Phase 2

This is Phase 2 of Swansea’s contribution to the AHRC-funded project ‘Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community’ under the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI) and is led by Professor Julian Preece (PI) with Dr Aled Rees (PDRA). The activities and results of Phase 1, which was led by Professor Tom Cheesman (PI) with Dr Filiz Celik, can be viewed here.

In Phase 2 we set out to test the hypothesis that significant knowledge of a second language is widespread among writers of English publishing in Britain and that such bilingualism is an essential component of their self-understanding and creative practice. We seek to expand understanding of various forms of bilingualism amongst British writers by investigating what effects knowledge of another language has on their literary production and reception. Bilingualism is usually understood as a consequence of background (e.g. Kazuo Ishiguro), but can also be the result of study and residence abroad (e.g. J.K. Rowling). The project compares both forms but is particularly interested in writers who have acquired advanced knowledge of a second language after childhood, understanding them to be modern linguists who make intercultural impacts, either in the UK, or the country of their second language, or both.

We began by surveying the language competences of writers who had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize since its inauguration in 1969 and published a report in The Conversation: ‘Booker Prize: Tradition of multilingual writers seems to be dying out – more’s the pity’.

A more detailed database has been created detailing the linguistic capabilities of authors who have either won or been shortlisted for the following UK literary prizes. In addition to the Booker, these are the Dylan Thomas, Rathbones Folio, Women’s Prize for Fiction, Jhalak, James Tait Black Memorial, Sunday Times EFG Prize for Short Story Award, T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry, and Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

Find out about phase 1 here.

Publication Plans

We are writing a jointly authored article evaluating the results of the survey of British bilingual writers. Knowledge of other languages and the accompanying cross-cultural expertise can shape fiction in various ways, influencing choices of theme, inter-literary borrowing, and style. Yet while ‘trans-lingual’ characterises writers working in a second language, we lack a critical vocabulary for mother-tongue authors with inter-lingual concerns. This paper will identify and define a phenomenon and suggest a way forward.

The PDRA is also investigating the role of the Irish writer Colm Tóibín as cultural intermediary. Fluent in both Spanish and Catalan, Tóibín has written extensively and in various genres about the Hispanic World. Drawing on Clifford’s assertion that for writers, travel and relocation imply the need for a cross-cultural translation of experiences, events and identities (1997), his paper analyses Tóibín’s utilisation and incorporation of language(s), perspectives and comparable national contexts into his literary production to examine how he functions as a cultural intermediary between his Hispanic subjects and Anglophone readers.

The PI is writing an article on Germanists as heroes of twentieth-century film and fiction, in the works of Isherwood, Le Carré, Konrad Wolf, Quentin Tarantino and others.