The World Isn't a Big English Only Place | Discussion

Thursday, July 21, 2016
Life is a diverse place. This is a fact. Fiction lags a little bit behind. This is also a fact. Most people in the world are bilingual. Also a fact. Now, why does fiction seem to be such a constraining, English-centric place? Particularly YA.

Now, my first theory is that most of YA is produced by English speaking authors and its audience is targeted as English speaking. Translations are produced, but I think that might be a topic for another day as might be the lack of translated YA works in the English market. It's something I'm passionate about, being both an aspiring translator and author myself.

My second theory is that it's just easier to make all your characters monolingual. I mean, you don't have the hassle of translating or producing writing that can come across as clunky and choppy. However, the bilingual brain is both of those things at times.

I grew up being bilingual. Spanish was spoken at home. English was taught at school hand in hand with Spanish. I am fortunate enough to live in a place where both English and Spanish are appreciated and used. Conversations happen in both languages, sometimes at the same time and I think in both languages. Dream in both languages, even. So growing up, the lack of bilingual people in the fiction I so adored was something that I accepted as normal. However, whenever a character was bilingual my face couldn't help but break out into a huge smile.

Language is as part of the human experience as anything else. It's what we use, after all, to communicate and to name our feelings and experiences. It's part of who we are and now as a linguistics major I understand that it also has a lot to do with the society we live in. I won't go into the details, but it's there.

It's so there that you get stared at if you have an accent, or told to learn English, or have people assume a lot of things because of what language you're using. It's a reality, we judge people by the way they use speech as much as we do by the way they look.

Bringing it back to books, I think we have a lack of bilingual or multilingual characters in YA. I know it feels like a battle and writing wise having someone speak two languages might be confusing for the readers and might make writing harder, but truth of the matter is: most people are bilingual. The world isn't one big English only place and I think we should pay more homage to that linguistic diversity in the world.

This discussion belongs in the We Need Diverse books as much as the discussion on more representation of all sorts. Language is tied to identity as much as skin color, or gender, or sexual orientation. It's something I don't think we speak of enough and I think we should. Why? Because for the little kid that speaks Spanish or Arabic or Korean or any other language that is not English it feels important and great when you see someone in fiction that speaks and thinks like you.

No comments:

Post a Comment