The English Language and Contemporary Literature When I first heard about contemporary literature, the first thought that came into my mind is that it is the literature that we have today. I never thought of it as a literature that deals seriously with cultural identity albeit the stories we can easily relate that it told. The contemporary writers’ names also sounded so exotic to me that it amazed me that they use the English language proficiently without deserting their cultural roots.
They write like they were born with English tongues. But why is it then that these contemporary writers don’t write their works in their own language or dialect? For me, this question also answers the question about the relationship of the English language and the contemporary literature. The English language is the universal language. It is just a tool for the contemporary writers to communicate with the multiracial community. They only write in English for us to be able to understand the stories they want to share, the ideals they want to impose, and the culture and the way of life they want us to take a glimpse.
How can we understand what they wanted to say if they won’t use the English language? It does not mean that if we use the English language, we are not patriotic to our own native tongues. It is just a tool we have to have. Though these contemporary writers write in English, they assimilate it with their own styles and their identities. As Salman Rushdie put it, “…those peoples who were once colonized by the language are now rapidly remaking it, domesticating it, becoming more and more relaxed about the way they use it…” This I believe means that we do not own the English language but we have ways to make it ours.
The literatures we write in the English language are certainly ours. For me, the English language is like the original “pancit” recipe given to us by the Chinese merchants and that the flavours we add on it to make it more Filipino is our own version of the English language. We have the freedom to choose the English language as our means to communicate with the ever growing multiracial society. The English people do not own the literatures we write in the English language. When we discussed about the literary awarded novels, they always depict their respective cultures vividly.
But why is it then that the contemporary literature always talks about culture? It is a question that I have always tried to answer these past few months. Is it because we now have a multiracial society, a global community without boundaries? Or we are apparently losing our cultural identity because of the assimilation of the different cultures and we need these writers to remind us all about our own culture? For me, the literatures we now have today dissolve barriers. Its openness to the different subjects provides us the view of the world.
Its simplicity and universality makes us relate with it easily. Its straightforwardness makes us to easily connect with the message the writer wanted us to know. Through today’s literature, we have the free access to know about different cultures across the world. Unlike during the time of classical writers, they write because they need to urge people to take social actions. They write because they think they need to change our social views. Today’s writers make it simple for us. They write stories that depict our daily lives.
They make it easy for us to understand their messages. They write stories just for pleasure. As V. S. Naipul has pointed out, “Even in this period of “internationalism” in letters we have seen literatures turning more and more inward, developing languages that are more and more private. ” The English language and contemporary literature are for me two separate entities but are still related to each other. They are like the sun and the moon. The moon borrows the light of the sun during the night. Same as the literature borrows its life from language.
Without language how can literature flourish? For me, the English language, just like any other languages in the world, is very dynamic. I think that the reason why it evolves is because culture too evolves. For instance, whenever I browse Merriam-Webster’s or any dictionaries on the internet, they always have a section for new words. The English language expands through the years. It expands whenever we have new discoveries, whenever we set social trends. While culture too, become adaptive to the changes we made through the years, literature too, also evolved.
It is said that literature reflects our culture. That’s why I believe that literature also changers over the years. I remember last Christmas that I rewarded myself with a book. I browsed in the bookstore’s shelves and found myself in the classical section. Without hesitation, I bought Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights because it is the favourite book of Sandra Bullock’s character in the movie The Proposal. When I read its first pages and finished a chapter, I read it all over again. And I asked myself, why did I buy this book?
The English language used in the book is unbearable for me. But I did finish it, fortunately. For me, the problem of this book is that I can’t relate with it. Just as like V. S. Naipaul’s findings with Wordsworth’s poem about the daffodil, I also found myself wondering on how the moors look like as described in the novel. Today, when I read novels published recently, like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, I may not fully understand its cultural context, but its messages are direct and clear.
The simplicity of today’s English language helps us readers to connect ourselves with the literatures we read. The contemporary literature, the literature we have today does not only tell about the culture of others that were once alien to us. It also possesses the English language that we adopted over the years, the language that was once also alien to us. These two entities, however separate are still related to each other. For me, they can never stand alone.