Brutt-Griffler says World English is experienced by most people in two different situations. Which one do you relate to as a user of English? What does it have to do with translation? This...

Brutt-Griffler says World English is experienced by most people in two different situations. Which one do you relate to as a user of English? What does it have to do with translation?

This question about translation is about a literature text by Das that follows and a commentary from the author of the book World English Development, by Janina Brutt-Griffler (2007).

I am an 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,

Everyone of you? Why not let me speak in

Any language I 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 . . .

(Kamala Das, 1997: 10)

Brutt-Griffler: Kamala Das captures the paradox of English in the world today. To some, English anywhere outside the mother tongue context is an alien language, perhaps even an imposed language. From this standpoint, English has a fixed identity, both political and linguistic. It represents something peculiarly English, or perhaps Anglo-American, but at all events certainly Western. English has become a world language because – and to the extent that – Anglo-American, Western culture has become hegemonic in the world. To others English, although not their mother tongue, is nevertheless their language, an expression of their own unique identity. It is theirs because they have made it so – through their lived experiences in the language that have gained expression in the way they use English. In this view, English has become a world language to the extent that it has been stripped of any simplistic association with Anglo American and Western culture. World English has emerged because its users have changed the language as they have spread it.

Brutt-Griffler goes on to talk about how World English is experienced by most people, mentioning two different situations. Which one do you relate to, as a user of English? What does it have to do with translation?

Asked on by esdras

1 Answer | Add Yours

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

As a (white) Anglo-American, English is a national language that is bound up with notions of what it means to be American. Although two separate ideas, American English is tied to World English in terms of cultural influence.

World English exists because of the expansion of British colonialism in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The influence of American culture around the world also led to this formation of World English. So, because English has been forced upon the rest of the world as a result of colonialism and cultural expansion, it has negative associations and the historical baggage of being associated with Western imperialism forcing its culture upon the East. 

In 1757, Britain colonized India and remained an empiric force there until 1947 when India became independent. Kamala Das was an Indian writer, born in 1934, so she lived through the time of Ghandi and the struggle for Indian independence. Her perspective on World English would be quite different from mine, but in reading about colonialism and post-colonialism, I can appreciate the paradoxical way she and many Indian citizens probably feel about the English language. For them, it has to be bound up with notions of the enemy, a colonizing force. 

In spite of these negative connotations and associations, Brutt-Griffler suggests that Das is able to use English for her own purposes. It is a part of her culture and she intends to embrace her own freedom to use English, Hindi or whatever language she chooses. (Hindi and English are the national languages in India.) As Brutt-Griffler says: 

To others English, although not their mother tongue, is nevertheless their language, an expression of their own unique identity. It is theirs because they have made it so – through their lived experiences in the language that have gained expression in the way they use English. 

So, although English had originally been thrust upon many parts of the world, some of these post-colonial peoples (such as Das) have made English their own, thus divorcing their use of English from the associations of a Western empire or colonizer. For Das, if Brutt-Griffler's analysis of her is correct, translation is not a problem. She notes how she will write in English and Indian. In this respect, it is poetic justice. Just as the British Empire appropriated Indian resources and culture for their own gain, Das appropriates the English language for her own purposes. 

For someone who still views English or World English with these associations of empire and oppression, translation is a more complex problem. An Indian writer with this view might feel that translating his/her literary works into English is problematic, insulting to his/her Indian heritage, or something to avoid altogether. 

As a (white) Anglo-American, English is a national language that is bound up with notions of what it means to be American. And I differentiate this American English language and culture from the idea of "World English." World English exists because of the expansion of British colonialism in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The influence of American culture around the world also led to this formation of World English. So, because English has been forced upon the rest of the world as a result of colonialism and cultural expansion, it has negative connotations and the historical baggage of being associated with Western imperialism forcing its culture upon the East. 

In 1757, Britain colonized India and remained an empiric force there until 1947 when India became independent. Kamala Das was an Indian writer, born in 1934, so she lived through the time of Ghandi and the struggle for Indian independence. Her perspective on World English would be quite different from mine, but in reading about colonialism and post-colonialism, I can appreciate the paradoxical way she and many Indian citizens probably feel about the English language. For them, it has to be bound up with notions of the enemy, a colonizing force. 

In spite of these negative connotations and associations, Brutt-Griffler suggests that Das is able to also understand and use English for her own purposes. It is a part of her culture and she intends to embrace her own freedom to use English, Hindi or whatever language she chooses. (Hindi and English are the national languages in India.) 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,989 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question