi (Malayalam), Presidents and Prime Ministers, LA India, In- 
dia Currents Magazine, Hinduism Today, The Asiatic Journal. 


Bharat Vani Radio, Voice of America, The Asia Observer/Kashmir To- 
day, All India Radio (South Carolina), Jhankar, Geet Gujarati (Gu- 
jarati), Raunak Mela, Rangeen Malgil, Asian on Line and Indo- 
American News. 


Vision of Asia, Eye on Asia, TV Asia, India Broadcasting Network, 
Asian Panorama, Namaste America, International Primetime Network, 
Namaste Bombay, Bharat Darshan, Alphastar/Asian Television Net- 
work, New Anchor, Everest TV. 

Indian film industry and over-nativeness 

Although several social, religious, linguistic, and cultural associations are impor- 
tant sources of promotion and maintenance of 'Indianness' among Indians in 
America, all of these societies and associations combined cannot match the role 
played by 'Bollywood.' Bollywood, the Bombay version of Hollywood, is the 
largest producer of films in the world. Hindi movies around the world promote the 
theme 'unity in diversity' and traditional Indian values. Melodramatic in nature 
and loaded with songs and dances, they show the triumph of Indianness over 
non-Indian values. The appeal of these values is not restricted to Indians or Indi- 
ans abroad, but it also reaches out to non-Indians. A case in point is in the Middle 
East, where almost every Hindi movie is subtitled in Arabic, a language which 
most Indians do not even understand. For example, movies such as Hindustani, 
meaning 'Indians', was first made in Tiunil and then in Hindi. Both movies were 
loved by both Tamil and Hindi speakers. The linguistic rivalry among Tamils and 
Hindi speakers becomes diluted when it comes to the appreciation of Hindi mov- 
ies. The same is true of Indians abroad. 

Consider another example, Ramanand Sagar's TV serial Mahabharat. Ma- 
habharat represents one of the greatest epics of the Sanskrit language, the most 
voluminous book in world literature. A couple of years ago this serial became so 
popular that it can be compared with the TV serial Dallas in the 1970s in the U.S. 

282 Diaspora, Identity, AND Language Communities I 

The BBC produced a special version of Mahabharat for consumption in the 
United Kingdom. Japan produced the entire Hindi transcript of the serial in two 
volumes to teach Japanese students Hindi, Hinduism, and the essentials of the In- 
dian culture. 

The Hindi movie industry has not only united diasporic Indians world-wide 
with India, but its role in the promotion of 'Indianness' is undisputed. See Chak- 
ravarty 1993 and Berger 1998 for more details. It is the lifeline of the promotion i 
of the Indian identity. The Indians abroad take this identity, perhaps, much more 
seriously than Indians in India, and in that process they become more Indian or 
over-native. This observation is made over and over again by Indian artists, 
scholars, and media personalities when they visit abroad. 

In addition to Hindi films. South Indian classical dances, music, and food 
form the common core of the Indian identity. For example, Punjabi Bhangra music 
and the Gujarati stick dance (the Dandia Ras dance) transcend their regional ap- 
peal and become the markers of overseas Indian identity. (Also see Pareles 1999 
on the musical and dance diaspora of the Gypsies and Indians.) The role of the 
cassette industry (see Manuel 1993) and business networking are other means of 
promoting Indian identity. 

Business networking and Indian American identity 

In what follows, I will identify how the three forces — the Indian movie industry, 
and the ethnic Indian American media join hands with global and 'homeland/In- 
dian' business networking to serve as a catalyst in the promotion of Indian iden- 
tity in print advertising. Let us analyze some markers of Indianness, the way they 
appear in ethnic Indian print-media advertising. The data are drawn primarily from 
the three years 1995-1998 of the weekly newspaper India Abroad and the 
monthly magazine India Today. Both have the largest readership in the United 
States among the newspaper and magazine categories. In addition, India Today 
has the highest circulation among the English-language magazines in India, with 
regional-language versions in major Indian languages. 

Markers of Indian identity and the etiinic media 

In light of the foregoing discussion dealing with the construction and negotiation 
of Indian identity as reflected in the media, it is possible to answer question (5), 
namely, what marker or markers are chosen for Indian identity. The role of the 
main-stream Indian and American media in carving out the desired Indian identity 
is less meaningful and important to diasporic Indians in general and Indian Ameri- 
cans in particular than the ethnic media is. These two segments of the main-stream 
media are seen as being more a hindrance than a help in shaping the desired or 
perceived identity. The ethnic media find more receptive partners in the Indian 
film industry and in local and global businesses than in main-stream Indian and 
American media to achieve the goal of creating Indian identity. The approach that 
the ethnic media follow in the process of negotiating Indian identity can best be 

T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diaspora: Indians abroad 283 

characterized as a 'mulitifactorar and 'mixed' approach. This approach is natu- 
rally more realistic and appealing than a singular, monolithic approach. Markers 
drawn from various categories, such as history, literature, languages, religions, folk 
and cultural beliefs, combine with verbal and visual images to create a 'mosaic 
portrayal' of Indian identity. Naturally, the various categories do not carry equal 
significance. For example, religions receive more significance than languages and 
rurality may take precedence over urbanization, past supercedes the present in 
print advertising in ethnic media. An analysis of three representative advertise- 
ments will support this point. 

Consider an AT & T ad. The image of the Rajasthani rural women carrying 
water in a desert region invokes the harsh but fruitful realities of Indian life, and 
this image is further amplified by a Hindi attention-getter in Roman script — 
biainda huunda se saagar 'drop by drop, fill an ocean'. Such images are com- 
mon to both diasporic and nondiasporic Indian identity, and thus hold special 
significance and appeal. The images of super-heroes (Gandhi, Nehru), historic 
events (India's first Prime Minister's historic speech from the Red Fort in Delhi, in 
the 50th year of Indian independence), monuments (the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort), 
sacred marriage rituals, and classical Indian dancers are often combined with 
Hindi words in ads placed by the banking, insurance, and communication indus- 

Real-life achievers are applauded in ads such as that placed by Met Life. 
Headliners such as taliyaan 'applause', muhaanik 'congratulations' are drawn 
from Hindi-Urdu, while sacred symbols of Hinduism and Sikhism are combined 
with themes such as pilgrimages, festivals, religious texts, mantras (Gayatri Man- 
tra), and rituals to mark Indian religious identity. Literary and musical heritage 
forms such as Urdu Qvvaali and Tamil kartvayam have an appeal that creates a 
larger identity beyond the confines of religious and linguistic boundaries. Indian 
TV programs, film premieres, Bollywood concerts, Indian soap operas, combined 
with sweepstakes, exemplify yet another pan-Indian identity which is grounded 
in the popular culture of India. Ads dealing with the computer industry involve 
more contemporary themes, but even in those the computer does not fail to in- 
voke Indian identity by means of mixing the images of Indian deities on the com- 
puter screen or a pan-Indian greeting such as namaste or namaskar. 


In conclusion, there are many faces of Indians abroad. In spite of the fact that 
multiplicity and pluralism are integral parts of the views and attitudes of diasporic 
Indians, Indianness represents a unifying feature of their ethnic identity which is 
created or negotiated by means of blending and wedding oppositions and multi- 
plicity. These oppositions can best be characterized by the different petals of a 
lotus flower which reinforce an ancient Indian view of the universe/earth (see 
Figure 1). The different petals (oppositions) and their layering (relative impor- 
tance) constitute an Indian identity (see Figure 2). The Hindi film industry, ethnic 


Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

Indian media abroad, and business networking at the global and the local levels 
serve as important agents in shaping a unified new identity. With these forces at 
work, the Indian diaspora will gain further strength and momentum in the future. 
Most importantly, the Indian-American community will provide a model for the 
various diasporic communities in the future, and provide a crucial link which was 
missing between the old and the new diasporic Indian communities. 


Figure 1: Indian view of the universe/earth 

T. K. Bhatia: Media identity and diaspora: Indians abroad 


Figure 2: Markers of Indianness 


I wish to express my deep appreciation to Professors Braj B. Kachru, Salikoko 
Mufwene, and William C. Ritchie for their comments on the earlier version of this 
paper. I have specially benefited from the comments and suggestions of the par- 
ticipants in the Diaspora conference. 


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[A historical perspective of Americans of Asian Indian Origin (1790-1997)] 







Ladislav Zgusta 

The Greek and Jewish appHcation of the temi diaspora is confronted 
with its richly ramified modern usage. 

The term diaspora ' belongs to the Greek (and ultimately Indo-European) root 
sper-\ the vowel of this root shows alternations that are quite regular, which, 
however, we shall not discuss. In any case, the verb speiro means 'to sow'. (The 
root is sper-\ the -/- is metathesized from an original *sper-i6.) Several Greek deri- 
vations of this root are used as terms in our scientific terminology, e.g., sperma 
'seed', spord 'sowing, seed' (given here are the Greek meanings, not the modern 
ones). In pre-industrial agriculture, sowing was performed by hand, the seed be- 
ing thrown on and into prepared soil in such a way that in the best possible case, 
each seed had space enough for its growth: that means that the seeds were 
spread or scattered; naturally, some seeds were usually carried away by the wind 
or went to waste by some other circumstance. The prefixed verb dia-speiro was 
used in reference to such scattering of other things as well, frequently in a nega- 
tive sense, such as in reference to scattered troops (Thucydides 1, 11; S^h century 
BC) and in other metaphors. However, it could also be used in collocations such 
as to diespannenon dogma 'the widespread opinion' (Epicuros; 4fh/3rd century 
BC). The prefixed noun diaspora 'scattering, dispersion' can have both the posi- 
tive and the negative sense; the positive sense, however, did not occur fre- 
quently. This was the Greek usage. 

The noun diaspora (and the verbal forms of the root) gained frequency 
only when it became a term in Jewish religious, historical, or philosophical dis- 
course (insofar as its medium was Greek; e.g., Philo of Alexandria, De legatione 
ad Gaium [- Caligula], 281 [1^^ century BC/l^t century AD]; Josephus Flavins, 
Antiquitates hidaicae 4, 1 15-1 16 [1^^ century AD]), in which it usually meant the 
dispersion of groups of people, nomially Jews. Such a dispersion was in most 
cases understood as part of divine justice, and we find it taken in such a sense in 
the Septuaginl- (3''<J-2''"J centuries BC) and other texts. The usual reference of 
these passages in the Septuagint is the outstanding case of such an event, namely 
the captivity in Mesopotamia of a good part of the Jewish population of Palestine 

Diaspora. Idenlily. and Language Cominiinilies 
(Studies in Ihc Linguistic Sciences 31:1, Spring 2001) 

292 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

(6th century BC). The outstandingly important passages^ in which this divine 
meting out of justice is mentioned are: 4 (or 2) Kings 25:27; Jeremiah *24:5, 25: 
16 (34 or 36) 4, *28:4, *29:22, *40:1, *52:31; Isaiah 45:13; Ezekiel *1:2 and 33: 
21; Obadiah (Abdias) 1:20; Daniel *2:25, *5:13; 12:7, and Ezra (Esdras) *6:16. In 
the passages marked by the asterisk, the Hebrew text uses the expression gcilut, 
which is derived from a root meaning 'exile'. It would, then, seem that this is the 
Hebrew original of the Greek diaspora, as used in this sense. However, the term 
diaspora in the Septuagint translation is not in close cooccurrence with Hebrew 
galut. Relatively frequent in those passages is the Greek word aikhmalosia 'cap- 
tivity' (from aikhms 'spear' + (h)aldsis 'taking captive') and its derivations (this 
is the case in two passages of Daniel, the one of Esdras, and those of Ezekiel, 
Isaiah, and Abdias 1:11); Daniel 12:7 has dia-skorpismos 'scattering' (a synonym 
oi diaspora, with the same polysemy), Jeremiah has once ptosis 'fall' (29:22); the 
idea of a change of domicile is expressed by the translators of Jeremiah 52:31 by 
the Greek verb apoikizesthai, whereas the translators of Abdias (Obadiah) 1:31 
used the noun metoikesia, and those of 4 (or 2) Kings 7:35 apoikesia for the 
same idea. The translation of Jerem. 52:31 is particularly good, because the word 
used is a verb in its passive form, so that the non-voluntary character of the 
change of habitat is well expressed. On the other hand, Jeremiah 25:16 (34 or 36) 
has the verbal form kai diaspero autous 'and I will disperse them", but the target 
of the action are not necessarily Jews and in the original galut does not occur. 

There is no particular difficulty in the assumption that the term diaspora 
gained currency only in the later Hellenistic and Roman period, as exemplified 
above by Philo and Josephus. It has, particularly in the Septuagint, the same 
polysemy as in the non- Jewish Greek texts; it occurs also in several passages not 
quoted above, but enumerated in the special dictionary to the Septuagint. ^ The 
idea of divine punishment is not necessarily present in these passages (so in Gen. 
9:19). Both the noun and the verbal forms collocate not only with designations of 
people (and mostly Jews), but also with words denoting, e.g., war, winds, tem- 
pests, and with words that belong to the semantic domain of winnowing. (The 
purport of some of the passages is obviously or probably metaphorical.) This 
shows that the word diaspora had, in this Hellenistic Jewish literature, the same 
polysemy as in non-Jewish Greek. The assumption that the Greek word acquired 
the meaning of a Hebrew model (in other words, that a part of its polysemy, the 
one connected with divine punishment, was loan-translated from Hebrew) is 
highly probable, or practically certain. David Gold (personal communication) is 
undoubtedly right in suggesting two possible Hebrew models, viz. hapeiura 'the 
Dispersion' as abbreviation of hapezura haheyudit 'the Jewish Dispersion', or 
hatefutsot 'the [Jewish] Dispersion': either or both of them could be the model. 
The roots from which these two nouns are derived are <pzr> and <nps >, both 
meaning 'scatter, disperse'. 

The noun diaspora was also used to refer to the places where those scat- 
tered people lived, both in Jewish and in later Christian texts, but the distinctions 
among the notions 'exile', 'people in exile', and 'place of exile', or equivalently, 


'dispersion', 'dispersed people", and 'place of dispersion' are not always suffi- 
ciently sharp. 

The old Christian church (ist.2nd centuries AD), which used the Septuagint 
as the sacred text and whose language was Greek even in the Western parts of 
the Roman Empire,^ applied the word and concept of diaspora in both the verbal 
and the nominal forms, either in the same meaning and with the same reference as 
in the Jewish texts of the Hellenistic and Roman epochs (i.e., Jews scattered 
among Gentiles, John 7, 35), or to express the idea of Christians living among 
non-Christians (originally only Jews, Acts 8, 1, but later among any non- 
Christians, 1 Peter 1,1). 

When the Christian church lost its minority character and acquired majority 
status, and then even the status of the official church of the Roman Empire (4^^ 
century), the usage mentioned in the preceding paragraph disappeared. At the 
same time, Latin became the ecclesiastic language in the West. It is important to 
notice that the Vulgate (i.e., the Latin text of the Christian Bible as translated from 
Hebrew and Greek at the end of the 4th ^nd the beginning of the S^h century, 
which for centuries was the authorized version in the Christian church and is 
used in that capacity in the Roman Catholic Church to this day) uses in most of 
the passages of the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) which are mentioned 
above, the expression transmigratio, and in quite a small minority of cases ex- 
pressions like captivitas. In the passages of the Christian New Testament that 
have been quoted above, the Vulgate offers dispersio or a verbal form that be- 
longs to the same root (dlspcrsi sunt) for the Greek diaspora. 

In short, then, what wc find is that at the end of antiquity, the word dia- 
spora was being used in reference to people who had belonged to a community, 
which, however, had come to be scattered. Excepting the first centuries of the 
existence of Christianity, the usage of the term was restricted to the Jewish texts 
written in Greek. ^ 

It is in this sense that the word diaspora has come to gain an increased fre- 
quency in modern times; tracing the history of the tenn through the Middle Ages 
and into the early Modern Age will be a highly interesting topic for future re- 
search. At any rate, it was particularly in the 19^" century that the word became 
part of the cultural and scholarly terminology in the European languages. (The 
use of the verbal forms of the Greek root was discontinued.*^) It was only natural 
that it was in the context of Jewish history and contemporary Jewish situations, 
present then and subsequently, and in the discussion of their consequences, that 
the term diaspora was used; it had to be so, given the tragedies and vicissitudes 
of Jewish history, beginning with events such as the above-mentioned captivity 
in Mesopotamia (6^^^ century BC) or the conquest of Jeru.salem, during which the 
Temple was destroyed by the imny of the future Emperor Titus {\^^ century AD). 
The sequence of calamities then continued with a series of larger or smaller rebel- 
lions against the Roman Empire. New waves of migrations were caused by events 
such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, from some parts of the Habsburg 

294 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

monarchy, and from other places in the 15^h and subsequent centuries. No need 
to mention the catastrophes of the century just coming to its end.*^ 

The original connection of diaspora and related expressions with the idea 
of divine justice and punishment would seem to imply that the term necessarily 
refers, or at least in antiquity used to refer, to something involuntary and perhaps 
permanently disagreeable. Nevertheless, to take an example, the Jewish diaspora 
in Alexandria (and in the whole of Egypt'O) was already in antiquity quite volun- 
tary and developed into an economically and culturally flourishing center of 
Jewish Hfe, its disruption coming only much later. This is one of the reasons why 
some Jewish historiographers prefer to make the distinction of Hebrew galut 'ex- 
ile' (involuntary), over against diaspora 'diaspora, dispersion' (voluntary). Again, 
only a study of more sources can show with more clarity how far such a distinc- 
tion can be claimed already for the Hellenistic and Roman sources (with the ex- 
ception of the Septuagint, where such a distinction seems not to occur), or 
whether it developed in some more recent Jewish texts and is perhaps treated 
somewhat normatively. 

It must be mentioned, however, that with the development of more liberal, or 
rather, less orthodox forms of Judaism, the component of divine justice and pun- 
ishment in the notion of the term diaspora became increasingly evanescent, at 
least for many speakers, and that with the arrival of Zionism (late IQ^h/gariy 20^^ 
century) and with the foundation of the state of Israel (1948), the problems of the 
Jewish diaspora acquired a new angle from which they could be considered. Not 
only is Israel not a diaspora, but one can even raise the question as to whether, 
e.g., Western Europe and the United States should not cease to be considered di- 

From the beginning of the modern use of the term, the diaspora was a typi- 
cally Jewish phenomenon. This was the case because it is only about the Jews 
that one could say, up to the middle of the 20^^ century, that all of them were 
living in the diaspora: there was no state, area, or city which would be considered 
the main center of Jewish life, culture, language, or population. This, indeed, is the 
strongest form of diaspora: no homeland at all. Also, only few areas in Europe 
contained no Jewish diaspora, whereas other major portions of the population of 
Europe, mainly the agrarian segment, were quite sedentary far into the modern 
age, up to the time of the liberalization of society that took place from the end of 
the 18'^h century onwards. (The large-scale emigrations of English and French 
speakers to North America that took place in the IV^h and IS^h centuries have 
not led to the establishment of what would be called diasporas because of the 
scope of the events and the number of people involved, as mentioned below.) 
However, it is primarily the IQ^h century that witnessed massive emigrations of 
non-Jews of various ethnicities from Europe and the creation of various diasporas 
elsewhere, chiefly in the United States. With these massive movements of popula- 
tions, the term began to be applied frequently not only to Jewish history, culture, 



and problems, but increasingly and by now, it would seem, perhaps prevalently, in 
reference to other groups of people. 

We shall not try to offer a definition of diaspora, because as of now, there 
are too many divergent opinions on it; or rather, the ways in which the term is 
used are widely divergent." But we can discuss some delimitative criteria, using 
various examples. No attempt, however, is made here to mention all the forms or 
types of modern diaspora, or even most of the situations actually referred to as 

Immersed in the areas of various fomis of Scottish speech, there are to be 
found some enclaves of GacHc that are scattered chietly on the Hebrides, on the 
Orkneys, and in several Highland counties of Scotland. It would seem that the 
reason why this situation is usually not called the 'Gaelic diaspora' lies in the fact 
that the speakers are not immigrants to these areas: Gaelic is a RESIDUAL 
LANGUAGE there. 

Gypsies are speakers of an Indo-European Indian (Indie) language who live 
in scattered groups, mostly in Europe and North America. Only a segment of this 
ethnic group became sedentary, and this only quite recently; the rest have lived a 
nomadic life. To my knowledge, they are not called the 'Gypsy diaspora', the rea- 
son apparently being that immigrants living in diaspora are supposed to be seden- 
tary and to be in real contact with their neighbors. In the modern world, no lan- 
guage has more native speakers who are descendants of immigrants who had 
gone overseas from one country, than English; still, I doubt that there does or 
ever did exist a collocation like the 'English diaspora in North America (Australia, 
New Zealand ...)", even before these territories acquired their independence from 
Great Britain. The diaspora is expected to be a minority of the population: there is 
a British diaspora in India, even a diaspora of English-speaking expatriates in 
Paris, Florence, and so forth. In the same way, the French speakers in Quebec 
usually are not called a diaspora; but it would seem that the French speakers in 
the rest of Canada and in Louisiana, etc., can be, and sometimes are, so called. 

The preceding paragraphs repeatedly mention the language of the people in 
diaspora; however, the paradigmatic case, the Jewish diaspora, has for centuries 
consisted of people without a common everyday language, but largely connected 
by common (but not in all respects completely identical) culture and ritual. For 
instance, today's Indian diaspora throughout the world probably continues to 
speak as many languages as are counted in India itself (including English). Of 
course, the Jewish diaspora has existed for many generations, i.e., for twenty-six 
centuries, whereas the other diasporas are mostly fairly recent, so it is not yet pos- 
sible to be sure about the outcome of possible linguistic interference in the non- 
Jewish cases. 

Rcligiously-molivatcd emigration can create a diaspora of communities 
other than Jewish ones; such was, for instance, the case of the Huguenots, French 
Calvinists, who were forced to leave France after the revocation of the Edict of 
Nantes by King Louis XIV (IT^'"" century). One can discover traces of that dias- 

296 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

pora in, for instance, the French personal names that we find in relatively greai 
numbers in South Africa (not to mention the excellent vineyards and winerie 
there); this is not surprising, seeing the Calvinist character of the majority of the 
Dutch settlers there, which must have made the territory quite attractive to the 
French Calvinists. 


With the wane in modern days of the idea of immediate divine intercession 
in human political affairs, however, the ideological component of the decision to 4 
emigrate has come to be supplied either by the powers that be that had sufficient^ 
will and strength simply to expell the unwanted part of the population (take, for 
instance, the expulsion of the Accadians from the former French Canada after its 
conquest by the British in the IS^h century), or else it was the decision of the 
emigrants themselves, who felt oppressed by the regime in their country (as in the 
case of the 'White' Russians between 1917 and about 1925, who formed a dias- 
pora in Western and Central Europe, and in the United States). This second type 
of politically motivated emigration tends, however, not to be really massive, given 
that the oppressive regimes usually discourage or forbid emigration. In any case, 
during the last centuries political and ideological reasons for the formation of di- 
asporas tend to be more frequent than religious ones. 

It would seem, however, that the conception of a diaspora as the result of 
many people leaving their original countries in search of economic opportunities 
has gained currency in modern times, or is close to doing so. Just like religious di- 
asporas, political diasporas seem by now to be less numerous — both in respect to 
the number of diasporas and to the number of people participating in the emigra- 
tion — than economic ones (and this in spite of the occasional overlap of the po- 
litical and the economic motives, as in the case of the massive emigration of Jews 
from Tsarist Russia in the late 19^^ and early 20^h centuries). If we take the 
United States as an example, one can say that while the 20^^ century brought in- 
creased numbers of political refugees, mainly from the Fascist and Communist re- 
gimes, most immigrants in both the 19^^ and the 20^h centuries (chiefly in its first 
part, up to World War I) would seem to have arrived in search of better economic 

Nowadays, the most up-to-date usage of the term (which some perhaps may 
even deem irreverently innovative) can be illustrated by Time magazine (June 19, 
2000, p. B 26), where we read the following title and subtitle: 'The Golden Dias- 
pora. Indian immigrants to the U.S. are ... the most spectacular success story.' 
However, at the same time Newsweek (June 10, 2000, p. 48) offers a case of refer- 
ence to an involuntary diaspora in the following caption: 'Cyberculture: Target- 1 
ing the African diaspora'. The caption refers to a discussion that follows in the 
article about there being new webpages on the Internet concerning African- 
American history and culture. The difference of putting the name 'African dias- 
pora' to what can, in terms of its result, also be called the 'African- American dias- 
pora' aptly attracts attention to the fact that there are temporal and evolutional 
dimensions in a diaspora, which is not a static phenomenon, but a process. 

Ladislav Zgusta: Diaspora: The past and the present 297 


' The italicized words with accents are transliterations from the Greek; without 
accents, they represent their versions in Latin and other modern languages. 

2 The Septuagint (or in Latin, Septuaginta) is a translation into Greek of the 
books of the Jewish Bible (= the Christian Old Testament); the translators were 
Jews, most of them probably from Alexandria, whose number is said to have been 

-^ Dr. David Gold (New York) was kind enough to supply all the Hebrew data and 
their interpretation; naturally, any error is mine. 

'^ The textual criticism of the passage offers some problems, particularly in respect 
to the number of the verse. 

"^ J. Lust, E. Eynikel, K. Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint. pari 
I, A-L sub voce. [Sine loco]: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft 1992. 

^ See L. Zgusta, Die Rolle des Griechischen im romischen Kaiserreich. Die Spro- 
chen im Romischen Reich der Kaiserzeit: KoUoqiiiiim, April 1974, ed. by Giin- 
ther Neumann & Jurgen Untermann, 121-45. Koln: Rheinland-Verlag 1980. 

'' The preceding statement is somewhat problematic, because many if not most 
authors of Christian texts in the first two centuries were Jews themselves. How- 
ever, it is not possible to pursue this line of thought in this short article. 

^ When requirements of style call for variation, some derivation of the same Indo- 
European root that appears in Greek sper-, spor- is frequently used, but in its 
Latin form. See, for instance, the title and subtitle of a book by Joel Beinin, The 
Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry; Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Mod- 
ern Diaspora. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). (The Latin verb 
from which the noun dispersion is derived belongs to an extended form of the 
Indo-European root *sper-, but the derivation of the form is too complicated to 
be discussed here.) 

9 Writing in July 2000. 

'" Naturally, the reference is to Ptolemaic Egypt, not to the Egypt of the Phar- 

' ' The exemplification and the whole discussion in the paragraphs that follow are 
necessarily incomplete and rather impressionistic. An accurate description of the 
various types of usage and an indication of their relative frequencies, dates of the 
first attested contexts, etc. would require a lengthy study based on a vast corpus 
of English (and preferably, French, German, Post-Classical and Modern Latin, 
Yiddish, etc.) lexical material. I owe thanks to Dr. Dale Hartkemeyer, LST, for help 
with the following exemplification and other aspects of the article. 



NOBUKO ADACHI is currently a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at 
Illinois State University. Since receiving her Ph.D. in linguistic anthropology from 
the University of Toronto in 1997, she has been a research affiliate and teacher at 
Illinois State University. She also was a Rockefeller Research Fellow at the Center 
for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville, in 2000. She 
has been co-editor of PAN-JAPAN: The International Journal of the Japanese Di- 
aspora since 1999. Her research interests include linguistic aspects of ethnohistory, 
Japanese transnational migrants in Latin America (especially Japanese-Brazilians), and 
problems of ethnic identity and globalization. 

ROBERT J. BAUMGARDNER is professor of Literature and Languages at Texas 
A & M University at Commerce, Texas. His areas of specialization include 
Teaching and Learning English as an International Language and World Eng- 
lishes. His publications include The English Language in Pakistan (editor, 1993) 
and South Asian English (editor, 1996). 

ELABBAS BENMAMOUN is professor of Linguistics at the University of Illinois 
at Urbana, USA. His major areas of interest are in syntax, morphology, and lan- 
guage in the social context of the Arab world and how these contexts affect lan- 
guage policy, social policy, educational policy, and the question of national iden- 

TEJ K. BHATIA is professor of Linguistics at Syracuse University, Syracuse, 
New York. His areas of specialization include language and social cognition, mul- 
tilingualism, language and communications, and computer applications in lan- 
guage and linguistics research. His publications include Colloquial Urdu (in press) 
and Handbook of Child Language Acquisition ( 1999). 

MARC DENEIRE is professor of English Linguistics at the University of Nancy, 
France. His research is in the sociology of language, language policy. World Eng- 
lishes, and sociolinguistics. 

PRADEEP A. DHILLON is professor in the Philosophy Division of the Depart- 
ment of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana, - 
Champaign. She is interested in post-structural ideas as they relate to the philoso- 
phies of Kant, Wittgenstein, and some strands of Buddhism. Her publications in- 
clude Multiple Identities: A Phenomenology of Multicidtund Communications 

BRAJ B. KACHRU is Center for Advanced Study Professor Emeritus of Linguis- 
tics, Director Emeritus of the Center for Advanced Study, and Jubilee Professor 
Emeritus of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana- 
Champaign. His scholarly interests are in sociolinguistics, world Englishes, mul- 

300 Diaspora, Identity, and Language Communities 

tilingualism, language and ideology, and Kashmiri language and literature. He has 
published over 100 academic papers and reviews, as well as more than 20 edited 
and authored volumes. 

ROBERT D. KING is professor and Rapoport Chair of Jewish Studies at the Uni- 
versity of Texas at Austin, with affiliation in the departments of Asian Studies, 
Germanic Studies, and Linguistics. His current research interests are Jewish his- . 
tory and the Yiddish language, language and nationalism/politics and India. He is i 
the author of Historical Linguistics and Generative Grammar (1969) and Nehru 
and the Language Politics of India (1997). 

SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM was professor of English and Women's Studies and 
chair of Women's Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara,. At pre- 
sent she is Chair Professor of the Hong Kong University Department of English. 
Her areas of interest include Asian-American literature, post-colonial literature 
and ethnic and feminist writing Her publications include the Commonwealth 
award-winning Crossing the Peninsula (1980), and two American Book Award 
winners. The Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Women's Anthology (1990) 
and Among the White Moon Faces (1996). 

SALIKOKO S. MUFWENE is professor of Linguistics and chair of the Depart- 
ment of Linguistics at the University of Chicago. His research studies include Cre- 
ole language varieties and African-American English (especially their genesis -".iid 
structures), syntax and semantics, lexicography, and Bantu morphosyntax. 

CAMERON McCarthy is Research Professor and University Scholar in the ' 
stitute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana- 
Champaign. He is the author of The Uses of Culture and co-editor of Sound Iden- 
tities: Youth, Music and the Cultural Politics of Education (forthcoming). 

ERICA McCLURE is professor of Educational Psychology with affiliation in the 
Division of English as an International Language at the University of Illinois at 
Urbana-Champaign. Her research has focused on multilingualism, particularly 
code-switching and first- and second-language acquisition among Mexicans, 
Mexican-Americans, the Siebenbiirgen-Saxons of Romania, the Vlasi of Bulgaria, 
and Assyrians in America. 

CECIL L. NELSON is associate professor of Linguistics in the English Depart- i 
ment at Indiana State University, Terre Haute.. He has been a review ediior of 
World Englishes and has taught at universities in Iran and Japan. He co-edited 
(with Braj Kachru) a special issue of the Journal of Asian Pacific Communication. 
He has published papers on intelligibility across varieties of world Englishes, ■ 
cross-cultural communication, and the teaching of composition, including 'My ' 
language, your culture: Whose communicative competence?' (1992), and he co- 
authored with Braj Kachru 'World Englishes' in Sociolinguistics and Language 
Teaching, edited by McKay and Hornberger, 1997. 

Notes on contributors 301 

MICHAEL PALENCIA-ROTH is professor of Comparative Literature at the Uni- 
versity of Illinois at Urbana-Chammpaign. A specialist in cross-cultural encoun- 
ters, he was decorated by the Colombian government in 1998 with the 'Order of 
Merit in Art and Culture Pedro Morales Pino' for his contributions to Colombian 
literature and culture. 

RAJESHWARI V. PANDIHARIPANDE is professor in the Program for the Study 
of Religion and departments of Linguistics and Comparative Literature at the Uni- 
versity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her areas of teaching and research in- 
clude sociolinguistics. South Asian linguistics, Asian mythology, Hinduism, and 
the Language of Religion. 

ALEYA ROUCHDY is professor and chair of the Department of Near Eastern and 
Asian Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She is actively en- 
gaged in research on the topic of language contact, particularly Arabic-English and 
'Arabic-Nubian. She is the author of Aroh Sociolinguistics: Current Themes (forth- 

EDWIN THUMBOO is Chairman and Director of the Centre for the Arts, Na- 
tional University of Singapore. His areas of study include African and South Asian 
writing in English, the modern novel (especially Forester, Lawrence, and Conrad), 
the novel of empire (Kipling and others), multiculturalism and multilinguialism. 

ENRIQUE (HENRY) TRUEBA is Director of the Center for Immigration Re- 
s,'iarch, Co-Executive Director of the Institute for Urban Education, and professor 
of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. Recipient of 
the George and Louise Spindler Award of the Council on Anthropology and Edu- 
cation for contributions to Educational Anthropology, his latest publication is La- 
tinos Unidos: Ethnic Solidarity in Linguistic, Cultural and Social Diversity (1999). 

TAMARA VALENTINE is professor of Linguistics at the University of South 
Carolina at Spartanburg. Her areas of special interest include English as an Inter- 
national Language, South Asian languages and linguistics, language and gender, 
discourse analysis and English as a second language. 

LADISLAV ZGUSTA is Center for Advanced Study Director Emeritus and Pro- 
jfessor Emeritus of Linguistics and the Classics at the University of Illinois at Ur- 
:bana-Champaign. He is the author of the first comprehensive work on the theory 

of lexicography, recently translated into Chinese, Serbo-Croatian, and now being 
j translated into Malay. He was elected Collitz Professor (1976) in the Linguistic 
: Society of America and was a Guggenheim Fellow (1977, 1983). He served as 

vice-president and then president of the Dictionary Society of North America 

(1982, 1983), was named a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of 
iScicnce (1982), and was elected a fellow of the American Academy and Sciences 


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Jamal al-Qinai: Convergence and divergence in translating 

vs. interpreting competence 1 

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Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 31, Number 2 (Fall 2001) 


Jamal al-Qinai 

Kuwait University 

The paper tackles competence in English-Arabic translation and 
interpreting while highlighting similarities and differences at the textual 
and performance levels. It sets out by discussing the requirements of 
quality and fluency for both translators and interpreters. A focal point 
of interest is performance constraints in simultaneous interpretation, 
which include, among other things, logistics, lag, SL deficiencies, 
lexico-grammatical asymmetry and rhetorical divergence. The study 
concludes with an overview of the compensation strategies employed 
by interpreters such as queuing, segmentation, approximation, 
compression, and ellipsis. 

0. Introduction 

For the proponents of the theorie du sens (Dillinger, Lederer, & Seleskovitch), 
there is no apparent difference between translating and interpreting, as both 
deverbalize an SL message and reproduce it in a TL utterance in a 'spontaneous' 
and 'automatic' manner (Pochhacker 1994:22 and Baker 1998:42). Yet, many 
interpreters and psycholinguists consider the two to be very different and even 
incompatible professions. The most obvious of these differences is that a translator 
deals with written language and has time to access reference sources, revise, edit, 
and polish his work, while a simultaneous interpreter (SI) deals with oral language 
under stressful conditions and has no time to refine or retract his output (Gile 
1989: 41). He is expected to play the role of an overhearer, not a conversationahst. 
His task is to parrot the SL speaker in a different language code. For after all, he 
transmits to a public whom he does not know thoughts of which he is not the 
author. Any supplementary background, whether terminological or world 
knowledge, should be acquired prior to interpreting, as decision-making and 
response to the SL stimulus has to be instantaneous and 'spontaneous'. 'Non- 
automatic' text processing operations that require a special effort can give rise to 
errors, omissions, and gaps (Baker 1998:44). Therefore, an SI should be witty, 
quick-tongued, and possess a high level of SL/TL proficiency. 

A number of experimental studies conducted by psycholinguists (Treisman 
1995; Goldman-Eisler 1968; Gerver 1972; and Henderson 1982) focused on 
performance variables such as SL/TL pace of delivery, short-term memory, ear- 
voice span, noise interference, pauses, false starts, etc. Many recurrent interpreting 
errors have been attributed to either saturation in or improper management of the 

2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001 ) 

interpreter's processing capacity. 

In the following sections, the paper will discuss points of convergence and 
divergence between translation and interpreting. It should be noted at the outset 
that this study is concerned with simultaneous conference interpreters (SI) who sit 
in a booth without having direct contact with the SL speaker. This will exclude 
liaison (i.e., ad-hoc or casual) interpreters who play the role of an intermediary 
with the right to solicit repetitions, rephrase, give explanations, summarize, and 

1. Quality and audience reception 

While assessing the quality of a written translation, reviewers may look for 
grammatical, terminological or orthographical accuracy, and stylistic fidelity. In 
interpretation, audience rather than reviewers are mainly concerned with 
intelligibility, speedy delivery and avoidance of corrections, false starts, and 
artificial pauses in the middle of a sentence. TL audience requires a continuous 
flow regardless of the lag the interpreter faces between the onset of an SL burst 
and its TL rendition. This element of continuous flow will lead to rushed 
structures, lack of cohesive devices, and paraphrases of jargon terms as the 
interpreter is denied any break to evaluate his options. 

While the audience may sympathize with the interpreter in cases of false 
starts, stuttering, or self-corrections, they may be unforgiving when an erroneous 
rendition leads to poor bilateral communication. It is, therefore, better for an 
interpreter to pass unnoticed as an invisible mediator since feedback from the 
audience is often a criticism rather than praise. An interpreter is expected to 
produce a full post-edited version with no room for revisions as he does not have 
the option of covering his mistakes with ivy, as architects do, or with mayonnaise, 
as chefs do (Sykes 1987:97). Such recipient constraints are not observable in the 
same way in written translation. A translator can work on his draft(s) in the 
absence of the recipients who will only have access to the finished work rather 
than the work in progress. 

2. Fluency and output ratio 

Venuti (1998:1-2) criticizes linguistic-oriented attempts to objectively quantify 
and measure interpretation output relative to SL input. In his view such an 
approach ignores the fact that translation and interpretation entail a creative 
reproduction and manipulation of the SL original. Bassnett (2001:751), in turn, 
believes that it is absurd to believe 'that complete equivalence can ever exist' let 
alone be measured quantitatively. 

A conventional way of assessing the fluency of an interpreter is to compare 
the volume of the SL input and the TL output. In written translation this can be 
measured in terms of word count, paragraph and sentence divisions as well as 
punctuation marks and cohesive devices. In SI one can measure the ratio of 
pauses, chunking, acceleration, deceleration, and tempo of delivery. The highest 
pause intervals are the equivalents of paragraph divisions, while shorter ones mark 

Jamal al-Qemai: Convergence and divergence 3 

sentence boundaries (Yagi 2000: 534). 

If the interpreter's pause time is disproportionate to the speaker's, this may 
indicate that the interpreter is missing out on SL discourse, either because of 
his/her nonfluency or owing to SL redundancy. Even if the latter is the case, the 
audience may readily ascribe pauses to interpreter incompetence and complain of 
poor quality. Therefore, interpreter fluency implies that TL pauses must not be 
longer than the speaker's. In other words, the speaker's performance is used as a 
benchmark (Yagi 2000:527). The interpreter is expected to imitate the tempo and 
intensity of the speaker's voice. Low speech rate is often conceived of as typical 
of less-qualified interpreters. 

The matching of SL and TL volume by means of chunking and pause 
intervals is by no means conclusive evidence of an interpreter's fluency. To begin 
with, a cumulative speech ratio is less sensitive to occasional variations (e.g., 
initial pauses when rendering verbal sentences from and into Arabic). 
Intrasentential pauses may occur as a result of the interpreter's attempt to render a 
nuance or a jargon term by paraphrase. 

In other instances, interpreters use a slow pace and lengthen their utterances 
on purpose to cover up for TL lexical gaps or omissions. Fluctuations may also 
occur when interpreters reformulate SL chunks into different packages in order to 
cope with complex structures or run-on sentences. 

3. Performance constraints in SI 

Like any other communication event, output in simultaneous interpreting is 
governed by input quality. The performance of an SI may be influenced by one or 
more of the following factors: 

3.1 The need for specialization 

It has been argued that interpreters should only work into their mother tongue as a 
TL (cf. FIT charter) while other linguists suggest that the mother tongue should be 
the SL as it is the only one s/he understands well enough to react to rapidly (Baker 
1998: 45). In practice, interpreters are required to code-switch constantly between 
LI and L2 as either SL or TL. Yet, it should be pointed out that the choice of SL 
or TL for a given interpreter depends on the comparative ease or difficulty in the 
comprehension and production processes. Other factors being equal, when an 
interpreter faces more difficulty in the comprehension stage, then he should work 
from his mother tongue as SL. If the difficulty is in the production stage, then he 
should work into his mother tongue as a TL. 

While the ideal situation requires interpreters to specialize in a given field, 
conference organizers often perceive the interpreter to be a 'jack of all trades'. 
Thus, the same interpreter who undertakes legal interpretation is given economic, 
political, technical, or medical assignments. 

3.2. Personal and logistical factors 

The interpreter's awareness that major decisions hinge upon the precision of the 
interpretation puts him in a highly stressful situation. The quality of the 

4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 3 1 : 2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

inteqiretation is negatively affected by the interpreter's inexperience, fatigue, lack 
of motivation (e.g., financial incentives), or poor audio-visual conditions in the 
booth (e.g., inefficient acoustic equipment, distorted signals, noisy surroundings). 
Some speakers use gesture to amplify or clarify what s/he is saying. This may 
form an integral part of the communication process in certain cultures. 
Unfortunately, conference booths are often placed at the farthest point from the 
podium (usually at the back of the conference hall). This will deprive the 
interpreter from maintaining visual contact with the speaker's gestures or 
multimedia presentation, a task not required of the translator of written texts. 

3.3 Lack of a holistic approach 

To quote an old cliche, Dijk (1983:101) compares a simultaneous interpreter to a 
juggler, a tightrope walker, rather than a scientist working under ideal conditions. 
As he ventures into the unknown, an SI never knows what awaits him around the 
bend or where to go next. More often than not, the subject of the SL may shift 
drastically, especially in QA sessions. He may be caught off guard when the 
speaker uses a neologism or an idiolectal idiom. 

In contrast, the translator has sufficient time between text reception and de 
livery (up to an agreed deadline, which might be negotiable) to look at the text 
'holistically' at first before attempting to 'localize' his attention to a given 
paragraph, sentence, clause, or a word. The input processed by the translator is an 
autonomous 'polished' text with most of its cohesive devices inserted in place. He 
does not have to anticipate the next segment, as the whole text is a tangible 
'visible' entity laid before him. He has more time to ponder the entire text at his 
disposal. As a result, memory load is less and stress is milder. 

An interpreter does not have this holistic top-down approach. It is the task 
of the SI to wrestle with the immediate textual clues on the basis of the separate 
installments of input. Each chunk of output is expected to be 'locally' coherent in 
its own right and fall in line with the overall context (Mason & Hatim 1997:51). 
This means that the SI must possess the original speaker's talent and have a 
hermeneutic power of his own. In practice, however, an SI relies on textual signals 
available in the immediate pretext rather than the overall context. He operates at 
the level of the lexical item until a break occurs in the speaker's output (e.g., a 
pause or falling intonation), at which the interpreter is able to predict how the 
clause will be completed. This impromptu performance denies the interpreter the 
opportunity to apply the 'think-aloud protocols' where translators introspect and 
verbalize what they do as they do it. Therefore, false starts, slips, editing, and self- 
repair have to be dealt with on the spot. Many of the so-called jerky starts and 
inconsistent TL renditions may be traceable to lack of an adequate overview of 
context and structure rather than interpreter's incompetence. 

3.4 Time lag 

This relates to the ear-voice span (i.e., decoding and encoding), which varies 
according to the syntactic and lexical complexity of SL input and pace. Thus, for 
example, if the SL syntactic structure is too complex, the time given for the lexical 
search diminishes. The further an interpreter lags behind the speaker the clearer 

Jamal al-Qemai: Convergence and divergence 5 

the understanding of the SL message, hence the easier its reformulation, but the 
heavier the burden on memory (Giles 1995:207). Although full synchronization 
remains an ideal, an excessive delay can disrupt the interpreter's execution tempo 
and may lead to a freeze in the encoding of some TL chunks. 

A professional translator typically produces 6-7 words per minute or 
approximately 360 per hour. An SI, in contrast, has to respond instantly to the 
incoming SL utterance at a rate of approximately 150 words per minute or 9000 
words per hour. The pace of delivery depends among other things on whether the 
SL discourse is an improvised or a written speech and the time limit allocated for 
each speaker. For example, long conference presentations of some 20 or 30 pages 
are often squeezed into twenty minutes or less. 

While the translator is free to weigh a range of alternatives before deciding 
on the 'best' version, the interpreter has only one chance (Baker 1998:186). With 
an increase in speed (e.g., 180-200 w.p.m.) and a more complex text, there is 
bound to be a decline in output accuracy and more cases of vague, poorly cohesive 
structures, mistranslations, and omissions. The time available for evaluative 
listening is curtailed by the pressure to process current input, render preceding 
input, and anticipate the next utterance. This is aggravated by the feedback of the 
interpreter's voice from the microphone to the headset. 

Unlike a consecutive interpreter who can take notes and render the gist of 
the SL utterance without his attention being divided between speech reception and 
production, a simultaneous interpreter is engulfed in a crisis situation. S/he is 
always on tiptoes as s/he tries to apply tactics and strategies (see below) to cope 
with the SL input in 'real time', and time in SI is relatively uniform and 
extraordinarily stringent. Therefore, The load in SI is rather on the short-term 
memory, while in consecutive interpreting the long term memory comes to the 

In a given interpretational situation there are triggers that increase process 
ing-capacity requirements. These include fast speeches with dense information, 
unusual logic, syntactic and stylistic idiosyncrasies, as well as lack of redundancy 
(e.g., numbers, names, and acronyms). The result is a saturation of the processing 
capacity that leads to a pile up of earlier, more difficult segments. In such 
situations novice interpreters follow a consecutive-interpretation strategy whereby 
they listen long enough to make sense of a given SL segment and translate it 
without following up what the SL speaker is saying during the transformation into 
TL (Gile 2000:543). Naturally, there would be a high rate of omission, a low 
speech ratio, and eventually a lag. 

) 3.5 SL deflciencies 

The smoothness and fluidity of TL delivery may be negatively affected by the 
poor quality of an SL input. The latter may be fraught with obscurities, solecisms, 
non-standard accents, misarticulated word segments, idiolectal peculiarities, a 
vocabulary replete with foreign borrowings, and sloppy syntax (e.g., incomplete 
and run-on sentences). For example, Arabic speakers tend to override sentence 
boundaries and ignore comma pauses. In fact, commas in Arabic are a formal 

6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

convenience, as they do not necessarily coincide with pauses in actual speech, as 

(1) (j-a Jj^l _yio J '(5jjVI t . nVlMI AjI^ (_jJc. (. ti^'ij jjji (j-o i— ijSj L« ^-^^ 

.(jjjjjl^l /ffJC- lAu«-a )jonn La I jjj£j tAij^>Jt-o __^ J '*"(;;■' ■''! ^' '-'■ ^-' 4ji^ ■ _ '^■^ 

/niAda: ma: yaqrub min qarn wa-nigf ?ala: bida:yat al-tanqi:b al- 
?a0ari:, wa-nusira al-?adi:d min al-kutub hawla Tilm al-2a:0a:r, Tala: 
anna-hu lam yazal huna:ka Yumu:d fi: ka9i:r min maTa:ni: ha:5a: al- 
?ilm, fahuwa min al-?ulu:m al-hadi:9a allati: daxalat al-bila:d al- 
Yarabiyyah, wa ?ittasaTat maja:la:tuhu ?ittisa:Van kabi:ran, bil-?ida:fah 
?ila: annahu jalaba ma?ahu mugtalaha:! mubhama wa-vayr ma?ru:fah, 
wa-ka0i:ran ma: yaltabisu ma?na:ha: ?ala: al-da:risi:n/ 

[Almost a century and a half has passed since the beginning of 
archaeological excavation, and many books were published on 
archaeology, although there is still ambiguity in many of the concepts 
of this science, for it is one of the new sciences that entered the Arab 
countries, and its fields expanded tremendously, and it further 
introduced ambiguous and incomprehensible terms, and their meanings 
are often confusing to students.] 

Texts like the one above increase the load on the interpreter's short-term 
memory and may disrupt his comprehension of the SL input. Interpreters from 
Arabic as SL sometimes wonder about the value of rendering convoluted speeches 
or repetitive presentations that do not advance any new hypothesis or argument. A 
caique rendition would make English, as a TL, sound awkwardly superfluous. The 
result is an interlinear translation that aspires to the communication of an 
informative message rather than stylistic elegance. For this reason, interpreters 
improvise their own way of segmenting the SL input into minimal units of 
meaning in order to avoid any unanticipated turns while rendering an unstable SL 

3.6 Structural asymmetry 

Despite the interpreter's competence, pauses and delays may become inevitable 
owing to the structural asymmetry of SL/TL patterns. If the pace of the SL is slow 
or moderate, the interpreter may opt for a delay tactic until the SL syntactic format 
becomes clear. Goldman-Eisler (1968:31) considers pausing to be an attribute of 
spontaneity in the creation of new 'verbal' constructions. For instance, English has 
a fixed linear word order while Arabic is a free word-order language. When a verb 
occurs initially in Arabic the interpreter has to wait for the subject before he can 
start the English rendition. To double the trouble, when the verb and its 
agent/subject are intersected by a parenthetical or subordinate phrase, this initial 
inactivity becomes greater, as in (2). 


Jamal AL-QiNAi: Convergence and divergence 


/wa ka:nat qad waqa ?at fi: al-?ayya:m al-qali:lah al-ma:diyah wa-fi: nafs 

al-mintaqah ?agma:l savab musa:biha/ 

[Over the past few days similar riots occurred in the same region.] 

In other words, the interpreter has to wait for the theme before rendering the 
rheme or propos. This structural realignment may, however, lead to a change of 
focus, as the beginning of a clause represents an emphatic position. 

Other constituents and discourse links are affected in the same way. Arabic 
prefers explicit links (e.g., cohesive devices and markers of case, number, and 
gender agreement) while English is more implicit (i.e., uses more-neutral 
referents). The word pioneer, for example, has a zero syntactic feature in English 
as an adjective with regard to case, gender, and number. In Arabic, it can be 
rendered into one of six forms -ijl j/raa2id/ (masc. sing), oJilj/raa?ida/ (fem. sing), 
jl-i— jlj/raa?idaan/ (masc. dual), u^^ul j /raa?idataan/ (fem. dual), jIjj /ruwwaad/ 
(masc. pi.), *:ijl.i— jlj/raa5idaat/ (fem. pi.) according to gender and number, and a 
further fifteen forms depending on the nominative, accusative or genitive case of 
the qualified noun. 

Similarly, an Arabic verb in a post-nominal position has to agree with its 
subject in number and gender. For example, the verb presented in the sentence the 
speaker presented his paper can be interpreted as either ^A_i /qaddama/ (masc. 
sing.) or Ci-ja /qaddamat/ (fem. sing.), while the same verb after a plural subject in 
English can be rendered as L«.B/qaddamaa/ (masc. dual), llo^a /qaddamataa/ (fem. 
Dual), l>«ja/qaddamu:/ (masc. pi.) and t>^/qaddamnna/ (fem. pi.). 

Furthermore, Arabic uses the definite article for cases that would otherwise 
be expressed by a zero article in English. Even adjectives qualifying defined nouns 
require marking for definition (Shunnaq 1993:95), as in (3). 

(3) International conventions call for the dissemination of a just peace among 
Muslims, Christians, and Jews. 

/tad?u: al-mawa:6i:q al-dawliyyah li-na§r al-sala:m al-?a:dil bayna 
al-muslimi:n w-al-masi:hiyyi:n w-al-yahu:d/ 

[The international the conventions call for the dissemination of the 
just the peace among the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews.] 

In the literal back-translation of the Arabic interpretation, there are eight definite 
articles while only one is used in the English original. 


The above examples show that neutral anaphoric and cataphoric 
pronominal/ adjectival referents in English have to be marked for gender, number, 
and definiteness in the Arabic version. This would increase the TL word count. It 
also demands more time and effort on the part of the interpreter to determine the 
nature of the linkage, as in (4). 

(4) To praise Thee, to glorify Thee, to bless Thee, to give thanks to 
Thee, to worship Thee in all places of Thy dominion, for Thou art God 
ineffable (Kelly 1979:187). 

Here, anaphoric references to God have to be rendered in the masculine gender in 
Arabic. The interpreter who has no visual access to the speaker's text may render 
the wrong gender but it would be too late then to retrieve the spoken utterance. In 
contrast, a translator can decide the case, number, gender, and definiteness of 
constituents before embarking on the actual process of translation. 

3.7 Lexical incompatibility 

Henderson (1982:49) maintains that the interpreter is continually involved in 
evaluating and filtering the information of the SL message rather than its words. 
Although this may be true of the general output of interpretation, our analysis of 
recorded conference interpretations has shown that pauses often result from the 
interpreter's wrestling with a difficult jargon term for which he has no ready-made 
paraphrase. Sometimes, a lengthy paraphrase would delay the interpreter's 
response to a following segment. For instance, the neologism Macdonaldization 
requires a long time and a thorough analysis of the politico-economic concept 
involved before it can be borrowed into Arabic as ^ — !j£« /makdala/ or paraphrased 
as .ilbjoSU ^jJl ^jLo,! (jjfkj _^_^iJol — auVI /al-ittijaah nahwa tajtbi:q islu:b Jarikat 
makdo:nald/ in an economic context, and as ^j—IjjaVi^j — «u^l /al-haymana al- 
2amri:keyya/ 'American domination' in a political one. The same can be said for 
the word de globalization 4^jxJI jc (_>aj£i_JI /an-nuku:s ?an al-2awlama/ and the 
1980's Reaganomics ajjUuj]! dljjL-a:jaVI /al-iqtisa:diyyaat ar-ri:Yaagiyya/. 

One of the main areas of lexical incompatibility concerns compounding, 
which is a productive morphological process in English. Yet, it becomes a source 
of problems in Arabic, which lacks this process. As compounds in general are 
poorly paraphrasable, they are likely to cause delays for the interpreter who has to 
economize in the delivery time. This is particularly true of new nonlexicalized 
compounds and jargon wherein the semantic relation between their adjuncts is not 
transparent enough to be interpreted correctly, such as metal matrix composite (in 
the aluminum industry), iinmap volume (in computer software), which have no 
target equivalents in Arabic. 

To tackle the problem of lexical incompatibility, the interpreter may resort 
to one of four alternatives: 

a. Transliterate (i.e., borrow the loanword in approximation to the SL 
pronunciation), e.g., spectrophotometer jjjxjjjSjjiijja. 

Jamal al-Qinai: Convergence and divergence 9 

b. Paraphrase by using a composite genitive, adjectival, or prepositional 
expression, e.g., Sectrophotometer ^^j^^l l-sjUI i_yV^ /miqya:s ai-tayf al- 

c. Derive a new word by blending a root and a noun or attaching affixes to 
lexical stems, e.g., spectrophotometer (-iLiia-o /mityaaf/. 

d. Expand the semantic meaning of an existing word. 

Needless to say, under the constraints of time, alternatives c and d are the least 
likely to be attempted, as the interpreter is not expected to assume the task of a 

Another lexical divergence that causes both delay and an increase in the TL 
volume is the rendition of abbreviations and acronyms that in Arabic are spelled 
out in full. In example (5), the s-apostrophe (s') and the abbreviation U.S. are 
given full equivalents in Arabic. [Smiths' must be plural and needs referent] 

(5) The Smiths' relatives have been U.S. residents for the past twelve years. 

/?inna ?aqa:rib ?a:2ilat smiG muqi:mu:n fi: al-wila:ya:t al-muttahida 

munQu ?i9nay 9asara sanah/ 

3.8 Cultural and rhetorical divergence 

Sometimes a translator may intervene on behalf of the readers to achieve 
coherence by explaining a reference to a cultural norm or a literary work, as in (6). 

(6) Henry the Eighth is a landmark in the history of English literature. 

/tu?tabar masrahiyyat Hinri: al-0a:min ?ala:mah mumayyazah fi: ta:ri:x 
al-?adab al-?inji:lzi:/ 

Here, the translator inserted the word Aji.^>x.d.<i/masrahiyya/ 'play' as he felt that the 
TL audience might not share the same background as that of the TL audience. 
Under the constraints of time and immediacy of delivery, an interpreter cannot 
decipher all the inferences, presuppositions, and allusions of the SL speaker. In the 
following example, the translator, who was concerned that the TL audience might 
not have the 'casserole' schema, inserted a paraphrase explanation; an interpreter 
would simply borrow the SL pronunciation as in (7). 

(7) The chef has already cooked your casserole, sir! 

/laqad ?intaha: al-tabba:x min tahy al-ka:saru:l (wajbah min al- }(udrawa:t 

Arabic rhetorical thrust depends on reiteration by means of lexical and 
pronominal recurrence, redundant conjunctions, and synonyms (hendiadys). The 
latter may be used for alliteration rather than for sense addition. Thus there is an 

1 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

increased level of explicitness in Arabic, which may be more evident in written 
translation. In interpretation, there is less room for modifying the SL cohesive 
features as the addition of extra lexical items or pronominal references would 
consume time and create an unnecessary delay. In the Arabic translations in (8-9), 
the boldfaced words represent the additions in the rendition of the English 

(8) Halfway to the office, he realized that he had forgotten the keys at home. 

[He was halfway to the office when he realized that he had forgotten the 
keys at home.] 

James ran into the kitchen for a sandwich. 

/jara: jims ?ila: da:xil al-matba^ liyuhdira sati:rah/ 
[James ran inside the kitchen to bring a sandwich] 

Arabic uses dummy initial and-connectors to signal sentence and paragraph 
boundaries and make up for its somewhat lax system of punctuation. In the 
following Arabic extract from a conference on money-laundering (Kuwait 2000), 
the interpreter was faced with twoj anJ-connectors, one genuinely additive, the 
other adversative. Yet, both were rendered as and due to the interpreter's failure to 
anticipate the adversative link between the two sentences. 

(9) 4-aikjVl (».iaal 4->n"i JjaII Jjj t^ jIajII JjLuII JjI JJj 

. JI_>«Vl (JjjuiC. (JLlLiLc Ailjj ^\ i^j (_5J| J .^alVI <j9j.^<i1I 

/wa taza:yada al-taba:dul al-tija:ri: bayna al-duwal nati:jatan litaqaddum al 
?an^ima al-ma§rafiyyah al-?a:liyyah. wa ?adda: 3a:lika ?ila: taza:yud 
?amaliyya:t Yasi:l al-?amwa:l/ 

[Recorded interpretation] 

And trade exchange among countries has increased owing to the advanced 

automated banking systems. And this led to a rise in money-laundering 


[Proceedings translation] 

Moreover , trade exchange among countries has increased thanks to the advanced 

automated banking systems. Yet , this led to a rise in money laundering. 

Despite being grammatically a coordinating conjunction, .'and' may 
introduce logically subordinate structures, digressions, or contradictory statements. 
In such instances, it is often coupled with another 'meaningful' conjunction, as in 

(10) ci!j 'and if / L»lj 'and as'/ o^j 'and but'/ J^j 'and even'/ Jbiicj 'and then' 
/wa?in / wa?amma: / wala:kin / wahatta: / wa9inda?i3in/ 

Jamal al-Qinai: Convergence and divergence 11 

An interpreter has to think over the functions of such conjunctions and whether 
they help in the cohesive Hnkage or the progression of ideas. The erroneous 
reproduction of an SL conjunction may jeopardize the logic and consistency of the 
argument, as in (11). 

(11) ijjjfcj .ojSlLuui jiLiJI jI_ja11 jLuujI i^^ fr'^J^ ajji-alil C1j1£^ djIjLajl ^»iin 

.I^jjLloj ^IJhWI j_ji CjbLaJiVI a^ J*^ ^-sn'i l^jLi ^>jaiij VI t . 1% j (jl_^VI (^yi iJliLjijJj AjI ^jji 

/tas?a: ?ittiha:da:t sarika:t al-?alamunium lil-?ibqa:2 ?ala: ?as?a:r al-mawa:d 
al-xa:m mustaqirrah. wa-?inda?i6in fa?inna ?ay ta9ab6uba:t fi: al-?aswa:q 
yajib ?alla: tufassar bi?annaha: nati:jat fasal ha:9ihi al-?ittiha:da:t fi: 
al?iltiza:m bimaba:di?iha:/ 

[Aluminum corporate syndicates aim at maintaining stable prices for 
raw materials. Then, any market fluctuations should not be construed as 
a failure of such consortiums to adhere to their principles] (Arabal 
Conference Kuwait, 1999). 

The retention of a^i-i^c /5inda?i3in/ 'then' in the interpretation has given a 
sequential additive link between the two sentences. The sense of 
consequential/resultative relationship in the SL would require the use of 
'therefore', 'consequently', 'as a result', etc. 

In such cases, the interpreter should view SL formal devices with 
skepticism as faux amis. Indeed, the above examples refute the misconception 
leveled at interpreters as being nothing but shadowers who mimic the SL speaker 
without exhibiting a measure of autonomy. Likewise, trainee interpreters should 
be made aware of the occasions when SL cohesive devices may be reproduced or 
jettisoned in the TL depending on their role in the service of textual coherence and 
thematic progress. 

3.9 Phatic communion 

Modes of address in Arabic and English differ widely. In Arabic, it is customary to 
greet the audience with honorary titles and use elaborate phatic phrases in the 
opening and closing segments of speeches. Likewise, Arabic speakers frequently 
invoke the name of God or quote religious verses to express greetings and wishes 
even in the most technical of speeches, as in (12). 

(12) >^^l ,J_>a:^^I .Jill ^»jalJ 

/bismi alla:h al-rahma:n al-rahi:m/ 

[In the name of Allah Most Gracious most Merciful.] 

/?ayyuha al-?uxwa wal-?axawa:t/ 
[O, Brothers and Sisters] 


/al-sala:m Talaykum wa-al-^ala:t ?ala: nabiyyina: muhammad nuhayyi:kum/ 
[May peace be upon you and our Prophet Mohammed] 

/tahiyyah muba:rakah min Tind alla:h/ 
We greet you with the Grace of Allah 

/wa-qul ?i?malu: fasayara alla:h ?ama:lakum wa-rasu:luh wal-mu?minu:n/ 

['And say: work! For Allah, His messenger and the believers will witness 
your deeds'.] 

To an English speaker who uses a simple 'good morning/evening' and 'thank 
you', such expressions are void of any informative value. Otherwise, if rendered 
verbatim, the greeting ^»ljlc. pUJt /as-salaamu ?alaykomu/ would sound similar to 
the Biblical 'peace to thee and thine house' (Hassanain 1994:73). Such courteous 
expressions are more frequent in orally delivered speeches than in written texts. 
They call for tactical omissions on the interpreter's part as they are generally 
intended for their phatic function rather than propositional content or referential 
value (Sykes: 101). 

4. Compensation strategies 

Experienced interpreters use all kinds of anticipation strategies regarding both 
context and structure. But even when prior expectations are sufficiently focused, 
the processing is still tentative and the hypotheses must be confirmed or disproved 
by the forthcoming textual evidence (Hatim & Mason 1997:45). To tackle the 
limitations of textual clues, interpreters resort to other means such as register 
membership, type of topical issues involved (i.e., domain), pragmatics, semiotics, 
participants, stylistic background, etc. But these are not conclusively reliable clues 
to overcome the unpredictability of the way a given text will develop and conclude 
(Mason& Hatim 1997:51). Therefore, interpreters resort to a number of strategies 
that may help ease the burden and improve the pace of delivery. 

4.1 Intonational clues 

Unlike written translation, in interpretation suprasegmental features occupy a 
paramount status. Delays, hesitations, false starts, stuttering, tempo, and accent are 
part and parcel of the overall effect. One of the para verbal clues an SI my resort to 
is the intonation pattern of the SL discourse. Thus, if there is a rising intonation on 
the theme, a rheme is to follow. In case of a rising intonation coupled with an 
inversion of subject and verb, an interrogative structure is to follow. When a level 
or rising intonation continues for a long time, this signals either a list of parallel 
structures or a sequence of phrases (or sentences) with a falling intonation on the 
finite verbal clause that serves as a common rheme, as in (13). 

Jamal al-Qinai: Convergence and divergence 13 

(13) Basically the trend of the government to privatize ~ the consolidation of 
businesses ~ the setting up of a free trade zone ~ and the soaring stock prices 
~ are all indications of an imminent economic boom #. [~ indicates level or 
rising intonation. # indicates sentence-end intonation]. 

Yet, caution should be exercised as the implications of intonational contours may 
differ from one language or variety to another. For instance, the intonation of 
excitement in Italian resembles that of anger in English. An American teenage 
female would use a rising consultative intonation in almost all sentences whether 
affirmative or interrogative. Further, a Burmese uses an almost stilted rise-and-fali 
(circumflex ^) pattern regardless of the meaning content of the utterance. A 
misinterpretation of these phonological aspects may lead to a change of sense and 
focus. In contrast, a translator has no such worries aside from the occasional 
emphasis represented by italics or underlining and the rare insertion of a 

The question is, should an interpreter imitate (i.e. reproduce) SL intonational 
patterns in order to maintain neutrality by acting as an invisible agent, or should 
s/he adapt the phonological patterns to those of the TL and be accused of taking 
sides? In practice, interpreters often tend to accommodate their audience by 
adopting equivalent TL patterns. In case of a great disparity between the SL and 
TL, a neutral level (i.e., flat) contour is rendered. 

4.2 Cohesive signals 

Aside from intonational contours, an interpreter may rely on SL cohesive devices 
to anticipate the next segment of a given discourse. For example, the use of 
course, nevertheless, yet, while, etc., signals a counter-argument structure. The use 
of enumerative words (e.g., firstly, secondly, the following, finally) introduces a 
list of parallel structures in the form of a theme followed by a rheme, an NP plus 
comment or simply an NP without a finite clause. An 'if would signal a 
conditional structure and so on. 

4.3 Queuing 

Here, the interpreter delays either a less important TL rendition or a complex 
sentence structure during a heavy load period and then catches up in any lulls that 
occur later (el-Shiyab 2000:556). Although this tactic helps the interpreter in 
reducing lag, it has its drawbacks, as the postponed segment may not fall in line 
with the cohesive pattern of later segments. It may also jeopardize the SL thematic 

4.4 Segmentation and parceling 

One of the basic processes an interpreter has to perform is the segmentation or 
chunking of the SL discourse into what Vinay (Vinay & Darbelnet 1958) terms 
manageable unite de pensee or units of meaning that can be translated en bloc. 
This strategy helps in processing long-drawn or run-on sentences that require 
declustering (i.e., slicing) into shorter units in order to cope with short-term 
memory span. Segmentation is particularly useful for languages that have Russian 
doll-like structures with one subordinate clause fitting into another one, which in 

14 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

turn fits into another (Jones 1998:102), as in (14). 

(14) 'A passion for routine in administration, the sacrifice of flexibility to 
rule, delay in the making of decisions, and refusal to embark upon 
experiment', evils inherent in bureaucracy, according to Harold Laski, 
are undoubtedly to be found in bureaucratic bodies — public and 
private — but the efficiency and realizability desired in the operations 
of any large organization are also the product of what sociologists call 
bureaucracy (ITl Qualifying Exam 1994). 

After segmentation and some structural rearrangement, the above example was 
rendered into the following version in Arabic: 


(jjjj^L A-ljll i^J "S^'j^JJr^r' is^ 4li«-iri<ill c_ijj«JI (jl j_j£jaiV jJjjIa (_$JJJ 

/wa yara: haruld la:ski: ?nna al-9uyu:b al-muta?aggilah fi: al- 
bi:ru:qra:tiyyah wa-hiya al-wala? bi-al-ru:ti:n al-?ida:ri:, wa-al- 
tadhiya bil-muru:nah fi: sabi:l al-taqayyud bil-2an^imah wa-al- 
ta 2y i:r fi: ?ittixa:9 al-qara:ra:t wa-rafd al-xawd fi: al-taja:rub 
mawju:dah bila: ?adna: sak fi: al-haya:t al-bi:ru:qra:tiyyah al- 
Ta:mmah wal- xa:??ah Tala: had sawa:?. ?illa: ?anna tahqi:q al- 
kafa:?ah wal-?inja:z fi: ?amahyya:t ?ay mu?asasah kubra: 
ma:huwa ?illa: nita:j lima: yuUiq Talayhi Tulama:? al-?ijtima:? laf^ 

[According to Harold Laski, evils inherent in bureaucracy, i.e., 'a passion 
for routine in administration, the sacrifice of flexibility to rule, delay in the 
making of decisions, and refusal to embark upon experiment', are 
undoubtedly to be found in bureaucratic bodies — public and private. Yet, 
the efficiency and realizability desired in the operations of any large 
organization are also the product of what sociologists call bureaucracy.] 

Segmentation in written translation depends on visible punctuation marks 
and paragraph divisions while in interpretation it is an ad hoc process that depends 
on gaps and pauses in the SL speech or the interpreter's short-term memory. If the 
SL sentences are small and numerous, interpreters may parcel (i.e., combine) th^m 
into larger units and vice versa. In other words, the interpreter would reformulate 
SL discourse units into shorter or longer fragments according to SL or TL style 
and tempo. The difference in number between the SL and TL fragments indicates 
whether the interpreter has sliced long sentences of SL or otherwise joined short 
structures into longer more complex ones. 

Jamal al-Qinai: Convergence and divergence 15 

4.5 Syntactic adjustment 

To counter the risk of lagging behind the SL speaker, interpreters often start 
formulating their TL utterances before having a full picture of the idea to be 
expressed. This involves selecting neutral sentence beginnings that allow the 
interpreter to steer the sentence more easily towards the speaker's conclusion 
(Baker 1998:43). In a context of English- Arabic interpretation, for example, a 
neutral structure would be a nominal sentence (SVO) rather than the normally 
preferred Arabic verbal order (VSO). This would reduce the time required for the 
initiation of an Arabic verbal structure, which requires the onset of the verb in the 
predicate of the English original. The interpreter, therefore, does not have to wait 
until the speaker utters the verb at the end of the SL sentence before he can 
interpret the intervening material, particularly in the presence of a subordinate 
clause, leading to the main verb (Crystal: 349), as in (16). 

(16) The Ports Authority , represented by the director general, has sponsored this 
S V 


~\r~ s 

/?inna mu ? asasat al-mawa:ni ? mumaGGalah bil-mudi:r al-?a:m ?amilat 9ala: 
ri?a:yat S V 

ha:3ihi al-nadwah/ 

Furthermore, Arabic pronominal references are marked for gender and 
number. This gives rise to two main problems: 

1 . Difficulty of determining gender and number when feedback from the SL 
discourse is nonexistent. For example, the word clients in the sentence all clients 
are required to sign a power of attorney can be rendered as either a masculine 
<:X»c. /?umala:?/ or feminine ClIiac /?ami:la:t/. In interpretation, it is customary 
to use the 'dominant' masculine (singular or plural) to refer to both genders in the 
absence of any textual clues. 

2. The insertion of agreement affixes to anaphoric constituents (verbs, 
adjectives, and pronouns) requires more time and effort on the part of the 
interpreter. In the following dialogue (House & Blum-Kulka 1986: 22), the 
specification of gender is deliberately delayed down to the fourth line in the 
English original, while it is specified in the first line in Arabic. 

(17) Kate: /samra:? (^amt)/ .(Caa^ t.\jA^ :C^ 

Kate: Dark (pause). 

Deeley: /samiinah ?am nahi:fah/ v<ipj ^| ij^A^ :^j 

Deeley: Fat or thin? 

16 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

Kate: /?asman minni: ?ala: ma:?a?taqid/ ..iik-l La ^ ^ ,y^\ -.Ca^ 

Kate: Fuller than me, I think (pause). 

Deeley: /ka:nat ka9a:lika fi: al-sa:biq/ ^jLJI ^ dllj£ cAS, -.^ — Lj 

Deeley: She was then? 

Kate: /?a?taqid 9a:lik/ lillj ^^\ :Cjj£ 

Kate: I think so. 

Deeley: /qad la: taku:n ka3a:lika ?al2a:n/ . jVl liUJS j^ V ^ :^ylj-i 

Deeley: She may not be now. 

Arabic requires the adjective to be marked for gender immediately after the lexical 
item being modified. This may be overcome in translation by looking further 
down for textual clues. But the case might be different for the interpreter who 
finds himself obliged to correct the gender after uttering the first three lines. The 
Arabic version would be more cohesively explicit with a dense texture rather than 
the loose SL original. Such grammatical modifications along with the insertion of 
lil— lj£/ka5a:lika/ 'so' would increase TL overall volume and cause delivery delay. 
This process would be reversed when Arabic is an SL as there would be a high 
level of syntactic redundancy. 

3. Difficulty in determining TA' second person pronoun. In a vocative discourse, 
the English second person pronoun 'you' may be rendered in the singular Cj_jI 
/?anta/ or the deferential plural ^l/?antum/ in translation, one can look for textual 
clues, while in interpretation the urgency to render the immediate context of 
utterance blocks the contextual clues further down the line. The most frequent 
strategy to overcome such indecisiveness is to use the second person inclusive 
plural form or an agentless passive structure. 

4.6. Caique and paraphrase 

Instances of caique renditions abound in interpretation owing to the constraints of 
time and the intermittent nature of speech delivery. In order to avoid any 
unanticipated lexical turns, interpreters may adhere to the SL lexical patterns 
creating a verbatim version of the SL. In the following examples quoted from a 
Conference on Globalization (Kuwait, 1999), the boldfaced collocations in Arabic 
were firstly rendered verbatim in interpretation, whereas in a more careful 
translation of conference proceedings they were given equivalent English 

(18) .a^2c. JSLlo AjLiL i^ JJjijll IJA J^^J 

/wa-yahmil ha:5a: al-taYyi:r fi: ,tayya:tihi ma§a:kil ?adi:dah/ 
Interpretation: This change carries with it many problems. 

Translation: This change is fraught with many problems. 

Jamal al-Qinai: Convergence and divergence 17 

(19) . l^'i W ^ iLijl^Sw ^ 1 j 9; I II LaC. AjjLiJI sift jj.ojLJj 

/wa-tatamayyazu ha:9ihi al-ha:di6a Samma: sabaqaha: min hawaidiG fi: 
Interpretation: This incident is distinguished from previous ones in its 

Translation: This incident has unprecedented intensity. 

On the other hand, paraphrase, which is a strategy of explication (Al-Qinai 
1999: 237-239), is used in cases of SL cultural references or jargon terms and 
compounds for which the TL lacks direct one-word equivalents (see under lexical 
incompatibility above), as in (20). 

(20) carcinoma -^ v Nj.i-^H ajjUl Cjl^ylJI ^jj /waram al-basra:t al-sa:tirah al- 
Xabi:6/ [malignant tumor of the epithelial tissue] 

/al-sa?y/<jjiJI — >■ running between Safa and Marwa during pilgrimage. 

4.7 Approximation and substitution 

In the absence of a direct TL equivalent or when the interpreter finds it difficult to 
remember the TL item, an alternative that shares most of the semantic features of 
the TL word is used, as in (21). 

(21) opium poppy -^ >^lj.ii-o/muxaddira:t/ [drugs] instead of (jiLi^iiJI /al-xisxa:s/ 

Unlike approximation, an interpreter may substitute the SL term by a 
remotely related equivalent, which becomes handy under the stress of a rapidly 
delivered speech, e.g.. 

Legion of Merit —^ 'j^xaAl ^Ija]! / al-faylaq al-mutamayyiz/ [the distinguished 

legion] instead of (jlia^l*-^' !*^J /wisa:m al-istihqa:q/ 

(23) • j=i^l jij^ /sari:r al- bahr/ [sea bed] instead of ja^l ^li /qa:? al-bahr/ 

4.8 Reduction 

This strategy involves the use of a superordinate term to superimpose two 
collocational synonyms. Alternatively, the interpreter may delete modifying words 
and retain key semantic elements. Needless to say, this results in a change of the 
intended force of the SL, as in (23) (el-Shiyab: 236). 

(23) SL Interpretation Translation 

Terrible consequences jUlLI /?ax,ta:r/ [dangers] <*ji».jsj3ljc /Tawa:qib 

Direct severe criticism -iiij/yantaqid/ [criticize] ItJV 1^ <=>.jj/yuwajjih 

naqdan la:di'i'an/ 
Premeditated aggressive plans <p\j:^ U^/nawaaya ?udwa:niyyah/ [aggressive 
plans] ajau ajjIj.:c ljljj/nawa:ya: ?udwa:niyyah mubayyatah/ 

4.9 Compression 

This strategy is employed when interpreters try to economize by sifting the SL 
input into shorter and briefer TL output, especially when interpretation is 
conducted from Arabic into Enghsh. Here, paraphrased loan abbreviations, 

18 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

acronyms, and jargon terms are reinstated in their original English form, as in (24). 

(24) ojSjJI ajIjjJI s±a.j/wihdat al-?ina:yah al-murakkazah/ [intensive care unit] 

AaaLJI diLajjU tiuj£]l .i^ji-o /maThad al-kuwayt lil-?abha:9 al-Tilmiyyah/ 

[Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research] -^ KISR 
jiyi Cuia ^\^\ /?iltiha:b manbat al-?ifr/ [inflammation of nail stem] — * 


4.10 Borrowing 

In view of the rapid pace of delivery in conference presentations, an interpreter 
may find recourse in adopting a TL loan-form by way of transliteration, as in (25). 

(25) WAP (i.e. Wireless Application Protocol) — > ^\j /wa:b/ 

Massicot — > cijjl^^uiLa /masiku:t/ instead of oaL^jll -lu-SI Jjl /?awwal ?uksi:d al- 
raga:g/ [lead monoxide] 

4.11 Ellipsis 

Certain kinds of SL utterances may be omitted when they are deemed cumbersome 
or superfluous. Such a strategy of reduction is resorted to in the following cases: 

1. Repetition: In the following excerpt from a PTSD conference (Kuwait 1994), 
the boldfaced items in the Arabic original have been edited out. 

(26) t.n'hi"!^ LJj!La ^j^ .(_^jaiii]l ( jjH'ilij i^-li!i\ ^ . n"l»MI f-ljjl ^_^^ UJ:H-^' O^J^ -^ 

.^IJ&VI CjVU. s.iALix ^^ OAJJX*]) 

/laqad ta9arrada al-madaniyyu:n li§atta: ?anwa:? al-ta?6i:b al-badani: 
wa al-taWi:b al-nafsi:. fa-min §unu:f al-ta?5i:b al-badani: al-hirma:n 
min al-ta?a:m wal-?i?tida:? al-jinsi:. amma: al-ta?9i:b al-nafsi: faqad 
tamaGGala fi: ?irYa:m al-madaniyyi:n Tala: musa:hadat ha:la:t al- 

Verbatim: [Civilians were subjected to all kinds of physical torture 
and psychological torture. Among the kinds of physical torture is 
food deprivation and sexual assault. As for psychological torture it 
was manifested in compelling civilians to witness cases of execution.] 

Interpretation: Civilians were subjected to all kinds of physical and 
psychological torture, such as food deprivation, sexual assault, and 
compelling civilians to witness executions. 

The lexical repetition of the words physical, psychological, and torture in Arabic is 
intended to reiterate the concept of trauma and deprivation. It seems that the 
interpreter felt that the recurrence of such lexical items was inappropriate in 
English rhetoric and should therefore be neutralized by skipping. 

2. An interpreter may gloss over an SL term when he fails to find its exact 
equivalent in the TL or when a paraphrase is too long. The latter is most likely 
when the interpreter is lagging behind the speaker and attempts to catch up. It 

Jamal al-Qinai: Convergence and divergence 19 

should be noted, however, that this is a drastic measure that is rarely resorted to 
lest the interpreter should be accused of incompetence or malpractice, as in (27). 

(27) The rationale for holding this seminar is to evaluate the papers presented in 
the conference. 

/ha:5ihi al-nadwah tuqayyim al-?abha:9 al-muqaddamah lil-mu?tamar/ 
[This seminar evaluates the papers presented in the conference.] 

5. Conclusion 

While both translators and interpreters perform almost similar tasks of rendering a 
TL version of an SL original, the performance constraints and the skills required 
for each vary in many aspects. A translator deals with visible text and has time to 
access reference sources, revise, edit, and polish his work, whereas a simultaneous 
interpreter deals with oral language under stressful conditions and has no time to 
refine or retract his output. Some of the points raised in this study, such as 
syntactic asymmetry, lexical incompatibility, and cultural-rhetorical divergence 
pertain to both translator and interpreter. Yet, issues such as lack of a holistic 
approach, time lag, and intonational patterns remain the exclusive domains of the 

Whether deviation between SL input and TL input in terms of quaUty, 
volume, and textual strategies is attributable to performance constraints or 
interpreters incompetence remains a moot point. The resort to compensatory 
strategies, such as ellipses, paraphrase, and approximation, should be approached 
with caution, as they can be abused by novice interpreters who may attribute their 
errors to poor SL quality and unfavorable logistics. 

Further studies in this area may investigate cognitive and pragmatic aspects 
of interpretation in contrast to translation. Other studies might consider points of 
convergence and divergence across different languages. 


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Universidad de ALCALA, Salamanca. 
I Crystal, David. 1988. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Uinguage. New York: 

Cambridge University Press. 
El-shiyab, R. and R. Hussein. 2000. On the use of compensatory strategies in 

simultaneous interpretation, META: Journal des Traducteurs/Translators' 

Journal 14:3.548-57. Montreal: Les Presses de I'Universite de Montreal. 

20 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 3 1 : 2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

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information processing. Research Report HR 566/1, London: Social Science 

Research Council. 
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London: Academic Press 
Hassanain, Khalid. 1994. Saudi mode of greeting rituals. IRAL International 

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fur angewandte Linguistik in der Spracherziehung 32:1. Heidelberg. Julius 

Groos Verlag. 
HaTIM, Basil, & I. Mason. 1997. The Translator as Communicator. London: 

Henderson, J. 1982. Some psychological aspects of simultaneous interpretation. 

The Incorporated Linguist 21.149-50. 
House, Juliane, & Blum-KULKA, J. (eds).1986. Interlingual and Intercultural 

Communication. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag. 
Jones, R. 1997. Conference Interpreting Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome 

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Interpreting Conference: The Business of Translation and Interpreting. 1-2 

May, 96-8 London: ASLIB. 
KELLY, L. G. 1979. The True Interpreter. Oxford: Blackwell. 
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Lettres Modernes. 
POCHHACKER, F. 1994. Simultandolmetschen als Komplexes Handeln, Tubingen: 

Gunter Narr. 
Shakir, a., and M. Farghal. 1992. Collocations as an index of L2 competence 

in Arabic English simultaneous interpreting and translation. Translatio 11:. 3. 

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reference to Arabic- English-translation. Papers and Studies in Contrastive 

Linguistics 28.89-98. Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University. 
Treisman, a. M. 1995. The effects of redundancy and familiarity on translating 

and repeating back a foreign and a native language. British Journal of 

Psychology, 56:3.369-79. 
Van Duk , Marcel. 1983. Better Translation for Better Communication. London: 

Pergamon Press. 
Venuti, L. 1998. The Scandals of Translation. London: Routledge. 
Vinay, J., & J. Darbelnet.1958. Stylistique Comparee du Francais et de 

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47. Montreal: Les Presses de I'Universite de Montreal. 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 31, No. 2 (Fall 2001) 


All Darzi 

Tehran University 

adarzi @ chamran . u I . ac . i r 

This paper provides an analysis of PRO in Persian. I will show 
that apparently infinitival clauses are actually nominal in nature, and 
not clausal. Then, considering the mixed behavior of the infinitival 
form with respect to its precedence relation with its complement, I will 
propose two distinct structures for the construction in question: one 
involving a nominal construction headed by a noun taking its com- 
plement to the right a la Giorgi & Longbardi's (1991) analysis of a 
similar construction in Italian and another having the structure [^p [ip 
PRO ...]] following Chomsky's (1996b) analysis of a corresponding 
construction in English. A new analysis of arbitrary PRO in Persian is 
presented in section four, providing further support for the proposed 
analysis. The paper is concluded with arguments against analyzing the 
infinitival forms in Persian as morphological compounds. 

1. Persian inflnitival clauses 

Persian is an pro-drop language in which major phrasal categories, except VPs, are 
head-initial (Samiian 1983, Ghomeshi 1996). Although, the language is an SOV 
type, complement clauses follow the matrix verb underlyingly (c.f. Karimi 1989, 
Darzi 1996). There are sentences in which the covert subject of an embedded 
clause is strictly coreferential with the matrix subject suggesting a subject control 
phenomenon in finite clauses. This is illustrated in (1). The head of the embedded 
clause in this sentence is inflected for person and number, suggesting that the 
clause is finite, though due to the presence of the subjunctive mood prefix the verb 
may not be inorphologically in the past tense. The subjunctive mood in Persian 
involves the morpheme be prefixed to the present stem of the verb. 

(1) msnj qaesd dar-asm [PROj name be-nevis-aem] 

1 intention have-lsg letter sub-write- Isg 

"1 intend to write a letter.' 

There are various analyses of sentences similar to (1) (c.f. Hashemipour 
1990, Ne'matzadch 1995). However, 1 am not concerned with finite control con- 
structions in Persian in this study. There are also sentences corresponding to (1) in 
which the embedded clause is apparently non-finite as illustrated in (2). In (2a), 
nevesta'n 'writing' follows its complement 'letter', whereas in (2b), it preceds its 
complement with the morpheme e 'of , known as Ezafe 'addition' intervening 
between the two. Ezafe, according to Samiian (1983), usually links a non-verbal 
head (N, P, A) to its postmodificrs. Given the Uniformity of Theta Assignment 

22 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 3 1 :2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

Hypothesis, assigning a structure to the bracketed infinitival clause in (2) identical 
to the corresponding finite clause in (1) is warranted within the GB framework 
(Chomsky 1981, 1986a,b). 

(2) a. maen qaesd-e name neveslasn dar-asm 

I intention-Ez letter writing have-lsg 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

b. masn qassd-e nevestaen-e name dar-asm 

I intention-Ez writing-Ez letter have-lsg 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

In addition to this type of sentences, Ne'matzadeh (1995) maintains that non- 
verbal components of compound verbs and constructions containing a nominal do, 
in fact, involve a control construction. This is illustrated in (3) and (4), respec- 
tively, with the highlighted relevant constituents adopted from her study. In these 
sentences, Ac stands for accusative and ye is an allomorph of the Ezafe mor- 

(3) dowlast bayaed ba ;efzayes-e dasstmozd-ha aez 
government must by increase-Ez wage-pl from 

kargaer-an hemayaet kon-aed 
worker-pl support do-3sg 
'The governement must support workers by increasing their wages.' 

(4) dadgah B^CRRiESl-YE paervasnde-ye u ra aeqas basndaxt-0 
court investigation-Ez file-Ez he-Ac back threw-3sg 
'The court postponed his file.' 

Ne'matzadeh (1995) analyzes the sentences in (2) and the relevant parts of 
(3) and (4) as involving an obligatory control construction. She holds that there is 
a PRO in the Specifier of the infinitival IP of the embedded clause. She states that 
the string embedded under the matrix verb of the construction under discussion is 
an exceptional clause. Under, her analysis, the structure of the sentences in (2) 
may be represented as in (5) in which Ind stands for 'indicative'. 

(5) a. maen; qaesd-e [jpPROj name nevesta^n] dar-aem 

I intention-Ez letter writing have-lsg 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

b. maenjqaesd-e [jp PROj nevesttaen-e name] dar-iem 
I intention-Ez writing-Ez letter have-lsg 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

She states that PRO is Case marked by the preposition preceding it as in (3) as re- 
quired in Chomsky's (1981:322) analysis. She further maintains that cases where 
PRO is preceded by an Ezafe as in (5), satisfy the Case requirement on the PRO as 
the Ezafe is, in fact, a preposition assigning Case to PRO. In short, she presents an 
ECM analysis of infinitival clauses in Persian. In the next section, I will propose 
several arguments to show that the infinitival construction in Persian is nominal 
and not clausal. 

Ali Darzi: NoN-FiNiTE CONTROL in Persian 23 

2. The grammatical category of Persian inflnitival clauses 

In this section, I demonstrate that the so-called infinitival construction in Persian 
has a clausal structure. 

2.1. Theoretical considerations 

Ne'matzadeh's (1995) ECM analysis of Persian infinitival clauses is problematic. 
Firstly, the exceptional clause analysis of the embedded constituent, treated by 
Ne'matzadeh as a clause, makes the PRO available for outside government in 
violation of the PRO Theorem. Secondly, Chomsky (1986a: 104) proposes that 
PRO has an Inherent Case not a Structural one as assumed by Ne'matzadeh 
(1995). Thirdly, Samiian (1983) has persuasively argued that the Ezafe is not a 

2.2. Empirical considerations 

In this subsection, I present several syntactic arguments to support the hypothesis 
that infinitival clauses in Persian are not clausal. The arguments are constructed in 
such a way as to show that the structure under discussion is a nominal structure 

Overt NPs 

If the exceptional clause analysis of the construction in question is on the right 
track, we would expect overt NPs to occur in the position of PRO as the NP is 
governed and Case assigned by an outside governor. This prediction is not borne 
out as suggested by the ungrammaticality of (6) which correspond to those in (2). 

(6) a. maen qassd-e [aeli name nevestsen] dar-aem 

I intention-Ez Ali letter writing have-lsg 

b. *maen qaesd-e [aeli nevestaen-e name] dar-aem 

1 intention-Ez Ali writing-Ez letter have-lsg 

*'l intend that Ali writes a letter.' 

The complementary distribution between PRO and an overt NP in these sentences 
undermines Ne'matzadeh's (1995) analysis, indicating that the structural position 
in question is not a structural Case position. This makes the ECM analysis of the 
construction implausible. 

Presence ofke 'that' 

The second argument against the ECM analysis and in support of the nominal na- 
ture of infinitival clauses in Persian comes from the impossiblity of the so-called 
infinitival clause to be headed by the complementizer ke 'that' which optionally 
heads all embedded complement clauses in Persian. The sentence in (7) which in- 
volves a finite control may optionally be headed by the optional complementizer, 
whereas the NP object in (8) may not.' The apparently infinitival clause in (9) 
cannot be headed by the complemntizer either. This can be explained if the seem- 
ingly infinitival clause is treated as an NP not an IP or CP.- 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 3 1 :2 (Fall 2001 ) 




mxn' qaesd dar-aein (ke) [PROj name 

I intention have-lsg (that) letter 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

"*maen ke name mi-nevis-acm 
I that letter Ind-write-lsg 

'I write a letter.' 

Sub-write- Isg 

maen qaesd-e (*ke) 

I intention-Ez (that) 

'I intend to write a letter.' 




Restrictions on coordination 

The third argument in support of the nominal anaysis of infinitival constructions in 
Persian comes from the restrictions on coordination. In this language, two CPs or 
NPs may be coordinated as shown in (10) and (11) respectively. 

(10) a. aeli daer bank kar mi-kon-aed vas pedasr-ass doktor aest 
Ali in bank work Ind-do-3sg and father-his doctor is 
'Ali works in a bank and his father is a doctor." 

b. u mi-dan-aed aeli daer bank kar mi-kon-aed vx 

he Ind-know-3sg Ali in bank work Ind-do-3sg and 

pedaer-aes doktor zest 
father-his doctor is 

'He knows that Ali works in a bank and his father is a doctor.' 

(ll)a. sara in maeqale vae an ketab-e camski-ra xande test 
Sara this paper and that book-Ez Chomsky-Ac read is 
'Sara has read this paper and that book by Chomsky.' 

b. u nesani-ye ma vae nam-e pedaer-aem ra mi-dan-asd 
he address-Ez we and name-Ez father-my Ac Ind-know-3sg 
'He knows our address and my father's name.' 

However, while an NP may be coordinated with an infinitival clause as in (12), a 
CP may not be so coordinated as shown in (13). This shows that infinitival clauses 
in Persian are not CPs. 

(12) a. maenj qaesd-e [PROj raeftaen-e be emrika] 
I intention-Ez going-Ez to U.S 

ba u-ra] nae-dar-aem 
with he-Ac neg-have-lsg 

'I do not intend to go to the U.S and meet him.' 

b. maenj qaesd-e [PROj xaeridaen-e xane] vae 
1 intention-Ez uying-Ez house and 

an be u-ra] nae-dar-aem 

it to he- Ac neg-have-lsg 

'I do not intend to buy a house and .sell it to him.' 


[ip molaqat 

[jp forus-e 

Ali Darzi: Non-finite control in Persian 25 



*u [np nesani-ye ma] vae [qp aeli daer bank kar 

he address-Ez we and Ali in bank work 

mi-kon-aed] ra mi-dan-aed 

Ind-do-3sg Ac Ind-know-3sg 

'He knows our address and that Ali works in a bank.' 


*u mi-dan-;ied [(-p aeli daer bank kar mi-kon-aed] 

he Ind-know-3sg Ali in bank work Ind-do-3sg 

vs [jvjp nesani-ye ma-ra] 

and address-Ez we-Ac 

'He knows our address and that Ali works in a bank'. 

Distribution of the Ezafe morpheme 

The fourth argument in support of the nominal analysis of infinitival forms in Per- 
sian comes from the distribution of the Ezafe morpheme. Samiian (1983) shows 
that Ezafe occurs between a non-verbal head and some of its postmodifiers. Spe- 
cifically, she (1983:64) mentions that the Ezafe does not occur between a head 
noun and its complement clause or relative clause. Now, considering the fact that 
this morpheme must precede an inifinitival form as in (14) but may never precede 
a complement clause as shown in (15), we can legitimately conclude that infiniti- 
val forms in Persian are not clausal. The sentence in (14) that involves an infiniti- 
val form is totally out in the absence of the Ezafe morpheme. However, the sen- 
tence in (15) which involves a finite embedded clause is totally out in the presence 
of the Ezafe morpheme. 

(14) a. maen qaesd-*(e) [name nevestaen] dar-aem 

1 intention-Ez letter writing have-lsg 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

(15)a. maenj qaesd-(*e) dar-aem [PRO; name be-nevis-aem] 

I intention-Ez have-3sg letter Sub-write-lsg 

i intend to write a letter.' 

The specificity mariner ra 

The presence of ra which, according to Karimi (1989), marks certain NPs for 
specificity provides us with the fifth argument in support of the nominal analysis 
of infinitival forms in Persian. The crucial point here is that ra strictly marks NPs, 
mainly specific direct objects, but not complement clauses as shown in (16) and 
(17) respectively. The absence of ra in (16) renders the sentence ungrammatical 
regardless of its precedence relation with the complement clause. 

(16) man u-ra mi-senas-aem 
I he- Ac Ind-know-lsg 
'I know him.' 

(17) a. *u mi-dan-icd aeli d;er bank kar mi-kon-a;d (*ra) 

he lnd-know-3sii Ali in bank work Ind-do-3so Ac 

26 Studies IN THE Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001) 

b. *u mi-dan-aed (*ra) ali daer bank kar mi-kon-aed 
he Ind-know-3sg (Ac) Ali in bank work Ind-do-3sg 

'He knows that Ali works in a bank.' 

The fact that ra may follow infinitival forms in Persian suggests that infinitivals in 
this language are nominal. This is shown in (18). 

(18) majn qccsd-e [rccftaen be emrika-raj na^-dar-asm 

I intention-Ez going to U.S-Ac neg-have-lsg 
'I do not intend to go to the U.S.' 

Distribution of tlie iniflnitival forms 

Another syntactic argument in support of the hypothesis proposed in this paper 
comes from the differences in the distribution of clausal complements as opposed 
to NP complements. Non-specific NPs in Persian have to precede the verb ac- 
cording to Karimi (1989). While object NPs in general occur before the main verb 
in unmarked cases, complement clauses have to follow the main verb or the sen- 
tence is ungrammatical. This is illustrated in (19) and (20) respectively. 

19) a. aeli ketab mi-xan-aed 

Ali book Ind-read-3sg 

b. *asli mi-xan-aed ketab 

Ali Ind-read-3sg book 

'Ali is reading a book.' 

(20) a. u mi-dan-aed [qp xW deer bank kai" mi-kon-aed] 
he Ind-know-3sg Ali in bank work Ind-do-3sg 

b. *u [qp aslidser bank kar mi-kon-aed] mi-dan-aed 
he Ali in bank work Ind-do-3sg Ind-know-3sg 

'He knows that Ali works in a bank.' 

Now the fact that infinitival forms in Persian strictly precede the main verb as 
shown in (21) may be explained if they are not treated as clauses. ^ 

(21) a. maen qaesd-e [raeftan (e) be emrika-ra] nae-dar-aem 

I intention-Ez going Ez to U.S-Ac neg-have-lsg 

b. *maen qaesd-(e) nae-dar-aem [raeftaen (e) be emrika-ra] 
I intention-Ez neg-have-lsg going Ez to U.S-Ac 

'I do not intend to go to the U.S." 

Morphologicai evidence 

Finally, infinitival forms behave morphologically like NPs as they can take plural 
ending not available to clauses. This is illustrated in (22) in which the infinitival 
form is marked for plurality, making the nominal analysis of infinitival forms 
more plausible. Note also that the infinitival form in this example is the comple- 
ment of the preposition a'z 'from', further supporting the nominal analysis of in- 
finitivals in Persian under the Case Resistance Principle (Stowell 1981) which re- 
stricts clauses to non-Case positions. 

Ali Darzi: Non-finite control in Persian 27 

(22) niaen aez doruq goftaen-ha-ye ii xaeste sod-e-aem 

I from lie telling-pl-Ez he tired got-en-lsg 

'I cannot tolerate his lies (him telling lies).' 

In sum, there are variety of reasons coming from both syntactic and morphological 
facts supporting the idea that infinitivals in Persian are nominal not clausal. In the 
following section, I will propose two distinct structures for the construction in 

3. The structure of non-finite control in Persian 

In this section, two distinct structures are assigned to Persian infinitival construc- 
tions. If we consider the struture of the infinitival clauses in Persian, we will see a 
discrepancy in the head position of the construction relative to its complement. 
The head of the seemingly infinitival form nevestcen 'to write/ writing' takes its 
complement to the left in (2a) and to the right in (2b) repeated here in (23). These 
sentences also show a sharp contrast with regard to the presenece of the Ezafe 
morpheme. The presence of Ezafe before nevestcen 'to write/ writing' renders 
(23a) ungrammatical, whereas in (23b) the absence of Ezafe makes the sentence 
totally out. 

(23) a. maen qaesd-e [name (*e) nevestaen] dar-aem 

I intention-Ez letter (Ez) writing have-lsg 

b. maen qaesd-e [nevestJEn-*(e) name] dar-aem 

I intention-Ez writing-(Ez) letter have-lsg 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

Recall that as mentioned earlier non-verbal heads which are head-initial take Ezafe 
before certain of their postmodifiers whereas VPs are head-final and are never 
separated from their complements by the Ezafe morpheme. As such, the analysis 
that suggests itself is that the bracketed phrase in (23a) contains a projection of IP 
whereas the one in (23b) is purely nominal with no Infl. However, if the infinitival 
form (23b) is treated as an NP with a PRO in its Spec, then PRO will be governed 
by the matrix verb under Chomsky's (1986a, b) anlysis violating the PRO Theo- 
rem. Chomsky (1986a,b) refers to a similar situation in English Exceptional Case 
Marking constructions with an infinitival complement as in (24). 

(24) a. John regretted [|p PRO losing the game] 

b. John believed [jp [PRO losing the race] to be a tragedy] 

To avoid the PRO Theorem violation, Chomsky (1986b) proposes that the infiniti- 
val clauses in (24) are dominated by an NP. I will adopt Chomsky's (1986b) pro- 
posal and extend it to the first type of infinitival phrases in Persian exemplified in 
(23a). The infinitival forms is, then, analyzed as having the structure [np/dp [IP 
PRO ]] in which the complement of the non-finite verb precedes it and the head of 
the NP is empty. The sentence in (23a) has the structure assigned to it in (25). The 
fact that the presence of Ezafe between nevestcen 'to write' and name 'letter' ren- 
ders the sentence ungrammatical is then straightforwardly accounted for as verbs 
do not take Ezafe. 

28 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 3 1 :2 (Fall 2001 ) 

(25) a. macn qaesd-e Inp/dp tip H'irn<i nevestaen] dar-aem 
I intcntion-Ez letter writing have-lsg 

'I intend to write a letter.' 

Following Giorgi & Longobardi's (1991) analysis of Romance languages, 
the structure of the second type of control construction in Persian, illustrated in 
(23b), is proposed to be [^p [^p PRO N' [ N ...]JJ in which the seemingly infiniti- 
val verb is actually an NP/DP with a PRO in its spec. This is suggested by the 
presence of the Ezafe morpheme which appears only between a non-verbal head 
and certain of its postmodifiers. The structure of (23b) is represented in (26). 

(26) maen qaesd-e [np/dp P^O nevestaen-e name] dar-tem 

I intention-Ez writing-Ez letter have-lsg 

T intend to write a letter.' 

In so doing, the nominal nature of the constuction in question, as suggested by 
various syntactic arguments, is accounted for as the apparently infinitival clause is 
embedded under an NP/DP. Moreover, the order of the complement of the so- 
called infinitival verb with respect to its complement is accounted for in both con- 

4. Arbitrary control in Persian 

The analysis proposed in this paper accounts for arbitrary control in Persian as 
well. The construction, not investigated in the literature on Persian as far as I 
know, involves sentences like (27)-(28) below. 

(27) [raeftaen (-e) be danesgah] fayde nae-dar-e 
going (Ez) to university use neg-have-3sg 
'It is no use going to school.' 

(28) sohbaet kaerdaen post-e saer-e u] xub ni-st 
talk doing behind-Ez head-Ez he good not-is 
'It is not good to talk behind him.' 

In Persian, the reciprocal anaphor yekdigcer (each other/ one another) requires a c- 
commanding antecedent in the same clause as predicted by the Principle A of the 
Binding Theory. The lack of an appropriate antecedent for the anaphor renders the 
sentence ungrammatical as is suggested by the contrast in (29). 

(29) a. baeradaer-e ma ba yekdigaer sohbaet mi-kaerd-0 

brother-pl-Ez we to each other talk Ind-did-3sg 

'*Our brother was talking each other.' 

b. baeradaer-an-e ma ba yekdigaer sohbaet mi-kaerd-aend 
brother-pl-Ez we to each other talk Ind-did-3pl 

'Our brothers were talking to each other.' 

Now, the sentence in (30) which involves an embedded infinitival construction can 
be explained if we assume that there is an arbitrary PRO in the embedded clause 
binding the anaphor. 

AH Darzi: Non-finite control in Persian 29 

(30) maen asz [sohbast ksrdaen post-e ssr-e yekdigaer] 
I of talk doing behind-Ez head-Ez each other 

motenaeffer haest-am 
hateful be-lsg 

'I hate talking behind each other.' 

In these sentences, the semantic subject of the infinitival form is understood to be 
arbitrary in reference. As such, positing a PRO in the subject position of the 
bracketed phrase (NP/DP) is in line with the analysis proposed in section three and 
explains why yekdigcvr 'each other' which requires the presence of a plural NP/DP 
in sentence has been licensed. 

5. Against a nominal compound analysis 

An alternative view might be to suggest that control constructions in Persian sim- 
ply involve a morphological compound. Under this view, the bracketed constitu- 
ents in (23) repeated here in (31) would involve a morphological compound with 
the control interpretation arising from theta-role assignment along the lines pro- 
posed in Williams (1987) and not through PRO. This analysis may also be ex- 
tended to similar forms in the arbitrary control constructions in Persian. 

(31) a. niccn qaesd-e [name (*e) nevestaen] dar-asm 

I intention-Ez letter (Ez) writing have-lsg 

'I intend to wxite a letter.' 

b. maen qaesd-e [nevestaen-*(e) name] dar-aem 

I intention-Ez writing-(Ez) letter have-lsg 
'I intend to write a letter.' 

Such an analysis may face difficulties in explaining the presence of Ezafe in (31b). 
Recall that Ezafe links a non-verbal major lexical head to some of its post modifi- 
ers. As such, (31b) in which the absence of Ezafe renders the sentence ungram- 
matical may not easily be accounted for under the nominal compound analysis. 
Moreover, sohhcet kcerdccn 'talking' in (30) has a modifying phrase post-e scer-e 
yekdigcer 'behind each other' which may also appear before 'talking' indicating 
that we are dealing with a phrasal category not a morphological/ lexical com- 
pound. In what follows, I present further arguments to show that a morphological 
compound analysis of the construction in question is not on the right track. 

First, I follow Koizumi (1995:82) in assuming that the productivity of lexical 
compounds is relatively low as opposed to post-lexical compounds which are 
highly productive. In Persian, a great number of semantically appropriate nouns 
may cooccur with the infinitival form in the construction at hand. That is to say, in 
addition to 'letter writing' in (31a), Persian also has article writing, book writing, 
memory writing, note writing, phone number writing, prescription writing, joke 
writing, slogan writing, lie writing, dictionary writing, fine writing, statement 
writing, etc. 









30 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

Second, following Koizumi (1995:82), I maintain that syntactic processes 
may access the first element of a post -lexical compound but not the first element 
of a morphological compound. Now, the nominal form in the bracketed infinitival 
construction in(32a) may be clitic left-dislocated to give (32b). This is not possible 
under the alternative analysis I am arguing against. In the worst case, infinitival 
constructions in Persian may involve a post-lexical compound, not a lexical com- 
pound, though this does not seem plausible either as I will show shortly. 

(32) a. name nevestan do saaet 

letter writing two hour 

'Writing a letter takes two hours." 

b. name nevestan-est do saaet 
letter writing two hour 

'The letter, it takes two hours to write it.' 

Third, and more importantly, the nominal part of the allegedly compound 
form may be separated from the infinitival form. This is not possible if the two 
formed one single constituent, namely a compound. This is illustrated in (33) in 
which telefon 'call' is not adjacent to za'dam 'place or make, lit:hit' with which it 
forms a compound under the alternative analysis I am rejecting. 

(33). telefon be ostad zasdaen dorost ni-st 

call to professor hitting appropriate not-is 

'It is not appropriate to call one's professor.' 

Fourth, the nominal element of the infinitival form may take some post- 
modifiers. This is illustrated in (34) indicating that the construction in question 
does not involve a compound. 

(34) a. maen qassd-e [name-ye aseqane nevestaen] dar-aem 

I intention-Ez letter-Ez amorous writing have-lsg 
'I intend to write a love-letter.' 

6. Summary 

In this paper, I presented an analysis of PRO in Persian. 1 showed that apparently 
infinitival clauses are actually nominal in nature, and not clausal as proposed in 
the literature. Then, considering that the complement of the infinitival form some- 
times follows and sometimes precedes it, I proposed two distinct structures for the 
construction in question. The first type of infinitival construction was analysed as 
simply involving a nominal construction in which the infinitival form is the head 
of an NP taking its complement to the right. The second type was analysed as 
having the structure [np/dp [jp P^O ••• ]] i^ which the infinitival form is the head I 
of a VP. The proposed analysis was then extended to arbitrary PRO in Persian. 1 
finally showed that the infintival forms in Persian may not be treated as involving 
a nominal compound undermining the analysis according to which Persian control 
constructions does not involve PRO, rather the control interpretation arises 
through theta-role assignment. 

Ali Daizi: Non-finite control in Persian 31 


* This paper was supported by Grant Number 314/1/296 from the Vice Chancellor 
for Research at Tehran University. The theoretical framework of the paper is the 
traditional GB theory as developed in Chomsky (1981, 1986a, b), and others. 
More recent analyses of control constructions, such as Hornstein's (1999) move- 
ment analysis may not straightforwardly account for the Persian due to the identi- 
cal distibution of some overt NPs in Persian with PRO. 

' The sentence in (8) may be considered grammatical just in case ke is construed 
to have an emphatic function on the identity of the subject performing the action 
stated by the verb. 

- Further arguements presented in this paper makes it clear the infinitival form 
does not belong to any other category either. 

3 According to Karimi (1989), only specific NPs marked by ra may follow the 
verb. The ungrammaticality of the ill-formed sentences has been attributed to ECP 
violation in Karimi' s (1989) analysis. 1 will not discuss how infinitival forms seem 
to intervene between the constituents of what appears to be a compound verb such 
as qcesd dastcean (lit: to have intention) in this paper. 


Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Fori s. 

. 1986a. Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origins, and Use. New York: 


. 1986b. Barriers. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Darzi, a. 1996. Word order, NP movements, and opacity conditions in Persian. 
Ph.D dissertation in Linguistics, University of Illinois at Urbana- 

GlORGI, A., & G. LONGOBARDI. 1991. The Syntax of Noun Phrases. Cambridge 
University Press. 

Ghomeshi. J. 1996. Projection and inflection: A study of Persian phrase structure. 
Ph.D dissertation. University of Toronto. 

Hashemipour, M. 1990. Pronominalization and control in modern Persian. Ph.D 
dissertation. University of California at San Diego. 

HORNSTEIN, N. 1999. Movement and control. Linguistic Inquiry 30.69-96. 

Karimi, S. 1989. Aspects of Persian syntax, specificity, and the theory of gram- 
mar. Ph.D dissertation. University of Washington. 

Koizumi, M. 1995. Phrase structure in minimalist syntax. Ph.D dissertation, Mas- 
sachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Nemat-Zadeh, S. 1995. An investigation in cognitive science and the Persian 
language processing. Ph.D dissertaion, Tehran University. 

Samiian, V. 1983. Origins of phrasal categories in Persian, an X-Bar analysis. 
Ph.D dissertation. University of California at Los Angeles. 

Stowell, T. 1981. Origins of phrase structure. Ph.D dissertation, Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology. 


WILLIAMS, E.1987. Implicit arguments, the bmding theory, and control Natural 
Language and Linguistic Theory 5.151-80 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 31, Number 2 (Fall, 2001) 


David Eddington 

University of New Mexico 

Epenthesis of /e/ before sC- clusters in Spanish is documented 
word-initially (e.g., esfera) as well as in word-internal contexts (e.g., 
suhestimar). Cases of alternating epenthesis also exist (e.g., arterio- 
sclerosis / arterioeclerosis). Epenthesis is examined in the formal 
frameworks of lexical phonology and optimality theory. Both formal 
analyses are able to account for the majority of the data presented, 
however, each requires some arguably ad hoc manipulation in order to 
do so. From a performance standpoint, it is argued that epenthesis 
plays no role in the processing of native Spanish words. The appear- 
ance of epenthesis in loan words (e.g., stress > estres) is explained in 
terms of schemas. The fact that Id emerges as the epenthetic vowel, as 
well as the fact that epenthesis applies so as not to break up sC- clus- 
ters, is the result of a phonotactic schema that has its origins in a his- 
torical epenthesis process that is synchronically defunct. Adopted 
words epenthesize with Id because Id is the most commonly occur- 
ring vowel before word initial sC- clusters. In addition, epenthesis oc- 
curs to the left of the sC cluster because word initial seC- is much less 
common than word initial esC-. Cases of alternating epenthesis are 
due to the varying degrees of morphological decomposition different 
speakers perform. 

1. Introduction 

In classical generative linguistics, the initial e- of words such as esfera 'sphere', 
eslahon 'link', and estructura 'structure' was seen as a predictable element that 
could be derived by rule, and thus did not need to appear in the underlying repre- 
sentation. Therefore, epenthesis of e- was derived by rule (e.g., Cressey 1978): 

( 1 ) i — > e / # s [+cons] 

In this way, [esfera] was derived from /sfera/. Further evidence for the existence of 
the rule is adduced by the fact that it applies to loanwords (e.g., estdndar < stan- 
dard; esmoquin < smoking jacket) as well as in interlanguage phonology (e.g., 
Scott > [eskot]; sport > [espor]). 

The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, I review the ability of extant for- 
mal analyses to account for a wide variety of Spanish words that undergo epenthe- 
sis, and I present an optimality theory account of the process. Second, I explore 
the role that epenthesis has as far as linguistic performance is concerned. In both 

34 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001) 

cases, the crucial test of an analysis is that it correctly account for the existence of 
epenthesis following certain prefixed words such as antiestetico 'unaesthetic', and 
interestatal 'interstate', as well as the lack of epenthesis in other prefixed words 
such as proscribir 'to expatriate', and transpirar 'to perspire'. Since I differentiate 
between formal and performance models, these terms need precise definition. 

2. Formal and performance models. 

The major difference between formal and performance models may be couched in 
terms of the competence/performance distinction. Formal models deal with com- 
petence, which is defined as a speaker's knowledge of language (Chomsky 1980: 
205). Competence is an idealized concept which comprises the system of rules, 
representations, and constraints which are thought to underlie a speaker's ability to 
produce and understand language. Formal models usually claim to reflect facts 
about an idealized speaker-hearer. Performance models, on the other hand, attempt 
to explain how actual speakers put linguistic knowledge to use in the course of the 
real-time task of speech production and comprehension. 

In other words, formal linguistics is a realm of inquiry which deals with 
axiomatizations about linguistic structure which 'make it possible to deduce all 
true statements about the system from a small set of prior assumptions about its 
nature' (Kac 1974: 44). It reflects 'a kind of abstract complexity with which 
somehow the human brain must cope' (Goyvaerts 1978: 12), but does not neces- 
sarily spell out how the brain copes with it. Most linguists^ would agree that for- 
mal representations in the form of rules, derivations, and constraints do not relate 
to the actual processing of language (performance) but only to competence (e.g., 
Bradley 1980:38; Chomsky and Halle 1968:117; Kiparsky 1975:198; 1982:34). 
For example, Kager (1999:26) states that 'explaining the actual processing of lin- 
guistic knowledge by the human mind is not the goal of the formal theory of 
grammar, ... a grammatical model should not be equated with its computational 
implementation'. The computational implementation belongs to domain of per- 

3. A rule-based analysis of epenthesis. 

The fact that words beginning with sC- form illicit syllables, along with the fact 
that such clusters become esC- in borrowings prompted a number of early re- 
searchers to include a rule such as (1) in their formal analyses (Cressey 1978, Har- 
ris 1983, 1987; Hooper 1976; Morgan 1984). Harris and Cressey explicitly note 
that this rule only applies word initially. However, while epenthesis appears to oc- 
cur mainly at the beginning of words as in (2), Eddington (1992) points out that 
epenthesis is not uniquely a word-initial process (3). 







— > 


'to write' 

/in -1- skribir/ 



'to inscribe' 

/emi -f- sferio/ 




/arterio -i- sklerosis/ 




David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 



/semi + sfera/ 




/des + speransa/ 




/inter + statal/ 




/anti + stetiko/ 




He accounts for this aUernation in a lexical phonology framework in which pre- 
fixes are attached to stems in two different strata. For example pro- belongs to the 
first stratum while semi- belongs to the second, as seen in Table 1. 

Table 1. 

Class I 

Class II 

Stratum I 


[semi] [sfera] 

Affixation of Class I 









Stratum II 

Affixation of Class II 









The words in Tables 2-4 appear in Diccionorio de la lengua espcmola (Real Aca- 
demia Espaiiola 1984), with the exception of those words marked with asterisks. 
Based on the data in Table 2, the prefixes ad-, arterio-,^ hemi-, hipo-, peri-, pro-, 
tele-, and trans- are Class I prefixes which are attached in Stratum I. Table 3 dem- 
onstrates that contra-, inter-, pos(t)-, semi-, and super- belong to Class II which 
are affixed in Stratum II. 

Table 2: Examples of words containing Class I prefixes 
(All words appear in Real Academia Espaiiola 1984). 

adscrito 'assigned' 
adstrato 'adsiratum' 
adstringir 'constrict' 
arteriosclerosis 'arteriosclerosis' 
hemisferio 'hemisphere' 
hemisferico 'hemispherical' 
hipostatico 'hypostatic' 
hipostilo 'column-supported' 
periscopio 'periscope" 
proscribir 'expatriate' 
prosperar 'prosper' 
prostatico 'prostatic' 
telescopio 'telescope' 
telesferico 'ski lift' 
telesqui 'ski lift' 

escrito 'written' 
estrato 'stratum' 
estringir 'restrict' 
esclerosis 'sclerosis' 
esfera 'sphere' 
esferico 'spherical' 
estatico 'static' 
estilo 'style' 
escopio'** 'scope' 
escribir 'write' 
esperar 'hope' 
estatico 'estatic' 
escopio* 'scope' 
esferico 'spherical' 
esqui 'ski' 

36 Studies in thr Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

transcribir 'transcribe' escribir "write' 

transcurrir 'elapse' escurrir 'drain' 

transpirar 'perspire' espirar 'exhale' 

Table 3: Examples of words containing Class II prelixes. 

contraescarpa 'counterscarp' escarpa 'scarp' 

contraescota 'preventer sheet' escota 'sheet' 

contraescotin 'preventer sheet' escotin 'top sail sheet' 

contraescritura 'counterdeed' escritura 'deed' I 

contraespionaje* 'counterespionage' espionaje 'espionage' 

contraestay 'counterstay" estay 'forestay' 

interestatal 'interstate' estatal 'state' 

interestelar 'interstellar' estelar 'stellar' 

pos(t)escolar* 'after-school' escolar 'after-school' 

semiesfera 'semisphere' esfera 'sphere' 

superestrato 'superstratum' estrato 'stratum' 

superestructura 'superstructure' estructura 'structure' 

The division of prefixes into two classes is not made merely on their rela- 
tionship to stem epenthesis. It has been observed that prefixes that are attached in 
later strata tend to be more productive, and to be more semantically transparent 
than those of earlier strata (Kiparsky 1982:8; Mohanan 1986:56-58). So far, this 
appears to be true as far as Spanish is concerned. The prefixes contra-, inter-, 
posit)-, semi-, and super- are much more productive than the Class I prefixes. In 
addition, the meaning of the words in Table 3 is easily deriveable from the mean- 
ing of the prefix plus the meaning of the stem. The same is not true of Class I pre- 
fixes. Another tendency of semantically transparent prefixes is that they are more 
likely to be affixed to unbound morphemes (Goldsmith 1990:260). Class II pre- 
fixes attach to complete well-formed words {super + estructura = superestruc- 
tura), while Class I prefixes attach to stems, such as *scribir and *scopio. which 
are bound morphemes that cannot stand on their own as whole words. 

The difficulty with this analysis becomes evident upon examining the words 
in Table 4. What class of prefixes do anti-, des-,^ in-, pre-, re-, sohre-, sub-, and 
yMgo-,6 belong to? 

In certain lexical items, they appear in stems that have undergone epenthesis 
(e.g., antiestetico, subespecie), while in other cases they are affixed to unepenthe- 
sized stems {antistrofa, subscribir). As far as pre-, re-, and sobre- are concerned, 
whether epenthesis has applied or not may be masked by the fact that series of 
identical vowels in Spanish may be given a long or short duration. This is seen in i 
words such as alcohol, creer, and moho ([alkol]~[alko:l], [krer]~kre:r], ' 
[mo]~[mo:]). I submit that this phonetic alternation has given rise to alternate 
spellings that do not accurately reflect whether there are two contiguous front mid- 
vowels at some point in the derivation. 

David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 


Table 4. 

antiesclavista* 'abolitionist' 

antiescorbutico 'antiscurvy' 

antiespasmodico 'muscle relaxant' 

antiestetico 'unaesthetic' 

antistrofa 'anti strophe' 

descampar 'stop raining' 

describir 'describe' 

descamar 'to scale' 

desescombrar 'to remove rubble' 

desescribir 'to perform a literiu-y analysis' 

desespafiolizar 'to despanishize' 

desesperanza 'hopelessness' 

desestancar 'to release' 

desestanar 'to unsolder' 

desestimar 'belittle' 

despabilar 'to wake up' 

desparcir 'to scatter' 

inescrutable 'inscrutable' 

inescudriiiable 'inscrutable' 

inesperado 'unexpected' 

inestable 'unstable' 

inestancable 'unjammable' 

inestimable 'invaluable' 

inscribir 'to inscribe' 

insculpir 'to insculpt' 

inspirar 'to inspire, inhale' 

pre(e)scolar* 'preschool 

preescribir 'to prewrite' 

preestablecido 'preestablish' 

prescribir 'to prescribe' 

rescribir 'to rewrite' 

restablecer 'to reestablish' 

reestreno 'second debut' 

reestruclurar 'to restructure' 

rcsplandor 'brilliance' 

restringir 'to restrict' 

sobrescribir 'to overwrite' 

sobre(e)sdrujula 'preantepenultimate' 

sobresladfa 'extra lay day' 

sobrcstimar 'overestimate' 

subscapular 'subscapular' 

subespecie 'subspecies' 

subestimado 'underestimated' 

substralo 'substratum" 

subscribir 'to subscribe' 

esclavista 'proslavery' 
escorbuto 'scurvy' 
espasmo 'spasm' 
estetico 'aesthetic' 
estrofa 'stanza' 
escampar 'stop raining' 
escribir 'to write' 
escamas 'scales' 
escombros 'rubble' 
escribir 'to write' 
espafiolizar 'to spanishize 
esperanza 'hope' 
estancar 'to jam' 
estanar 'to tin' 
estimar 'to esteem' 
espabilar 'to wake up' 
esparcir 'to scatter' 
escrutar 'to scrutinize' 
escudrinar 'to scrutinize' 
esperado 'expected' 
estable 'stable' 
estancar 'to jam' 
estimado 'valued' 
escribir 'to write' 
esculpir 'to sculpt' 
espirar 'to exhale' 
escolar 'school' 
escribir 'to write' 
establecer 'to establish' 
escribir 'to write' 
escribir 'to write' 
establecer 'to establish' 
estreno 'debut' 
estructurar 'to structure' 
esplendor 'brilliance' 
estringir 'to restrict' 
escribir 'to write' 
esdriijula 'antepenultimate' 
cstadfa 'stay' 
estimar 'to esteem' 
escapular 'scapular' 
especie 'species' 
estimado 'esteemed' 
estrato 'stratum' 
escribir "to write' 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001; 

substancia 'substance' 
yugoeslavo 'Yugoslavian' 

estancia 'stay' 
eslavo 'Slav' 

In order to account for many of the remaining inconsistencies, one may as- 
sume, as does Eddington (1992), that words such as those in Table 4 contain dif- 
ferent prefixes that have the same phonological shape. That is, there are two re- 
prefixes, re-2 meaning roughly 'again', and re-, whose meaning is opaque. Trans- 
parent suffixes are attached to unbound stems that have undergone epenthesis, and 
whose meaning is derivable from the meanings of the prefix and the stem. Fol- 
lowing this line of reasoning, there is one prefix anti-2 meaning 'against", des-^ 
meaning 'not, against', in-j meaning 'not', and suh-2 meaning 'under, inferior'. 
The meanings of anti-,, des-,, in-,, re-,, and sub-, are opaque. Words containing 
the opaque prefixes are attached in Stratum I, while those with transparent prefixes 
are attached in Stratum II as in Table 5. 

Table 5. 

Class I 

Class II 

Stratum I 



Affixation of Class I 








[es. ar] 

Stratum II 


Affixation of Class II 




— . 





The optional shortening of sequences of identical contiguous vowels (i.e., 
ltd) in words beginning with the prefixes pre-, re-, and sobre-, along with the as- 
sumption that several apparently unitary prefixes are actually instances of two dif- 
ferent prefixes, allows the majority of the words in Table 4 to be elegantly ac- 
counted for. Nevertheless, descamar, desperanza, and subscapular appear without 
epenthesized stems as if they contained Class I prefixes with opaque meanings, in 
spite of the fact that their meanings are clearing derivable from their constituent 
morphemes. Yugoeslavo, on the other hand, would have to undergo affixation in 
Stratum II, yet the meaning of yugo- is obscure. Of course, in an analysis of this 
sort it is always possible to simply consider these words exceptional. Another ap- 
proach would be to abandon the attempt to provide independent semantic motiva- 
tion for the distribution of prefixes, and stipulate that any prefixed stem that un- 
dergoes epenthesis is affixed in Stratum II. 

Perhaps the greatest difficulty a lexical phonological analysis encounters is 
in accounting for the data in Table 6. 

David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 


Table 6. 

Hi=Unprefixed frequency higher than frequency of prefixed word 

Lo=Unprefixed frequency lower than frequency of prefixed word 

X=:No independent stem exists 

?=Unable to determine 

anti(e)strofa 'antistrophe' 
arterio(e)sclerosis 'arteriosclerosis' 
des(e)scamar *to scale' 
des(e)scombrar 'to remove rubble' 
des(e)stimar 'belittle' 
des(e)speranza 'hopelessness' 
hemi(e)sferio 'hemisphere' 
hemi(e)sferico 'hemispherical' 
in(e)scrutable 'inscrutable' 
in(e)sperado "unexpected" 
pre(e)scolar 'preschool' 
pre(e)stablecido 'preestablish' 
re(e)scribir 'to rewrite' 
re(e)stab]ecer 'to reestablish' 
re(e)streno 'second debut' 
re(e)structurar 'to restructure' 
re(e)splandor 'brilliance' 
re(e)stringir 'to restrict' 
sobre(e)scribir 'to overwrite' 
sobre(e)sdrujula 'preantepenultimate' 
sobre(e)stadia 'extra day layover' 
sobre(e)estimar 'overestimate' 
sub(e)scapular 'subscapular' 
sub(e)specie 'subspecies' 
sub(e)stimado 'underestimated' 
sub(e)strato 'substratum' 
super(e)strato 'superstratum' 
super(e)structura 'superstructure" 
tele(e)sferico 'ski lift' 
tele(e)squi 'ski lift' 
Yugo(e)slavia 'Yugoslavia' 
yugo(e)slavo 'Yugoslavian' 

These data were originally obtained by searching Spanish language pages on the 
World-wide Web for instances of the words from Tables 2-4. Instances were 
sought both with and without the epenthetical Id. One question that is of interest is 
which of the alternating forms in Table 6 is more common. Unfortunately, using 
the internet to determine the actual frequency of occurrence of a given word is not 
possible. In order to better quantify the results of the internet search, the rate of 
occurrence of these words was verified in two frequency dictionaries (Alameda 



estrofa 'stanza' 


esclerosis 'sclerosis' 




escamas 'scale' 



escombros 'rubble' 



estimar 'to esteem' 



esperanza 'hope' 




esfera 'sphere' 



esferico 'spherical' 



escrutar 'to scrutinize' 



esperado 'expected' 




escolar 'school' adj. 



establecer 'to establish' 



escribir 'to write' 



establecer 'to establish' 




estreno 'debut' 



estructurar 'to structure' 



esplendor 'brilliance' 



estringir 'to restrict' 



escribir 'to write' 


esdriijula 'antepenultimate' 


estadia 'stay' 


estimar 'to esteem' 




escapular 'scapula'r 


especie 'species' 



estimado 'esteemed' 




estrato 'stratum' 



estrato 'stratum" 


estructura 'structure" 



esferico 'spherica'l 


esqui 'ski' 



eslavo 'Slav' 



eslavo 'Slav' 




40 Studies in ihe Linguistic Sciences 3 1 :2 (Fall 2001 ) 

and Cuetos 1995; Sebastian, Cuetos, and Carreiras 2000). A count of all inflec- 
tional variants of these words (e.g., re(e)scnhir, re(e)scrito, re(e)scriben etc.) ap- 
pears in the third and fourth columns of Table 6. For example, the frequency dic- 
tionaries contain five instances of arterioesclerosis, and twelve instances of arte- 
riosclerosis. It may be tempting to dismiss the occurrence of some of these word 
as mere spelling errors. Nevertheless, errors often provide very telling informa- 
tion, and should not be discarded offhand, especially when the 'errors' appear in 
the speech of many different speakers. 

It is apparent that accounting for these alternations would require the same 
word beginning with the same prefix to undergo affixation in both strata, which is 
an undesirable state of affairs. For example, the meanings of antiestrofa, re- 
estringir, sobreestadia, teleesqiii Yugoeslavia and yugoeslavo cannot be clearly 
derived from their parts, as can other words with Class II prefixes, yet they would 
have to undergo affixation in Stratum II. As Goldsmith notes (1990:264), 'assign- 
ing a suffix [read— prefix] to both classes without independent justification can, 
under certain circumstances, be just a sign that the model is in trouble, and is 
making wrong predictions'. Although the lexical phonological analysis is able to 
account for far more of the cases presented than early generative analyses could, 
(because they did not consider cases of word-medial epenthesis), it does not render 
a satisfying account of the full range of data presented herein without resorting to 
what could be considered ad hoc manipulation. 

4. An optimality theory analysis 

The most influential model of formal phonology to be developed in past ten years 
is arguably optimality theory (McCarthy and Prince 1994a, 1994b; Prince and 
McCarthy 1993; see Kager 1999, and Archangeli and Langendoen 1997 for intro- 
ductory texts). It dispenses with the idea of ordered rules that specify how deriva- 
tions are to proceed. Instead, it assumes that a variety of different outputs are gen- 
erated, and the task of the grammar is to evaluate each output in terms of how well 
it conforms to stipulated constraints. Constraints are violable statements that are 
ranked hierarchically. A constraint that is ranked lower may be violated as long as 
a higher ranking constraint is not violated. 

The following analysis draws on the four constraints that are most relevant to 
epenthesis in Spanish: morpheme contiguity (M-CONT), sonority (SONORITY), 
vowel faithfulness (FAITH-V), and no coda (NOCODA). Morpheme contiguity 
prohibits the insertion of elements into a morpheme. In regards to Spanish epen- 
thesis, this constraint was noted at an early date by Hooper (1976: 234-5). Sonor- 
ity stipulates that in a syllable, the most sonorous elements must be closest to the 
nucleus. Vowel faithfulness suggests that only vowels that exist in the underlying 
representation may appear in the surface structure, which means that epenthesis is 

David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 
Table 7. 






a. spe.ra 




* ; 

US' c. 

* ; * 

As is seen in Table 7, the correct constraint ranking is: M-CONT, SONOR- 
ITY » FAITH-V, NOCODA. The unepenthesized output *spera violates sonority 
because in the syllable [spe], the [p] is closer to the nucleus than [s], yet [p] is less 
sonorous. The output *sepera allows epenthesis morpheme-internally in violation 
of morpheme contiguity. It also violates vowel faithfulness by inserting an epen- 
thetic vowel that does not appear in the underlying representation. The correct 
outcome, espera is chosen in spite of the fact that it violates vowel faithfulness by 
undergoing epenthesis, as well as violating the no coda constraints by containing 
the closed syllable [es]. The correct outcome emerges as a result of the fact that 
the constraints it violates are ranked below those it does not violate. 

Table 8. 





US' a. ins. pi. ra. do 

: * 


*i \ t- 



* ; * 



; * 


B^ a. 

: * 


*! ; * 



* ; 

d. te.le.sco.pio 


Table 8 demonstrates how this analysis can be extended to the words in Ta- 
ble 2 without modification. However, prefixed words that attach to an epenthe- 
sized stem, such as those in Table 3, are incorrectly predicted not to undergo 
epenthesis. In Table 9, the predicted outcomes are *semisfera and *inspemdo 
rather than the correct semiesfera and inesperado. Clearly, another constraint is at 
work here which I call semantic transparency (SEM-TRANS). 

Semantic transparency dictates that when the meaning of an affixed word is 
clearly derivable from its constituent parts, the affix must be attached to an un- 
bound stem. Consider the English word deceive. It is composed of the prefix de- 
and a root ceive. The meaning of the word is not derivable from its parts, and ceive 
is a bound morpheme, therefore, deceive does not violate SEM-TRANS. Reread, 
is also composed of a prefix and root, but the meaning 'to read again' is derivable 
from the combination of the meanings of the two morphemes. Semantic transpar- 
ency is not violated in this case either since read is an unbound morpheme. 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 
Table 9. 






US' a. * 














US' a. * se.mis.fe.ra 


b. se.miEs.fe.ra 



c. se.mi.sE.fe.ra 



d. se.mi.sfe.ra 


Table 10 demonstrates a case in which SEM-TRANS is violated. SEM- 
TRANS allows epenthesis in inesperado because the meaning 'not expected' is 
derivable from the meaning of the prefix plus that of the root, and esperado is an 
unbound morpheme. By the same token, the meaning of inspimdo cannot be de- 
rived from its constituent parts. Therefore *inespirado is not allowed, since 
*espirado is not an extant unbound morpheme. (The constraint ranking is: SEM- 
NORITY are essentially constraints on syllabification, which is not an important 
issue in the present analysis, and do not affect the outcome, therefore, they will not 
be included in the remainder of the discussion.) 

Table 10. 





BS- a. inspirado 

b. inEspirado 


c. insEpirado 




a. insperado 


B^ b. inEsperado 


c. insEperado 




The difficulty with this analysis arises in accounting for the cases of variable 
epenthesis in Table 6. For example, suhestrato with epenthesis would be predicted 
given the constraints and rankings presented so far (SEM-TRANS, M-CONT » 
FAITH-V). However, one could argue that substrata and other exceptionally be- 
having words could be explained by considering a differing constraint ranking, 
namelv FAITH-V » SEM-TRANS, M-CONT as in Table 1 1. 

Table 11. 





D^ a. substrato 


b. subestrato 


c. subsetrato 




David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 


This reversal in constraint rankings works well for semantically transparent words, 
but does not explain epenthesis in the semantically opaque words antiestrofa, he- 
niiesfcho. reesplandor, reestringir, sohreestadia, teleesferico, teleesqui, yugoe- 
slavia, and Yiigoeslavia. Regardless of the ranking, these words will be predicted 
to occur without epenthesis (Tables 12 and 13). Nevertheless, the frequency in- 
formation in Table 6 shows that the optimality analysis correctly predicts the more 
frequent unepenthesized version of these words, and only has difficulties with the 
arguably odd epenthesized counterparts that are infrequently occurring forms. 

Table 12. 




i®' a.hemisferio 




c. hemiseferio 

: *' 


Table 13. 


Faith V 



US' a. hemisferio 

b. hemiEsferio 


c. hemisEferio 



Whether or not the optimality account is preferable to the lexical account is 
open to debate. Both models require some manipulation (i.e., affixation in both 
strata or differential constraint rankings) in order to handle the majority of the 

5. A performance analysis. 

In Section 2, I differentiate between formal and performance models of language. 
Formal models are not generally thought of as specifying the actual mechanisms 
used in processing language. However, the distinction between formal and per- 
formance models is clouded because formal mechanisms are often spoken of as if 
they relate to steps in actual processing (Carr 2000; Eddington 1996). It is also not 
uncommon for a formal model to appeal to performance-related evidence in order 
to support a formal mechanism (Stemberger 1996). In order to avoid these pitfalls, 
I chose to divide the present discussion into its formal and performance aspects. 

There are essentially three reasons for including a rule of epenthesis in a 
formal grammar. The first is that Id before sC- is predictable, and therefore may 
not form part of the lexicon. This formal motivation contrasts with evidence from 
performance that shows that detailed information about individual words is stored 
in memory (Brown & McNeill, 1966; Bybee, 1994; Pisoni, 1997; Palmeri, Gold- 
inger, & Pisoni, 1993; Goldinger, 1997). not merely the unpredictable or contras- 
tive characteristics. Therefore, this motivation does not apply to performance. 

Another reason for assuming a formal rule of epenthesis is that one is needed 
in order to explain the /e/~0 alternation that occurs in words containing the same 
stem (e.g., in0scrihir, pro0scrihir, reEscrihir, preEscrihir). From a performance 

44 Studies IN THE Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001) 

standpoint, this sort ol' analysis suggests that speakers obHgatoriiy parse morpho- 
logically complex words. It is doubtful that the majority of Spanish speakers rec- 
ognize that proscrihir is composed of a prefix followed by exactly the same stem 
found in reeschhir. Experimental evidence suggests that many morphologically 
complex words are stored as wholes rather than segmented into morphemes (Ale- 
gre and Gordon 1999; Baayen, Dijkstra, and Schreuder 1997; Butterworth 1983; 
Bybee 1995; Manelis and Tharp 1977; Sereno and Jongman 1997). Therefore, it is 
more likely that both words have individual entries in the mental lexicon. Of 
course, the stems of these words may be linked to each other due to their 
phonological similarity, but not their semantic similarity. 

The third reason given for a rule of epenthesis is that a rule appears to apply 
to foreign borrowings, as well as in interlanguage phonology {.stress > estrcs; stay 
> [estej]). This fact surely deserves treatment in a model of linguistic performance 
which I will address later. Nevertheless, the application of epenthesis to foreign 
words may not be construed as evidence that the same productive epenthesis proc- 
ess applies each time speakers process a native Spanish word such as esperar or 
desesperanza. Epenthesis in native words must be viewed as an unproductive 
process (Terrell 1983). That is, the Id in a word such as estufa 'stove' is not 
missing in the mental representation of the word, only to be attached in the course 
of production. Therefore, a performance model must assume that words are 
learned and stored in a form closely resembling surface structure, in other words, 
they are stored along with any historically epenthetic vowels they may contain. 
The burden of proof that a word such as esfera is actually stripped of its initial 
vowel in the course of processing, and stored as sfercu only later to undergo epen- 
thesis, falls to those who would make such a claim. 

If epenthesis in native words is not a productive process, and speakers 
merely learn each word on an item-by-item basis, how can the alternations in Ta- 
ble 6 be explained? The formal analyses presented earlier hold that the unmarked 
state of affairs is for semantically transparent words to be composed of a produc- 
tive prefix followed by an unbound stem beginning with Id. Semantically opaque 
words that are composed of an unproductive prefix followed by a bound stem 
without an epenthetic /e/ are also unmarked. The frequency data corroborates this 
because where there are alternative forms, the unmarked form is more frequent 
than the marked form. The only exceptions are arteriosclerosis, descamar, resta- 
blecer, and substrata. It may be that the relatively high frequency of restablecer 
allows it to maintain its irregular, unepenthesized form. On the other hand, I sub- 
mit that the less frequent epenthesized forms arterioesclerosis, desescamar,^ and 
subestrato may be considered regularizations since they are semantically transpar- 
ent forms containing an unbound stem. 

In a study by Hay (2001), two types of English words were contrasted: 1) 
words such as dishorn whose stem {horn) is more frequent than the prefixed word 
itself (dishorn), and 2) words such as dislocate in which the stem {locate) is less 
frequent than the prefixed word (dislocate). Hay found that prefixed words such as 
dishorn are more likely to be semantically transparent, and are also more likely to 
be decomposed into the constituent morphemes dis- and horn. In contrast, words 

David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 45 

such as dislocate are more semantically opaque, and less likely to be perceived as 
morphologically complex. 

In regards to the Spanish data, prefixed words such as *spirar arguably have 
a stem frequency of zero since their stems do not occur as independent words (Ta- 
ble 2). According to Hay. words containing this sort of stem are less likely to be 
perceived of as being morphologically complex. By the same token, they are more 
likely to be semantically opaque. However, in words such as inesperado, in which 
the stem (espcrado) is also a viable word by itself, the stem frequency may vary, 
thus resulting in variable degrees of transparency and morphemic decomposition. 
The last column in Table 6 indicates whether the stem frequency is higher or lower 
than the whole word frequency. It should not be surprising that the only items in 
which the stem is less frequent than the entire prefixed word (i.e.. re(e)splandor, 
re{e)stringir, and yitgo(e)slci\'o) are words in which the unepenthesized versions 
(i.e., resplandor, restringir, a.v\d yugoslavo) are more common. In contrast, the 
majority of words, whose stems are more frequent than their prefixed counterparts, 
appear more frequently in the frequency dictionaries with epenthesized stems. The 
only exceptions to this generalization are arteriosclerosis, descainar, restablecer, 
and siibstrato, which have already been discussed as being marked forms. How- 
ever, the lack of epenthesis in hemisferico and telesqm must also be considered 
exceptional by this account since the stems are more frequent than their prefixed 
partners. One explanation for their exceptional behavior, as far as Hay's observa- 
tion is concerned, it is that the meaning of the unproductive prefixes heini-. and 
tele- do not combine with the stems esferico and esqiii in a way that their meaning 
is deriveable from the parts. 

Some of the alternations involving pre-, re-, sobre-, and tele- may be due to 
the fact that sequences of identical vowels may be realized as either a short or long 
vowel in Spanish. For example, since preescolar can alternate between [preskolar] 
and [preeskolar], the written form may also alternate between preescolar and 
prescolar. The long vowels in reesplandor, reestringir, and sobreestadia are un- 
usual since these words are semantically opaque. However, given the alternation 
between short and long vowels in the language, the long vowel version of these 
words could be considered hypercorrections based on words such as reescribir, 
reestablecer, reestriictitrar, sobreescribir, sohreestimar, and sobreesdrujula. 

According to Bybee (1988), the memory representation of high frequency 
words is stronger than for low frequency words. As a result, high frequency words 
are stored as entities that are more independent from other words. Low frequency 
words, on the contrary, are less independent, and are stored with more links to 
other lexical items. The majority of words that demonstrate apparent alternation 
between epenthcsizing and non-cpenlhesizing stems are fairly low frequency 
words. ! submit that their low frequency may account for some of the variation 
that exists. That is, whether or not the semantic relationship between the prefix 
and stem is perceived may vary from one person to the next. Speakers who per- 
ceive the relationship would be more likely to produce an epenthesized stem than 
those that have not parsed the word into its constituents. 

46 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001) 

6. Accounting for productive epenthesis 

The previous sections dealt with unproductive epenthesis. which I argue is essen- 
tially lexicalized, although it demonstrates a small degree of variation. I now turn 
my attention to the kind of productive epenthesis that occurs when foreign words 
beginning in sC- are either pronounced by Spanish speakers, or adopted into the 
Spanish vocabulary. One approach to this question is to consider that the historical 
process, (which originally converted sC- clusters in Romance into esC- clusters in 
Spanish), is still in force. Of course, why some Romance languages, such as 
Spanish, underwent epenthesis while others, such as Italian, did not is a question 
that the present study does not pretend answer. Although this process is presuma- 
bly no longer invoked in processing native Spanish words, it could still be in effect 
and play a part in interlanguage phonology when foreign words with initial sC- are 

Another explanation for epenthesis is that epenthesis is a pattern of corre- 
spondence that Spanish speakers perceive to hold between foreign and native 
words. Some patterns of correspondence involve substituting a native phone for a 
foreign one. For example, French speakers tend to replace English 75/ with /z/, and 
English 79/ with 7s7. However, not all correspondences entail replacing a foreign 
phone or with a native one. Replacement of English 797 with Spanish 7s7 is a com- 
mon process even for speakers of Peninsular Spanish which has 797 in its phone- 
mic inventory. In a similar vein, Hualde (2000) notes that Spanish words ending in 
-o and -on are adopted into Basque with final -ii and -oi respectively. This pattern 
of correspondence is followed even though the Basque vocabulary contains many 
native words ending in -o and -on. 

What I would like to propose in the remainder of the paper is that the epen- 
thesis process in Contemporary Spanish is phonotactic in nature. From this per- 
spective, there are two issues to discuss. The first is why the epenthetic vowel is 
unwaveringly /d; the second is why epenthesis occurs to form an esC- cluster in- 
stead of an seC- cluster. From a generative perspective, /cI is the vowel of choice 
for epenthesis because it has been declared the default vowel in Spanish (Harris 
1983, 1987). In terms of performance, the question is not to establish Id as the de- 
fault in terms of how useful it is in a formal rule system, but to determine why it 
emerges as such in language usage. The most obvious answer is that /d is the most 
frequently occurring vowel in Spanish (Guirao and Garcia Jurado 1990). However, 
in the context in which productive epenthesis occurs, there is further justification.'^ 

Consider a study by Wang and Derwing (1994) on the English vowel alter- 
nations [e'-ae, i'~e, a^-i, o*~3, u*~a]. In an experiment, English speakers were 
presented words and asked to add the suffix -try to produce a new suffixed word. 
They were also asked to determine how the vowel quality of the stem changes as a 
result of suffixation. According to proposed formal rules, an [e'] in the stem should 
yield a suffixed form with the vowel [ae], while an [i'] should produce a suffixed 
form with [e], and so forth. Many of the subjects did produce suffixed words with 
the predicted lax vowels. However, one of the most common vowels preferred by 
the subjects in the suffixed words was [d], regardless of what the original vowel in 

David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 47 

the stem happened to be. Wang and Derwing found there are a great many extant 
English words that end in -it}' whose stem final vowel is [o]. In other words, many 
of the subjects' choices appear not to be based on the original vowel in the unsuf- 
fixed word, but on the fact that there are many -ity words that are preceded by the 
vowel [o] in the stem. This sort of influence has been explained in terms of prod- 
uct-oriented schema (Bybee and Slobin 1982). 

Another example of how a product-oriented schema can exert its influence 
on phonology is provided by Brown (1999). In Spanish, when /p/ is found in the 
coda of a syllable, it often suffers some sort of change. It may delete or be given a 
different point of articulation. For example, the pronunciation of septiembre 'Sep- 
tember' has been documented as [setjembre], [settjiembre], and [sektiembre]. 
Pepsi yields [pesi], [petsi], or [peksi]. Brown observes that in words such as these, 
the most common change in the point of articulation is from [p] to [k], rather than 
to [t]. She explains this tendency as due to the fact that /k/ is a much more frequent 
element in the coda of Spanish words than is /t/. 

What I would like to propose is that productive epenthesis in Spanish is the 
result of a similar sort of product-oriented schema. Epenthesis was an extremely 
productive process in the development of Spanish from Latin. According to some 
accounts, this historical process continues to be in effect in contemporary Spanish. 
However. I argue that the historical process no longer applies in Spanish, even in 
loan word phonology (e.g., scanner > escciner). Instead, the historical epenthesis 
process is responsible for establishing esC- as an extremely common cluster. That 
in turn, affected the phonotactic composition of the language. It is the high fre- 
quency of esC- at the beginning of words, in contrast to the low frequency of oc- 
currence of asC-, isC-, usC-, and osC-, that explains why Id emerges as the de- 
fault vowel.'" 

To test the frequency hypothesis in the present synchronic analysis, I ob- 
tained a type and token frequency count of these five word-initial clusters. The 
type frequency count was taken from a word list of about 90,000 entries. ' ' The list 
contained 2,367 cases of f.vC- and only 447 combined cases of a/i/u/o/sC-. In other 
words, 82.3% of all instances of VsC- have /e/ as the initial vowel. Of course, to- 
ken frequency is often an important factor in language processing as well. A token 
count was taken from a 1.1 million word corpus of spoken Spanish (Marcos Marin 
no date). In this corpus. 21,549 instances of esC- were found, and only 3,707 cases 
of a/i/n/o/sC-. Therefore, 85.3% of VsC- clusters have Id as the initial vowel, or 
summarizing the data in other terms, esC- occurs 5.8 times more often than all 
other VsC- clusters combined. Given these data, it is not surprising that Id 
emerges as the default vowel when Spanish speakers are obliged to adapt a foreign 
word beginning with sC- into Spanish phonological structure. 

The next question to be resolved is why epenthesis of Id applies to the left of 
the /s/ in the sC- cluster, instead of to the right yielding seC-. The fact that epen- 
thesis occurs to the left may be considered somewhat odd in that it creates a closed 
syllable; Ito (1989: 223) finds that epenthesis processes generally apply so as to 
create open syllables, not closed ones. I again argue that a process-oriented 

48 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

schema is at work. As mentioned above, 2,367 words beginning with esC- were 
found in the word list. The question is how frequent the clusters are that would be 
formed if epenthesis applied to the right of the /s/. The word list contains only 637 
words beginning with seC-, where C indicates any consonant that can occur in a 
word-initial esC- cluster. What this means is that the type frequency of esC- clus- 
ters is 3.7 times greater than its corresponding seC- clusters. The token frequency 
data indicates an even stronger pull towards esC- clusters. There are 21,549 cases 
of esC- clusters, and only 3,885 cases of seC- clusters, which means that in spoken 
Spanish, the former is 5.5 times more frequent than the latter. 

Thus far, I have argued that a phonotactic schema is responsible for Spanish 
epenthesis. However, if the phonetic structure of foreign words is merely modified 
in accordance with native phonotactic patterns, why do so many borrowings exist 
that violate Spanish phonotactics? Many fairly recent borrowings admit blatantly 
un-Spanish final phonemes: club, laptops, robots, megabit, modems. Evidently, 
there are a number of competing factors that influence loan word phonology. The 
incorporation of illicit final phonemes appears to bow to another sort of pressure 
to maintain the phonology of the foreign language. For example, Janda, Joseph, 
and Jacobs (1994) document cases in which loan words appear to follow, not the 
actual phonology of the foreign language from which they were borrowed, but 
stereotypical notions and often erroneous notions about the phonological patterns 
of the foreign language. Of course, not all Spanish speakers will consistently pro- 
nounce these words with their unusual final phonemes. There is a tendency (which 
is both dialectal and individual) to delete them, which brings the words in line 
with Spanish phonotactic patterns (e.g., club > ch'i; laptops > Idptos). Neverthe- 
less, this differential treatment appears to be allowed because the words are per- 
ceived to be foreign or somehow not 'normal,' thus exempting them from native 

An interesting case of differential treatment given to 'special' words may be 
found in the pop culture that revolves around the Japanese-produced Pokemon 
cartoon and video game characters. These media have introduced several hundred 
characters with names such as Charmander, Pikachu, and Diglet. However, as far 
as the plural morpheme is concerned, the English translation follows the Japanese 
use of the null morpheme: 'a bunch of Diglet,' ' two Pikachu,' and 'some Char- 
mander'. Informal 'wug' experiments I've performed with children familiar with 
the Pokemon products demonstrate that children produce null plurals of even the 
most obscure (as well as nonexistent) Pokemon characters. At the same time, these 
same children apply the standard English -s when the 'wug' item is not presented 
as a Pokemon. 

In sum, two or more factors may compete when the task of pronouncing a 
foreign word is presented. I argue that phonotactic schema account for epenthesis, 
and most likely for the deletion of odd word final phonemes as well. However, the 
retention of word final phonemes that violate Spanish phonotactics suggests a 
competing factor which may reflect the desire to retain the foreign phonological 
structure of certain borrowings, especially in words that are perceived as foreign 
or otherwise different from normal. Exactly why phonotactics wins in the case of 

David Eddington: Spanish epenthesis 49 

epenthesis and does not always win in the case of odd word-final phonemes is not 
clear, and calls for more study. 

7. Conclusions 

Both of the formal analyses of epenthesis are able to account for the majority of 
the data presented in this paper. However, each requires some ad hoc formal ma- 
nipulation in order to do so. The performance-based analysis considers epenthesis 
to have productive and unproductive aspects. Productive epenthesis is thought to 
apply to foreign words. The fact that Id emerges as the epenthetic vowel, as well 
as the fact that epenthesis applies so as not to break up sC- clusters results from 
the fact that epenthesis is the result of the influence of phonotactic schemas; Id is 
the most commonly occurring vowel before word initially .vC-, and word initial 
seC- is much less common than word initial esC-. 

As far as unproductive epenthesis is concerned, the notion of semantic trans- 
parency (or opacity) explains the majority of the cases involving words comprised 
of a prefix plus a stem. The variability seen in the words in Table 6 is due to sev- 
eral factors. Because of the low frequency of most of these forms, speakers may 
differ in the extent to which they perceive a given word to be morphologically 
complex, or whether they see a semantic relationship between the prefix and stem. 
The more a speaker perceives the word to be comprised of a prefix plus stem, and 
the degree to which the semantics of both elements are seen to combine to give the 
meaning of the word, the more likely the stem is to be epenthesized. In addition, 
some of the alternation that occurs in words beginning with pre-, re-, sobre-, and 
tele- may be due to the optional phonetic realization of a sequence of identical 
vowels (i.e., ltd) as either a long or short vowel. This phonetic alternation may 
influence the spelling as well. 


' I express my thanks to Joan Bybee, Jose Ignacio Hualde, and Devin Jenkins for 
their critique and input on this paper. 

- However, Bromberger and Halle (2000:35) take a realist stance: 'Do speakers 
REALLY retrieve morphemes from their memory, invoke rules, go through all these 
labours when speaking? We think they do." 

-^ Arterio- may be more correctly termed a pseudoprefix. 

■^ I'robably a borrowing from English. Refers to a surgical camera. 

"^ When des- is affixed to a stem beginning with /s/, the outcome is a simple /s/ not 
a phonetically or orthographically geminate one (e.g., des+scomhrar > descom- 

'' Yiii^o- may be more correctly termed a pseudoprefix. 

"^ DEP-IO could be used in place of FAITH-V without changing the essence of the 

50 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001) 

*^ The only forms of descamar that appear in the frequency dictionary are des- 
caniacion and descamamiento that denote a tlaking off of skin. This is semanli- 
cally quite distant from escamas 'fish scales.' Descamar referring to the process of 
scaling a fish would be much less likely than desescamar in this context. 

^Guirao and Garcfa Jurado cite other studies in which diphthongs are counted as 
monophonemic units, so that the /e/ in /we, je, ej/ etc. does not figure into the 
count of instances of /e/. According to those studies /a/ is the most common vowel. 

'OThe reasons why /e/ appeared as the epenthetic vowel when epenthesis was a 
productive process are obviously different from those I suggest for synchronic 

' ' Available for download at: 


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Sliiclies ill the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 31. Number 2 (Fall 2001) 


Moha Ennaji 

Universite Sidi Mohained Ben Ahdellah, Fes ma 

This paper deals with the construct state (CS) in Berber within the 
minimalist framework. I argue that genitive constructions, or CSs of the 
type: [dp N (prep) NP], are derived by means of N-raising to D in par- 
allel with V-raising to T in TPs in conformity with the Head Movement 
Constraint. I adopt the DP analysis whereby CSs are DPs headed by D. 
This claim implies that D contains an AGR that may be overt or covert 
in Berber. At any rate, AGR triggers Gen(itive) case under Spec-Head 
agreement. I will argue that N-raising to D in such structures is due to 
the strong N-feature of the functional head D in Berber. 

The paper is organized as follows. Section 1 presents data and describes the salient 
characteristics of CSs in Berber.' Section 2 deals with CSs as involving N-raising 
to D. Section 3 includes the agreement analysis of CSs. Section 4 discusses post- 
modifiers and how they agree with CSs in Berber. 

1. Data 

Consider the following examples: 

(1) a. tafunast (n) wrba 

cow of boy 

'The boy's cow' 

b. aDar (n) wryaz 
foot of man 
'The man's foot' 

c. tasarut *(n) tHanut 
key of shop (fem) 
'The key of the shop' 

d. imi *(n) isli 

mouth of the bridegroom 
'The bride groom's mouth' 

e. idamn *(n) ifullusn 
blood of chicken 
'The chicken's blood' 

(2) a. taguni (n) wsrdun 

sleeping of mule 
'The mule's sleeping' 

56 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 3 1 :2 (Fall 2001 ) 

b. ign wsrdun 
slept mule 
'The mule slept.' 

c. iTTsi n wryaz i wHuli 
slaughtering of man to sheep 
'The man's slaughtering of the sheep' 

d. iyrs wryaz i wHuli. 
slaughtered man the sheep 
'The man slaughtered the sheep.' 

According to Guerssel (1986), in Berber the NPs that form the CS are not a homo- 
geneous class. Subject NPs in VSO sentences are in the CS form; 

(3) iswa wrba aman. 
drank boy water 
'The boy drank water.' 

while object NPs and left-dislocated NPs are not marked for the CS: 

(4) a. inya Ahmed arba 

kill Ahmed boy 

'Ahmed killed the boy.' 
b. arba, inya-t Ahmed 

boy kill-him Ahmed 

'The boy, Ahmed killed him.' 

Likewise, object prepositions are in the CS: 

(5) xf wrba 
on boy 
'about the boy' 

whereas complements of some prepositions are in the free state form: 

(6) idda Ahmed bla arba 
left Ahmed without boy 
'Ahmed left without the boy.' 

Noun complements in genitive structures are always in the construct form, as 
in (1) above. 

In Tashlhit Berber, the CS is absent, i.e., only the 'of-phrase is possible, 
while in Tamazight Berber, with which I am dealing, the CS is present but re- 
stricted in the sense that it is phonologically conditioned. The noun family where 
the two possibilities (CS and "of-phrase) are available is the one that consists of 
masculine nouns having consonant-initial stems. The corresponding stems in (la- 
b) are: -rba, tyaz- However, if a noun is either feminine or includes a vowel-initial 
stem, the occurrence of the genitive marker is compulsory. (Cf. Guerssel 1986.) 

The issue of the formation of the CS in Berber is perhaps phonological, but it 
is unclear to what extent phonology and syntax interact. The genitive preposition n 
is presumably omitted at PF for phonological reasons that are beyond the scope of 

MoHA Ennaji: The construct state in Berber 57 

this paper. (Cf. Chaker 1983; Guerssel 1986; El Moujahid 1993; and Sadiqi 1986a, 

Examples in (1) are constatives and in (2) include derived nominals. Both 
structures are commonly referred to as construct state nominals, which are char- 
acterized by the following major properties: 

• lack of a preposition 

• strict adjacency 

• the head N precedes the genitive phrase and bears the case of the entire 

• the head N assigns Gen case to the argument it immediately governs 

• the head N can never have a definite determiner. 

2. N-raising to D 

In (2) above the CS contains a derived nominal with two arguments, subject and 
object, as in VSO sentences (2a) and (2b). This illustrates that there is a structural 
parallelism between verbal sentences and CSs in Berber, which backs up the DP 
hypothesis. I assume that CSs are derived as in (7), respectively: 

(7) DP 



tafunasti Spec N' 
wrba N; 

In (7), the head N is raised from within the lexical projection NP to D, 
whereas the genitive complement remains in-situ, which results in a CS. Evidence 
for the fact that the genitive NP does not move comes from the process of nomi- 
nalization, which necessitates the order NSO, as in verbal clauses. 

N-raising to D conforms with the Head Movement Constraint, and the moti- 
vation behind it is to discharge Gen case onto the argument on its right. But how 
are definiteness and agreement related? Why is a definite determiner prohibited 
from appearing on the head N in CSs? 

These questions find a reasonable answer in the DP hypothesis where CSs 
are argued to be DPs headed by D Gen. This claim implies that D contains an ab- 
stract AGR that triggers Gen case. Thus, it is in complementary distribution with 
overt determiners (Aoun 1978, Riz/i 1990). Under this view, the structures of the 
well-formed CS in (la) and its ill-formed counterpart in (Ic) are expected to be as 
in (8a-b), respectively. 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

(8) a. 











* DP 










In (8b), unlike in (8a), the abstract AGR fails to case-mark the subject tasarut due 
to the presence of another head, the prefixal determiner /-; the latter, like its Eng- 
lish equivalent the, is not a case-marker; thus, the resulting structure is filtered out 
(at PF) as a Case Filter violation. The same restriction is witnessed in the follow- 
ing example: 

(9) *l-biru ta-1-mudir-t 

the-office (fem-)the-director(-fem) 

In (9) the argument ta-l-mudir-t 'the director' does not receive its due genitive 
case given the absence of the genitive preposition n. The questions to be raised 
are: Do CSs really involve any agreement at all, apart from abstract AGR? If so, 
what features does this agreement involve? 

For Guerssel (1986), free state forms are Kase Phrases (KPs) including a 
case-marker, whereas the CS is a DP containing a determiner and a noun. For Gu- 
erssel, nearly all elements traditionally called prepositions in Berber are actually 
nouns or case-markers that behave as heads of KPs, and thus a proper treatment of 
prepositions can help us understand the CS. 

In Berber, the genitive preposition is a reflex of an overt AGR that assigns 
Gen case to its Spec. These agreement facts suggest that NPs in Berber contain an 
AGR node. These NPs are not only DPs, but also AGRPs: 

MoHA Ennaji; The construct state in Berber 
(10) a. AGRP 

Spec AGR ' 

tafunasti GEN NP 

wrba N 





In (10a). the head N tafunast is raised to the Spec of AGRP for reasons of genitive 
case-checking; an AGR-Gen assigns genitive case to its complement wrba. In 
(10b), there is no agreement, and AGR is not projected; the Spec of DP is not a 
case position. Thus, the head N is not raised, and the complement wrha receives 
its case from the preposition n. 

According to Ouhalla (1988), noun phrases may be DPs or AGRPs depend- 
ing on whether they display overt (Spec-Head) agreement. With this in mind, let 
us examine the following examples: 

(11) a. TiT wrba 
eye boy 
'The boy's eye' 
b. *wrba TiT 
boy eye 

Observe that the possessor NP must surface after the head N; this is determined by 
the directionality of genitive case assignment in Berber. The starred example is 
excluded by the Case Filter because the movement of the possessor argument is 
not motivated by feature-checking. Besides, agreement is not morphologically 

60 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001) 

(12) DP 

Spec D' 

e D NP 

TiT Spec N 

wrba N 

The head N raises from N to D, and c-commands the subject in [Spec, NP] 
but does not overtly agree with it in any feature, government and agreement being 
in complementary distribution in Berber. The possessor NP is licensed because it 
is c-commanded by lexicalized D. 

There are two more arguments in favor of the idea that Berber CSs have an 
AGRP, either overt in the syntax or covert at LF. First, D can be filled by the defi- 
nite article and AGR: 

(13) t-zday di [matta tarbat]? 
she(-AGR) lives here which girl 
'Which girl lives here?" 

The bracketed wh-phrase agrees with the VP in person, number, and gender in the 
way that V agrees with the postverbal subject in the free state order. 

A second piece of evidence for the existence of an AGR node in DPs comes 
from extraction facts: 

(14) a. tannayt arba n mi? 

saw-you son of who 
'Whose son did you see?' 
b. *n mi tannayt arba? 
of whom saw-you son 

The ungrammaticality of (14b) is attributed to the fact that AGR in DP is 
weak and may not license the displaced wh-phrase. Thus, I argue that DPs of the 
type exemplified in (13) are AGRPs. We can assume therefore an abstract AGR 
node, which is satisfied at LF. Consider the following: 

(15) arba-n-s 
'His son' 

The Poss marker is taken to be a spell-out of AGR, which is triggered after 
NP-raising to [Spec, DP]. In Berber, the CS constructions are considered to be of 
the form [pp N (Prep) NP]. In these constructions, the head of DP may be either a 
N or a derived nominal. The genitive preposition n in Berber may be deleted, as in 
other Semitic languages. When the genitive preposition is present, the features of 

MoHA Ennaji: The construct state in Berber 61 

the genitive constructions are checked by this lexical preposition (see Guerssel 
1986). In Berber, the genitive preposition n may be deleted, especially if the noun 
is masculine having consonant-initial stems, as mentioned in Section 1. 

In the above examples, the DP construction has a regular N as its lexical 
head; the feature [-i-Def] is inherent to DP given the nonexistence of an overt defi- 
nite article (apart from the borrowed Arabic definite article -al). Thus, the repre- 
sentation of DP constructions is as follows: 

(16) DPI 

[+Def] N DP2 


In this configuration, the functional head D is projected for syntactic reasons. The 
functional head D is not phonetically realized and it contains only the abstract 
feature [-i-referential] represented at LF for reasons of full interpretation. The posi- 
tion [Spec, NP] is the generation site of subject DPs which are outside the domain 
of N' in D-structure. Object DPs are generated in the position complement of N. 
We assume that the lexical head N moves to D, as we have established for the 
derivation of the simple DP structure. 

The raising of N into D is not related to Baker's Affixation Principle (1985, 
1988) given that there is no affixal article under the node D. The abstract AGR 
that is contained in D can validate the case assigned to DP in its totality, when the 
latter is subject or object. 

As we have previously mentioned, the element D is marked intrinsically by 
the nominal feature [+N] and the abstract feature [+Def], which are both diffused 
in the whole projection DP. These properties make D apt to receive N which in- 
corporates into it, thus instantiating a case of head to head movement (cf. Chom- 
sky 1986). 

What seems to motivate the movement of N into D in these constructions is 
the requirement of the Directionality Principle, especially because D contains an 
abstract AGR validating the case assigned to DP (cf. Koopman 1984). Similarly, 
what motivates the VSO order in IP is the Directionality Principle as has already 
been mentioned; the latter principle is behind the order in the DP as well. The head 
N moves to the left of its complement for feature-checking. The feature-checking 
of case on the complement is done through the preposition in ordinary genitive 
constructions and through the N in CSs. 

62 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 ) 

Another motivation for the movement of N to D is the necessity of making 
N, and the whole DP, accessible to case-checking. This fact is verified by the test 
of the case-marking of the head N in Berber in all syntactic contexts. 

(17) a. yaru Driss [tabrat wryaz]. 

wrote Driss letter man 

'Driss wrote the man's letter.' 

b. [tabrat wryaz] tyara. 
letter man written 
'The man's letter was written.' 

c. *l-kartabl trbat 
the-satchel girl 

If we assume that D does not contain a realized AGR element responsible for 
Gen case, and if this movement does not differentiate simple DP from complex DP 
with the structure [pp N Prep NP], we must analyze Gen constructions on the basis 
of other principles to account for their analytic property. 

Berber is among the languages that adopt the analytic strategy in the sense 
that the case-checking on the complement noun inside DP is done via the preposi- 
tion that occurs between N and its complement NP. 

This strategy distinguishes Berber from the languages with a synthetic geni- 
tive like Standard Arabic and Hebrew, and makes it similar to Romance languages 
(see Ritter 1987, Ouhalla 1988, Fassi Fehri 1993, Mohammad 1988. and Benma- 
moun 1996)^ It seems to be an alternative to the absence of the morphological 
element AGR in D, on the one hand, and to the inaptitude of the nominal head to 
check case features.' 

3. The agreement analysis 

It has been argued in the literature that there exists a structural parallelism between 
CSs and verbal sentences, i.e., between DP and TP. 

Word order confirms the structural parallelism between IP and DP. Thus, we 
can state that DPs with derived nominals keep the internal structure of their corre- 
sponding IP. 

VSO structures are similar to CSs in that the agreement features of the sub- 
ject and the genitive argument cannot be checked in overt syntax because the 
heads they are associated with encode weak features. In VSO sentences, V moves 
successive cyclically to AGR then [AGR-V] moves to T. The raising of V to T 
imposes the raising of the subject to [Spec. AGRP] and eventually to [Spec, TP], 
as the licensing of the latter depends on the checking of case and agreement fea- 
tures. V raises to the highest minimal position that is checked in the structure, 
hence the VSO order. 

In CSs, the complex NP must have its features checked at PF (with the use of 
the 'of phrase) or at LF in the pure CS. 

MoHA Ennaji: The construct state in Berber 


Overt movement of the genitive NP is barred by Procrastinate because the 
features of D are weak. Therefore, the head D must remain in-situ until LF. At this 
level, it can satisfy feature-checking. 

According to Abney (1987), there exists an abstract category AGR in the 
functional head of the nominal group; this functional head has two distinct con- 
stituents: Art and AGR. This assumption supports the idea of structural parallelism 
between TP and DP in the sense that each projection has an inflexional structure 
containing an agreement element responsible for case-checking. In fact, in TP, 
AGR is always present, even when it has no morphological form, as in the case of 
nonfinite clauses in Arabic (cf. Ennaji 1985, chapter 3). The detailed representa- 
tion of the sentence (TP) is given in (18a), and the detailed representation of DP 
containing an AGR is given in (18b). 

(18) a. 








The structural parallelism between a simple sentence and DP is in support of the 
hypothesis that AGR in the nominal domain has the same role as AGR in the sen- 
tential domain. Thus, AGR in TP (18a) determines the relation between the subject 
and the verb, because it is responsible for nominative case-checking. AGR in DP 
is involved in the relation between the head noun and its complement, in the sense 
that AGR is responsible for the genitive case discharged onto the complement NP. 

64 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 2001) 

These assumptions can be illustrated by the contrast existing between the 
two constructions in (19), the derivational representation of which corresponds to 
the configuration in (20): 

(19) a. afus wryaz 

hand-nom man(-gen) 

'The man's hand' 
b. *l-kas trbat 

the-glass girl(-gen) 



wryaz N' 


In structure (20), the NP possessor wryaz. 'the man' is generated in [Spec, 
NP] position, in analogy with the positioning of the external argument in [Spec, 
VP] in the domain TP. In order for N to check off its case and definite features, we 
assume that the head N, afus 'hand', moves into AGR and then D provided that it 
is empty. In its surface position, N becomes also accessible to another external 
source for case-checking. By incorporating the abstract AGR, the N becomes able 
to check the feature Gen of the complement NP, hence the inflected genitive NP 

This analysis accounts for the well-formedness of (19a) in the sense that the 
raising of N into this structure is made possible by the nonmorphological realiza- 
tion of the element Art in D. The incorporation of N permits AGR to discharge its 
Gen case onto the NP subject (possessor), and at the same, it validates the Spec- 
Head agreement relation. At LF, the movement of N in D ensures full interpreta- 
tion. Alternatively, the same analysis accounts for the non-grammaticality of 
(19b), where the element Art is realized as the definite Art /-. In fact, on the ac- 
count of Emonds (1985), Abney (1987), and Fassi Fehri (1988), the lexical reali- 
zation of Art excludes that of AGR, the two categories being in complementary 
distribution, as is stipulated in the axiom (21): 

(21) AGR and [+Def] Art are in complementary distribution. 

MoHA Ennaji: The construct state in Berber 65 

In consequence, N-raising to D is incapable of discharging the Gen case 
feature on the NP complement, and the latter will be caseless, which suffices to 
reject the construction (19b) by the Case Filter. 

This analysis can be generalized to the other structures in (17). Thus, the de- 
viant forms in Berber are due to the proposition in (21), and their grammaticality 
is accounted for by the movement of N to D. 

The fact that the head N overtly raises to D is accounted for by the strong N 
feature, which must be checked off before Spell Out. This movement operation is 
parallel to that of V-raising to T in verbal sentences. In both operations, movement 
is triggered by Greed, which specifies that strong features are to be checked at PF. 

In addition, in CSs, N-raising to D is required to lexicalize the null D so that 
it becomes available for case-checking, and as a result a case-checker can occur on 
its left, as exemplified in: 

(22) a. annay-y iydi wrba 

saw-I dog(-nom)boy(-gen) 

'I saw the boy's dog.' 
b. yal- y is iwssir uyyis wryaz. 

thought-I that old horse(-nom) man(-gen) 

'I thought that the man's horse was old.' 

In (22a-22b), the head N of the CS has accusative case (although this case is pho- 
nologically covert), as imposed by the transitive verb annay 'see' and the com- 
plementizer /.v 'that'. 

N-raising to D also satisfies the case-checking requirement imposed on the 
genitive NP. When the head D is lexicalized by N, it can check the case of the 
genitive DP in the [Spec, NP], as in the case of nominative case-checking in verbal 

Like N-raising, postmodification is a characteristic of Berber. In the follow- 
ing section, we will examine the agreement of CSs with possessive pronouns, 
modifying adjectives, and restrictive relative clauses. 

4. Post-nominal modifiers 

4. 1 Possessive pronouns 

Possessive pronouns in Berber are affixes that agree with the modified noun for 
person, number, gender, and case, as in (26): 

(23) a. arba-;'//// 

'His son' 
b. arba-/7.s-/7 

'Their son" 

The possessive pronoun in (23) spells-out genitive rather than accusative case be- 
cause it is selected by the head N not V. (See Ennaji 1995, 1997.) The italicised 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 31:2 (Fall 200 1 

possessive pronoun is a bare head D that initially appears in [Spec, NP], and then 
incorporates into the head N under D. Incorporation, which is a case of head-head 
checking, is imposed by Greed. Being a bound morpheme, the genitive argument 
must be affixed to N prior to Spell Out for genitive case-checking. Thus, Gen