Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Transcendence of Language through the lens of Development

Users of colloquial or vernacular phrases rarely take the time or consideration to question the proper practice or the origin of common or even overused parts of speech. The Tales of the Tikongs, however, displays a unique understanding and implementation of such phrases exclusively within the framework of the way in which these expressions morph and evolve when placed in a new setting. The inclusion and adaptation of these sayings by the conquered people reinforces the existence of the initial conquest and continually permeates and residually reinforces the linguistic and thus ideological oppression.

The location of Hau’ofa’s series of vignettes is Tiko, an ambiguous island in the Pacific colonized by the British and structurally developed by the governments of Oceania, all of which are English speakers. Upon Mr. Hobsworth-Smith’s return to Tiko after a brief work induced hiatus, the narrator describes him as having, “shaved his handle-bar moustache, softened his stiff upper lip somewhat, and donned the Tikong national dress,” (Hau’ofa 55). The phrase here “stiff upper lip” is not usually given a physical connotation, but rather one of personal resilience; here however, it is used in the context of a corporeal adjustment. This new colloquialism for the Tikongs relieves Hobsworth-Smith from his place of fortitude, and rather demeans his action to a mere bodily change. The phrase adopts a new and less extreme meaning.

The greatest demonstration of this phenomenon of language comes with the critique of American pride, “an American likes to walk tall even though he may be short, and that he occasionally takes a giant step or two for mankind even though mankind may not have asked him to,” (Hau’ofa 68). The famed Neil Armstrong moon landing speech represents the pinnacle of American ambition and achievement, is here shown as overzealous conceit. The idea expressed here is that the United States, and presumably the rest of the developed world, takes the steps in this case towards development despite whether or not such steps are warranted or wanted. This sentence stands as a microcosm of the entire book, and it stings doubly hard since the critique is given in our own words.

The importation of these western phrases deconstructs their initial meaning and reorganizes them for the benefit of the native user. Holistically speaking, the language that the Tikongs use, while taken from the British, stands with distinctly different connotation, which to an outsider may be seen as misuse. The problem with this adjustment, however, is that the language, and specifically the distinct and memorable phrases continually used, are the modern day shackles of colonization. This inherently means that while Tiko is technically independent, it is never free from the linguistic bondage, and therefore never able to develop into it’s own individual identity.

No comments: