Multilingual poetry - the experience of many voices
Search for my Tongue by Sujata Bhatt
This poem is all about identity. The poet talks about having two tongues: one ‘mother’ tongue and one ‘foreign’ tongue. In this case, the foreign tongue is English, and Sujata writes about worrying over losing her native identity (and first language, Gujarati). The text is full of emotive language, and the poet describes a dream where her mother tongue flowers and grows out of her mouth - perhaps as a metaphor for speech itself.
“it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots…”
Bilingual Blues by Gustavo Perez Firmat
In this poem, the author moves between Spanish and English, feeling quite uncomfortable using either language. It raises questions about the nature of home and family - the poet talks about being in between the two languages - perhaps suggesting that each contains a unique meaning to him.
“I have mixed feelings about everything.
Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones.
Vexed, hexed, complexed,
hyphenated, oxygenated, illegally alienated,
psycho soy, cantando voy:
You say tomato,
I say tu madre;
You say potato,
I say Pototo…..”
Mother Tongue by Gwyneth Lewis
This is a poem about Lewis’ thirst for languages - her love of them takes her away from her native Welsh and into other exciting worlds. She reveals her appetite for learning as addictive, using phrases like ‘hooked on whole sentences’. The poet describes her enjoyment of language-learning as a sensory experience, claiming her ‘taste was changing’ from her ‘bland’ native tongue, and craving something more tantalising.
“One night I OD’d
after reading far too much Proust.
I came to, but it scared me. For a while
I went Welsh-only but it was bland
and my taste was changing. Before too long
I was back on translating, found that three
languages weren’t enough. The “ch”
in German was easy, Rilke a buzz…”
Six O’Clock News by Tom Leonard
This poem imagines a BBC broadcaster reading the daily news in a thick Glaswegian accent. The BBC employee explains that the public wouldn’t believe the news if they heard it in such a dialect, “yi widny thingk it wuz troo”. The poem goes on to say that the accent is the BBC broadcaster’s ‘right way of spelling’, and this makes the reader question what is meant by truth.
“this is thi
six a clock
man said n
a talk wia
iz coz yi
mi ti talk
Would it be better | if we all spoke | the same language?Vote now
- Multilingual poetry - the experience of many voices
- Speaking dialects trains the brain in the same way as bilingualism
- The Tree of Languages
- Could social media save endangered languages?
- Would it be better if we all spoke the same language? Take this further...
- Can technology help us reduce the barriers between languages?
- Oxplore: answers to your language questions