Ich, Du, Und Sie: Private and Public Writing by Multiliterate Authors

By Tina Bennett-Kastor.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The linguist Kenneth Pike once suggested that it is the natural state of humans to be multilingual. Two of the consequences of this bi- and multi-lingualism in spoken language are code-switching and code-mixing. In literacy and in public writing, however, conservative pressures tend to confine authors to the use of a single dominant language even though they may be able to read and write several. In contrast, where writing is for private and semi-private purposes, such as in diaries and letters, multiliterate authors may code-switch and code-mix as they do in speaking. Sometimes their purpose is to hide: to thwart invasions of privacy by those whose literacy is more limited; at other times it may be to more safely transmit potentially dangerous or subversive messages. Rare cases of code-mixing in public writing can certainly be found historically, but the last few decades have brought an increasing number of these works. The purpose of public, written code-mixing and switching is often to exploit the private purposes: to "out" oneself or one's message rather than to hide it; to deliberately subvert the pressures that demand widespread adoption of a particular language and its associated cultural values; or to mirror, parody, and thereby reverse colonial constructions of nondominant people, cultures, and languages. Such works require readers who are multiliterate themselves and are also able to understand the multiple social, political, and other associations attached to the non-dominant language.

Keywords: Multilingualism, Multiliteracy, Code-Switching, Code-Mixing

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.97-104. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 491.205KB).

Prof. Tina Bennett-Kastor

Professor, Department of English and Linguistics, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA

I came to a graduate linguistics program as the daughter and granddaughter of speech pathologists and with a BFA in Humanities and Creative Writing. I began to study Bantu languages, sociolinguistics, and normal and disordered language development, especially discourse, at the University of Southern California. From there I added narrative analysis and comparisons of written and spoken narrative to my interests. After I began teaching at Wichita State University, my experience with remedial writers led me to an academic side-line in understanding literacy, literacy development, and literacy disorders, although I retained a strong attraction to discourse studies. When I began learning Irish I examined narrative development in Irish-speaking children and then compared the Irish and English narratives of bilingual adults. Most recently I discovered that code-switching and code-mixing were not limited to the conversations of bi- and multilingual adults, but could be found in literature as well. A manuscript on such mixing in Irish literary texts will soon appear in the journal Estudios Irlandeses, and I am also currently working on a book focusing on the same material. I thank Linda Marshall for editing a longer draft of this work.

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