TM2: Arianna Dagnino

Breaking the linguistic minority complex through self-translation

SSHRC postdoctoral fellow, University of Ottawa

Abstract: In its common understanding, a minority language is a language that is spoken by the minority population in a geographic area (cfr. Cronin). In this paper, I propose, through a transcultural perspective, an alternative definition of minority language applied to the realm of self-translation (Grutman 2013). A minority language is any language which a bi/plurilingual writer perceives as not being the dominant one in the socio-cultural and linguistic context in which he/she is creatively active (either by choice, life’s circumstances or outer forces) as an author and as a (self-)translator. Despite the unequal power relations between languages in the global scene (Casanova, Grutman 2015), any minority language can also become a majority language and vice versa, disrupting the binary ideological framework of what is minor and what is major, what is dominant and what is subaltern, what is relevant and what is irrelevant. In this regard, the most exemplary – and radical – case might be represented by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, who provocatively sees English as the minority language in relation to the Gikuyu linguistic tradition in which he is actively involved (Baker).
Assuming this alternative definition of minority language as a point of departure, in this paper I discuss the self-translational practice of the Canadian writer Antonio D’Alfonso. To do so, I mainly draw upon an interview I had with the author. Together with Alberto Manguel, D’Alfonso is one of those – rare – cases of plurilingual writers who feel linguistically defamiliarized (Dagnino). Put it simply, D’Alfonso claims that, instead of having a proper mother tongue, he has a mixed baggage of native Molisano dialect, French (the language of his schooling), English and Italian. Thus, he tends to write, think and (self-)translate immersed in a kind of 3D- (or even 4D-) linguistic landscape (Pivato). There’s no ur-language, nor unilingual ur-text D’Alfonso can claim (cfr. Shafiq). Seen in this light, his published and unpublished self-translations from French into English (or vice versa) defy any proper categorization or systematic identification; each one of them is testimony to his experimental way of overcoming the minority-language complex and the “crude subjugation” (Whyte) of a language over another.

Keywords: self-translation, minority language, transcultural, plurilingualism, ur-language.

Bio note: Arianna Dagnino holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of South Australia and she is currently a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa (School of Translation and Interpretation), where she conducts research on self-translation and transcultural practices. Her publications include the transcultural novel Fossili (2010), set in South Africa, and several books on the impact of information technology and global mobility: I nuovi nomadi (1996), Uoma (2000) and Jesus Christ Cyberstar (2008). Her latest volume, Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility (Purdue UP, 2015), consists of a creative nonfiction piece, which the author self-translated from Italian into English, and of a critical exegesis on transnational flows, transcultural writing, identity and cultural translation.