Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Idiom Reflecting and Distorting Connections

Language has an intricate connection to all cultures in that they provide a central point of identity among all the inhabitants while also reflecting what is deemed as important in the society. This may simply mean that there is the word “foot” in English denoting a specific area while in Japanese there is no such specific word for that denoted area; however this also relates to the concept of the idiom. Idioms, or phrases that do not translate literally but rather more culturally, are usually considered to be the most difficult aspect of mastery in a language due to their idiosyncratic nature. In Epeli Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs, the careful use of slightly muddled or hidden idioms serves as a way to relate to the Western dialogue in a slightly manipulated context that makes us question the topic. However, it also serves the dual purpose of both reflecting the Western impact that is taking place in Tiko while also representing the distortion and difference between the West and Tiko.

A simple of example of this use of idiom or common phrase is when he writes that “an American…occasionally takes a giant step or two for mankind even though mankind may not have asked him to” (68). This plays off the famous quote from the moon landing where there was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. This situation relates to the pioneering of new areas, however as Hau’ofa points out using a play on the phrase from the Western world, and thus in a context that clarifies the position through relating it to our dialogue, sometimes these places do not necessarily want Western intervention to such a high degree.

The most interesting use of this idiom slip occurs when Hau’ofa writes that “the stage was set for Tiko to skin her own pigs and so control her Manifest Destiny” (48). This is a play on the idea of controlling one’s destiny and also the American phrase from the expansion period that was termed “Manifest Destiny”. This idea revolved around the belief that America, as a geographical body, was meant to spread from Atlantic coast to Pacific coast in North America. This particular instance carries special significance because of the focus on development and colonization of the South Pacific via Europe that can be related to the relationship between America and the Native Americans. This specific instance reflects the distortion of an historically American phrase, because the word “destiny” would work better in that context, however it is oddly appropriate in relation to the idea of colonization and forceful takeover. Hau’ofa does this in order to represent how both Western ideals can enhance and help other developing countries in some circumstances with the right intentions, but also how countries are not formed by the same cookie-cutter and therefore not everything transfers perfectly or even in the right context.

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