If ever there was a polyglot place on the globe (other than the Tower of Babel), America between 1750 and 1850 was it. Here three continents—North America, Africa, and Europe—met and spoke not as one, but in Amerindian and African languages, in German and English, Spanish, French, and Dutch. How this prodigious multilingualism lost its voice in the making of the American canon and in everyday American linguistic practice is the problem American Babel approaches from a variety of angles. Looking at the first Arabic-language African-American slave narrative, at quirks of translation in Greek-American bilingual books, and at the strategies of Yiddish women poets and Welsh-American dramatists, contributors show how linguistic resistance opposes the imperative of linguistic assimilation. They address matters of literary authority in Irish Gaelic writing, Creole novels, and the multiple voices of the Zuni storyteller; and in essays on Haitian, Welsh, Spanish, and Chinese literatures, they trace the relationship between domestic nationalism and immigrant internationalism, between domestic citizenship and immigrant ethnicity.
American Babel acts enlighteningly on the proposition that from the outset American literature has looked as much to a multilingual as to an English-language literary record...The twenty-five essays which make up the collection confirm a genuine variety of voice...[and] should help deliver a provocative and timely reminder of what historically have always been the more inclusive languages of America's literary-cultural voice.
- 544 pages
- 1 x 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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