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“Dissociating Form and Meaning in Bilingual Creative Writing and Creative Translation Workshops”

Sara GREAVES et Marie-Laure SCHULTZE

Résumés

Cet article tente de répondre à la question suivante : en quoi le principe de dissociation de la forme et du sens est pertinent dans le cadre d’une didactique des langues étrangères basée sur la création, telle qu’elle peut être mise en œuvre dans des ateliers d’écriture de création bilingues et de traduction créatrice. Un enseignant de langue est rapidement confronté à la question de la correction et de la conformité aux règles. Comme lieux d’appropriation personnelle de la langue dite étrangère, nos ateliers prennent de front la problématique de La Norme. A cet effet, nous ne faisons qu’une présentation succincte de notre appareil théorique (lequel inclut les analyses de Bettelheim et utilisations par Lafforgue du conte comme mode indirect d’expression) ; les étudiants entrent dans le vif de la création au moyen d’esquisses d’intrigues qu’ils viennent habiter au moyen de leurs propres inventions et significations. Ces « intrigues » sont conçues autour d’une nécessité commune : permettre à chacun de se débattre, dans les deux sens du terme, avec les questions que pose tout apprentissage vivant de la langue « étrangère » : les questions de l’intimité et de l’anonymat, du reconnaissable / méconnaissable / inconnu. Aussi les langues – anglaise, française, et en filigrane toutes celles que les étudiants rapportent de leur environnement personnel – sont-elles désarticulées, puis assemblées différemment : notre pratique pédagogique, en apparence paradoxale, vise à défaire plutôt qu’à étayer les habitudes monolingues. L’opinion courante, qu’un nombre croissant de pédagogues s’appliquent à dénoncer, selon laquelle il faut apprendre la correction d’abord avant de pouvoir espérer créer, est prise à revers. Aussi nos ateliers intègrent-ils également une réflexion sur l’évolution de l’anglais dans le monde – une étude des World Englishes montre que nombre d’innovations linguistiques sont d’abord perçues comme des fautes ou manquements … avant de passer dans l’usage. Un autre pan de la réflexion ne peut alors que concerner l’ego du pédagogue : face aux écrits de ses étudiants, il est lui-même amené à opérer une dissociation, voire une dislocation, de ses habitudes mentales. Il se confronte notamment à un questionnement délicat de sa posture : comment être enseignant tout en ayant un devoir d’accueil des productions des étudiants dont il se trouve … lecteur. Il cherchera alors des pistes du côté de la critique postcoloniale, laquelle témoigne de ce que les erreurs de toutes sortes sont également des marqueurs de différence.

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1For four years now, we, two associate professors of ‘English’, have been running creative translation and bilingual creative writing workshops, either extra-curricula or as a regular course on the syllabus, at Aix-Marseille University, France. We first took a course in how to run monolingual creative writing workshops in 2007-8, then, while running what we decided would be specifically bilingual workshops, started looking into the unquestioned background assumptions – some of them fallacies – that we realized we were working with and passing on to our students, often unawares. Given that creative writing is as yet underdeveloped in French universities, and also that the multilingual contexts of some of our students have been somewhat neglected in English-teaching circles, multilingual creative writing has proved an exciting field of exploration. It has led us to forage into and bridge differing fields of research in an attempt to provide our pedagogy with a theoretical frame that borrows from the didactics and sociolinguistics of multilingualism, psychology and psychoanalysis, along with the reading and writing of ‘literature’.

  • 1  Greaves, S. & Schultze, M.-L. (2008, 2009, 2011).
  • 2  « Non seulement le langage n’a pas pour fonction de représenter le réel, mais par nature il est en (...)

2So far we have focused on the following: the role of creativity in language teaching, the question of linguistic and educational norms, and the benefits of self-translation1. With this paper, we will turn to an as yet under-explored aspect of our practice, the role played by the disjunction of form and meaning – perhaps as important a characteristic of language as the reverse, as Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt suggests: “Far from the role of language being to represent reality, it is in the nature of language not to coincide with it, not to coincide with what it is supposed to be expressing.”2 (2009, 19) Indeed, the principle of form/meaning dissociation is an operative element of our didactics, which can be represented as a sort of covert route map, in part inspired by Bettelheim’s (1976) and Lafforgue’s (1995) use of fairy tales, in that the theoretical and/or imaginary foundations of the workshops are presented only indirectly to the participants. The same principle is at work in an apparently paradoxical pedagogy devoted to breaking – rather than making – linguistic habits, and in a new approach to the reception of students’ bilingual creative writing.

1. A covert route map

  • 3  We use the phrase ‘English as a Foreign Language’ (EFL) to refer to those speakers “for whom Engli (...)
  • 4  « Ce que l’on conçoit bien s’énonce clairement » (1856, 18).

3What then are creative translation and bilingual creative writing workshops? Neither language classes nor literature classes nor yet translation classes, but a mixture of all three. Their aim is to allow participants to play at existing in their ‘foreign’3 language, and to practise moving between the two languages, by means of carefully guided imaginative fiction, poetry and language games. Participants are invited to explore and enrich their relationships with their languages and to work on the experience of otherness and distancing in concrete ways. Taken at its most basic level then, this type of course is perceived as a writing course and above all, expectations of delivery focus on an improvement in writing skills. Now, writing better English, such as in academic essays, does not imply gaily dislocating form and sense. Quite the contrary. Good academic discourse expresses clearly-argued ideas in clear language, as Boileau would have it4. Traditional grammar and translation teaching take a magnifying glass to linguistic components and show how meaning is constructed, while traditional literary teaching does the same, to show how meaning is subverted…

  • 5  Billiez, J. (2011). http://www.youtube.com, last consulted 22/06/11. (...)
  • 6  See, for the juggling metaphor, Greaves S. & Schultze M.-L. (2011) or Billiez J. (2011).

4Somewhere on the spectrum of pedagogic possibilities, our working hypothesis is that dismantling language – form and meaning, signified and signifier – and reassembling it wrongly, as if some carnavalesque harlequin had maliciously rewritten the instructions for use, like the skeleton-dog in the Ahlbergs’ children’s story, Funnybones (1999), whose bones get mixed up so that his tail ends up at the front and he has his muzzle where his rump should be – that playing or experimenting with language is an excellent training for writing ‘correct’ English (we’ll come back to what we mean by ‘correct’), for ‘appropriating’ language and making it one’s own, ready for practical use rather than slavishly following norms that, anyway, vary from one country to another. To use yet another metaphor – metaphors being crucial for understanding concepts or notions (Cifali, 2004; Billiez, 2011)5 – there is a bit of juggling to be done, within and across languages6. Above all, as Francis Yaiche writes, “let us not forget that the key pair of terms of any learning process are Homo ludens/homo sapiens. Knowledge is articulated through play.” (2003, 107-114) Let’s see then how dissociations of form and meaning can revitalise language relationships, thereby improving writing (and speaking) skills generally.

  • 7  “The lecture room was a place of abstract thoughts and bodiless speculation ; it was not an approp (...)
  • 8  « En entraînant l’intelligence divergente, en prenant l’habitude d’associer des choses qui sont ha (...)
  • 9  “It is well known that tests have a washback effect on classroom teaching: that is, the language a (...)

5First, the participants are offered forms without meanings, that is, fictional or metaphoric frameworks such as transformational or border-crossing narratives, designed to appeal to the imagination, the affects and the senses (which language classes at University might be tempted to ignore7… (Oates, 2002, 73)) without pointing too clearly in any given direction, towards any specific narrative or ideological development: forms which can be fleshed out with personal meaning, but without the full import of that meaning being apparent or consciously manipulated. In a forthcoming article, we will explore in greater depth this sideways, slantwise approach inspired by the possible psychoanalytical uses to be made of fairy tales. The workshops are thus designed to work indirectly, with the participants becoming only gradually aware of certain aspects of their relationship with language or languages, only gradually aware of where our covert route map is taking them. Naturally this is not always very comfortable or reassuring, and there are moments of frustration and impatience for some, – as is to be expected if we consider the increasingly well-documented dialectics of masochism/sadism, reparation/destruction among teachers and lecturers (Blanchard-Laville, 2006; Bréant, 2011). We are in effect asking our students to enter a fiction and suspend their disbelief, but a fiction of which they are themselves the authors and characters, and ultimately the readers, and indeed reflexivity is an essential part of creative didactics8 (Aden & Piccardo, 2009). To adopt for our role a metaphor from literary criticism, it could be said that we resemble falsely naïve narrators in an ironic narrative strategy, of which the aim is to make the participants-cum-readers self-reliant and self-critical, thereby freeing themselves from certain beliefs, the first of which being that the quickest route from A to B is a straight line9. This, needless to say, is often felt to be contentious by university students who demand even now, at the beginning of the 21st century, a model of authority whose permanence one can wonder about in academic circles used to documenting and analysing more recent models brought in by post-modernism, post-colonial studies as well as feminism, among others.

2. Breaking linguistic habits

2.1. Creation not imitation

  • 10  « La destination ultime du langage, si toutefois on peut en supposer une, est de le mettre en dout (...)

6Creative writing, and bilingual workshops especially, are a rare opportunity for breaking the natural form/meaning monolingual habits, for playing out the dynamics of subject and object – of language that one speaks and language that one is spoken by –, growing roots backwards into the soil of childhood and reinforcing emotional and aesthetic approaches to language, as a means to explore the ‘self’ and question the notion of identity/ies. This can be achieved in numerous ways, for instance by offering non-prescriptive forms while leaving our aims implicit, by eliciting coherent narratives from haphazard, collectively-produced sentences or texts using made-up languages, languages derived from an aural description or inspired by the baby-talk of post-babble babies, who reproduce the intonational patterns of their speech community10 (Jenkins, 2009). Indeed, learning another language means by definition going backwards and starting again, though not entirely from scratch, and bilingualism necessarily involves disconnecting form and meaning and splicing them together in a new way. For one instance among many, Nancy Huston testifies to how breaking the ‘natural’ form-meaning pairing of monolingualism by writing in her second language gave her access to forms of expression but also to thoughts otherwise closed to her:

 “The I which I used so freely in my essays was also, no doubt, one of the effects of my uprooted knowledge. A certain shamelessness was made possible by the fact I was writing in a foreign language – partly because, at least in my imagination, my parents did not speak this language, but more importantly because for me, French has nothing to do with my intimate, inner life. In French I could say, quite calmly and even with a certain indifference, things it could have been impossible for me to reveal or even think about in my mother tongue.” (2005, 341-2)

7If monolingual habits and inhibitions are too deep-rooted, bilingualism can thus serve as a sort of mask for a game of Let’s Pretend – that I am an English lady, an American cowboy, an Indian Bollywood star, a Canadian lumberjack...

8What’s more, moving between languages is a good way to take language by surprise, to try and creep up on it, to catch it redhanded in the process of betraying or enslaving by presenting as perfectly natural what are in fact conventions. Have you ever pondered the fact that carpet is a car-pet (Wray, 2002, 4); in a French lower-class context, it may even remind you of the toy dog with a dangling head staring you in the eye from the back shelf of the car before yours. Or take ‘chair’ – why is it hardly ever listed among the French-English ‘faux-amis’? According to Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, this critical reflexivity is what language may be for, or at least very good at:

 “The ultimate aim of language […] is to cast doubt upon itself by means of itself, is to avoid yielding to its own ways of saying things, to avoid giving in to the imposed ‘meaning’. […] Language is seemingly there to reveal its own weaknesses, its own successive clichés or readymade lies, its own failings that make it what it is”. (2009, 7)

  • 11  “Celui qui ne sait aucune langue étrangère ne sait pas sa propre langue.”

9Logically, he goes on to praise languages for their role in revealing other languages to themselves, no doubt with the famous words of Goethe in mind: “He who cannot speak any other language cannot speak his own.”11 (1842, 35)

10Goldschmidt speaks as a lifelong bilingual and as a translator and author; speaking as language teachers, though, who see the same grammatical, syntactical and spelling errors made over and over again in our students’ papers, and aware of the emphasis placed in language – and literature – teaching on repetition (idiomatic phrases, clichés, structures, theoretical stereotypes…), we have come to wonder whether there is too much imitation and not enough creation and play, too many docile patterns and codes and not enough jogging of elbows or being jolted off the rails. If the same errors are made time and time again, it may be, among other reasons, because the same cognitive paths are being taken, the same thoughts are being thought, which means that the foreignness / strangeness / otherness of the other language and culture, but also of language per se, has not been sufficiently brought home. This pairing of creativity and critical distance was emphasized by socio-linguist Li Wei in a keynote lecture entitled “Multicompetence, Creativity and Criticality of Multilingual children: insights from complementary schools in Britain.” (2010) The power of seduction and subjugation of the written word is such that even students who are native speakers are sometimes happy to copy and paste unwieldy formulations apparently without batting an eyelid. Which denotes a depressing state of indifference to both form and meaning that should not be found at university level, least of all in literature and translation classes… Adopting the dissociation of form and meaning as a sort of didactic premise is thus aimed at encouraging students to question language and even break certain linguistic habits – if necessary before they have thoroughly acquired them…

  • 12  « Les tenants d’une certaine doxa aiment à penser qu’il faut d’abord ‘acquérir les bases de la lan (...)

11This may sound topsy-turvy: how can someone be creative with or within a language if they have not first assimilated its codes? One of my (Sara) first English lessons took place in a smart house in the South of Spain. Before surrendering his children to my care, the father asked me how I intended to start. When I said I’d probably start by trying to see what English the children had already picked up, he threw his arms in the air and ushered me out of the house, saying the only proper place to start was the alphabet… If so, it should be a Dr. Seuss style ABC! Similarly, language didactics specialist Joëlle Aden, whose research is concerned with creative language teaching, writes: “Those who uphold a certain doxa or widespread belief profess that it is essential first ‘to acquire the rudiments of a language’ and that creativity comes later. This is unfounded: the intentions and emotions that we put into words rise from interaction and language is the result of that exchange.”12 (2009, 175) Or this, from language teacher Gill James:

 “There is a tendency to think one can only be creative with a language once one has full control. Control is achieved, we believe, by having a wide vocabulary and a full understanding of the mechanics of a language’s grammar. This is actually a flawed argument. A learner can be creative with their language when they only have a little to play with. If they do that at the start, when they know more, they will also make better use of that. We only have to think of how a child plays more imaginatively with a cardboard box than they do with the latest computer toy to realise this.”(2009, our emphasis)

12Joëlle Aden stresses personal meanings and emotions and Gill James focuses on play,and these are the two poles, one serious-seeming and the other apparently recreational (although psychologists know otherwise), of our approach. Indeed, language which results from the impulse to express personal ideas and emotions (in this game I play I’m pretending to be myself writing in another language) offers greater flexibility and less rigidity: it is language which has started to make room for a new individual, just as the tortoise’s shell does not stay the same size but grows with the tortoise; for, if you will forgive us our generous use of metaphors, metaphorical thinking is both our way of working with our students and a way to pry the juicy grub of theory out of the no less juicy apple of experience… With the result, then, to return to the tortoise, that both language and individual have changed. This last point, that language learning changes people, is one brought to light by the notion of ‘multi-competence’:

  • 13  Cook, V. (2004). “Bilingual cognition and language teaching.” Draft of Paper for Talk in Taiwan 20 (...)

 “The responsibility of teachers is not just to enable their students to function externally but also to change their students’ minds. This correcting of the imbalance towards external goals typical of the last century actually brings back what were for centuries the traditional humanistic goals of language teaching.”13 (Cook, 2004)

  • 14  “The Imagination then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary Imagination I hold t (...)

13And it is perhaps not totally futile to recall the Romantic ideal of ‘plasticity’ and Coleridge’s conception of the creative imagination aimed precisely at dissociating form and meaning from their stable neo-classical relation, and creating new associations, new realities, new ideas.14

2.1. World Englishes

  • 15  As reproduced by Jenkins, 2009, 19.

14Finally, let’s note that this emphasis on creativity is congruous with what is increasingly observed worldwide in English acquisition (Jenkins, 2009, 42). While an increasing number of countries in the “Outer Circle” of linguist Braj Kachru’s three-circle model15 (namely, the countries of the second diaspora, when English was transported to Asia and Africa) have made great strides in the process of codifying their own “New Englishes”, the “Expanding Circle” (among which European countries, including maybe soon, France) is likewise busy dethroning the idols embodied by British and North-American English in order to create custom-made versions of the ‘language of the origins’ while searching for a tricky balance between mutual, global intelligibility and ethnic/national identity. Here are some of our favourites so far: ‘skinship’, in Japanese English (introduced to us by a Japanese student), meaning touchy-feelyness, ‘peelhead’, in Jamaican English, for a bald-headed person (Jenkins, 31), and ‘have you eaten already’ in Singaporean/Malaysian English, as a form of greeting translated from the indigenous language (Jenkins, 2009, 32). In the post-colonial era, which has witnessed a shifting in the centres of power from the United States mostly to Brazil, China and India, idolisation of the Inner Circle Englishes (UK and first diaspora countries) seems not to be the trend any more and creativity in support of a re-invention of identities is going full blast.

15Current debates about World Englishes are thus implicitly or explicitly present in our workshops, more so than the Romantic ideal of the inspired poet as an exceptional individual, or even the metaphysical ego in control of self-expression. Our dissociations of form and meaning are also indebted to Oulipo, nonsense verse and other experimental writing, with a view to moving between the poles of intimacy and anonymity, familiarity and otherness, reproduction and do-it-yourself invention, identity being a fluid, mobile process. Or, as Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt again puts it:

  • 16  « L’extraordinaire aventure du langage est bien là, dans le choc entre le plus intime et le plus a (...)

 “The extraordinary adventure of language lies indeed therein, in the collision between the most intimate and most anonymous spheres. Only the inadequacy of language as regards my intimacy can describe it. Only the absolute anonymity of a language common to all can preserve my selfhood.”16(2009, 20-21)

16Writing at one remove from the self is a useful way out of what we might refer to as the intentional fallacy, the illusion that as subject of language I speak it and it expresses what I want it to... – that I am in control. It takes the introduction of a certain distance, an element of randomness, constraint or make-believe, for the anxiety not simply of influence, but also of fluency, to be dispelled, and the burden of linguistic baggage and affects, to be temporarily lifted. Better a stammer, then, than a well-oiled utterance more dead than alive?

  • 17  « […] j’avais besoin de rendre mes pensées deux fois étranges, pour être sûre de ne pas retomber d (...)

17Paradoxically, this point is made in the recent heavily-Oscared film, The King’s Speech, which offers a good example of how distancing techniques can work in speech therapy. The therapist proves that his royal patient is quite capable of enunciating clearly by getting him to read a passage of Shakespeare while listening to music through headphones. The fact that the words are not his and that he cannot hear himself temporarily cures his stammer: he has entered the anonymity of language (as Goldschmidt phrases it) and thus can speak unfalteringly and without self-consciousness. Similarly, writing an English lipogramme, a fiction beginning with a French cliché and ending on an English one or inventing an intrepid alter ego, can liberate the writer from the inhibitions of too much self and facilitate the impersonal treatment... of ‘personal in a renewed way’ matters. Where an easy, unthinking gliding from one word to another took place, there is now a faltering, blundering, hiccoughing groping towards unfamiliar words and thoughts, and meanwhile a ‘new’ being is being born. As Leïla Sebbar writes: « […] I needed to make my thoughts twice strange, to be certain of not falling back into immediacy, into the raw experience that I had no hold over.17 (1999, 196-7, our emphasis). And again, of course, this questions the notion of authority. Authority is at stake – as we saw above – in connection with the still-dominant lecturing style at University, with the fraught question of the former repositories of ‘good’ English (the Inner Circle countries), and, finally, with the self as it is revealed (falsely? fossilised? cloned?) through one’s mastery of a language that has been passed down on from ‘on high’. Now, interestingly, ‘authority’ is originally derived from ‘auctor’ meaning ‘who makes grow’... Let’s see now, through an analysis of our position as readers of our students’ creative writing, if a didactics based on the form/meaning gap may make our workshop students grow... up.

3. Repair-work

3.1. Defamiliarization

18Having observed the resistance of certain frequent errors to the usual treatment of correction and repetition, we have come to wonder if there are other ways of interpreting them than simply as errors – whether indeed the principle of form/meaning dissociation cannot lead us to a new perspective. What about taking inspiration, for instance, from another notion borrowed from literary criticism, defamiliarization. Indeed, when we groan at the sight of French structures, phrases, or spellings in our students’ English prose, it is worth remembering that in other contexts the same forms may elicit other meanings, other responses. In his book The Violence of Language, for instance, Jean-Jacques Lecercle begins with a phrase from Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale: “I’m not so young as I used to was”. He goes on to note: “Were I to read this in a student’s paper, I would underline the last word in petulant red. As a reader of fiction, I enjoy the sentence.” (1990, 7) The problem of who we are when we read our students’ creative writing – teachers or readers of fiction – is a tricky one. Here are a few examples of sentences taken from students’ fiction and which in a normal teaching situation would perhaps not be underlined in petulant red, but would at least be taxed with being awkward or un-idiomatic :

My life filled me again at half past nine.

One morning, just before smoke time, there came a tremendous whiskey and velvet smell, and then he remembered!

I have no shame of it.

All of a sudden a brainwave came to his mind.

The moon narrowed her eyes and puffed an easy white smoke.

They were fooling love in the foam.

19The poetry of some of these phrases is patent. For the language-teacher there is perhaps a shock of pleasure at this slightly off-centre, defamiliarized English, and it may be that bilingual creative writing can renew language-teachers’ relationships with the language they teach too… What is at work here can be compared with the principle of defamiliarization found in poetry, or, to take an extreme example, in Charlie Chaplin’s hilarious impersonation of the German language in the film The Dictator, which paradoxically gets closer to the truth than the original, as Alain Fleischer points out:

  • 18  « Il a fallu tout le génie de Charlie Chaplin pour inventer de toutes pièces un ersatz de langue a (...)

 “It took all Charlie Chaplin’s genius to cobble together a simulacrum of the German language so effective that his dictator spoke with even more eloquence than in his original language, an incomprehensible yet extraordinarily expressive gobbledygook that was irresistibly funny, derisory and ferocious as mimicry of the phonetic and acoustic characteristics of a certain variety of German spoken in Austria, vociferated into loudspeakers to the point of revealing some self-evident sense – that very self-evidence that millions of German ears remained deaf to –, made over-familiar by the never-ending refrain of the genuine endlessly repeated official speeches given by the sinister clown that Chaplin was imitating.”18 (2005, 147)

20Whether deliberate or accidental, form/meaning dissociations can be rich in subversion and the possibility for renewal.

21However, when looking through students’ creative writing for syntactical errors in preparation for this conference, we actually found very few in comparison with those that generally pepper translation, dissertation or even academic papers. Just as people with speech disorders, or foreign-language speakers who know they trip over the pronunciation or the gender of certain words, for whom language sometimes resembles a minefield, and who learn to avoid the danger zones and go to great imaginative lengths to find periphrases and synonyms, so language-learners who are invited to express themselves creatively devise similar strategies for survival in their non-mother tongue. Gill James (2009)also makes this point, comparing traditional and creative language teaching:

 “The language learner sometimes feels constrained by a lack of knowledge. They emphasise what they don’t know rather than celebrating what they do know. They tend to want to think in their own language and translate into the target language. The real trick is to concentrate on what they do know in the target language.”

22Giving language-learners the opportunity to write creatively redirects the focus to what they know and allows them to develop and practise their own self-styled survival tactics.

3.2. Postcolonial discourse

23Again, there are many parallels to be drawn with research on World Englishes and postcolonial discourses. To anyone familiar with the evolution of ‘English’ globally, research into pidgin and creole is immediately brought to mind. The former is defined as “a language with no native speakers: it is no one’s first language but it is a contact language […] In contrast to a pidgin, a creole is often defined as a pidgin that has become the first language of a new generation of speakers... A creole, therefore, is a ‘normal’ language in almost every sense” (Wardhaugh 2006, quoted by Jenkins, 2009, 11). In brief and to quote Jenkins again: “the creative capacity of speakers of New Englishes tends to be overlooked by speakers of Inner Circle varieties, with creativity still often being classified as error.” (2009, 31) Or again, citing Milroy (1999, quoted by Jenkins, 2009, 37), a quotation we reproduce here entire as there are so many parallels to be drawn with the sociological status of our students, as well as with the way we, lecturers in English, view the language we teach:

“in a sense, the standard [American English] of popular perception is what is left behind when all the non-standard varieties spoken by disparaged persons such as Valley Girls, Hillbillies, Southerners, New Yorkers, African Americans, Asians, Mexican Americans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans are set aside. In Britain, where consciousness of the special status of RP as a class accent is acute, spoken standard English might similarly be described as what is left after we remove from the linguistic bran-tub Estuary English, Brummie, cockney, Geordie, Scouse, various quaint rural dialects, London Jamaican, transatlantic slang and perhaps even conservative RP as spoken by older members of the upper classes.”

24The co-presence of ‘mother’ and ‘foreign’ tongue structures in the same utterance jars our monolingual expectations – let us not forget the strength of the homoglossic tradition in France –, but what if we read such statements as bilingual forms? “Hybrid” writing of this kind is one of the objects of postcolonial discourse, and is of particular interest to us as teachers of English in what we should perhaps consider a multilingual context (to our surprise, in different groups of English Second Language supposedly francophone students, as many as 15 languages were to be found), in that it straddles countries, languages and cultures. To quote Anne Roche in her inventory of paradigms of postcolonial literature, the inclusion of grammatical or syntactical errors or other deviant forms in literary texts may be viewed as a factor of difference or distance, as an inscription of “signs of non-belonging” (2010, 237). Language errors point to the fact that although the literary text offers the possibility of a shared discourse, it does not refer to a shared mental experience, and the role of such errors is to stress that there should be no mistake about this. She continues:

  • 19  « Pour Ashcroft et alii, les productions verbales (écrites ou orales) d’un apprenant de langue sec (...)

 “For Ashcroft et alii, the verbal productions (written or oral) of a second language learner are not errors or deviant forms but part of a distinct yet genuine linguistic system, which is distinct both from the source language and the target language. A learner’s speech may contain morphological, phonological or syntactical fossilizations which, even after many years, do not conform to the norms of the target language and which thus result in an evocative and culturally significant idiom. Keeping the mistakes and language errors of a text amounts to representing by synecdoche the caesuras and silences that exist between the language of the political authorities and the experience it is called upon to ‘represent’.”19 (2010, 37)

25Given the present context of, on the one hand heightened sensitivity to questions of identity, on the other the imperialism of the English language, it might not be too far-fetched to ask ourselves whether the persistence of deviant forms in our students’ papers may not be an unconscious inscription of signs of unbelonging – a way of indicating that there is no – or very little – shared mental experience between them... and their teachers.

  • 20  « … en fait, il n’y a aucune raison pour qu’une langue première s’efface devant une langue seconde (...)

26This is a sobering thought. Perhaps it is worth considering the sociolinguists’ concern to find a less censorious, less punitive terminology for language variants. In discussions of creole languages again, for instance, special terms have been coined to differentiate between linguistic graduations with respect to their proximity to or distance from the ‘parent’ language, terms which are now gently making their way into mainstream media such as acrolect, mesolect and basilect. This is not to say that the bitterness of incorrect syntax should be sweetened by flattering, highly technical euphemisms, but, to borrow an image from Alain Fleischer, to acknowledge that there is a border-tax to be paid at the frontiers between languages. Indeed, the complexity of our relationships with our languages prevents, even in the most proficient bilinguals, the first language from completely disappearing when the second is used. In most multilingual, ESL countries, the new accents and variations in pronunciation are part and parcel of the newly devised codes and norms anyway. But, for a more lyrical take, more inspiring for our students maybe, Alain Fleischer writes in L’accent, la langue fantôme: “[…] in fact, there is no reason why a first language should efface itself behind a second language, and the second language should not consider itself roughly handled or be offended by an accent that is above all an indication of desire, of interest in it.”20 (2008, 108) What happens, then, if we drop our monolingual mindset and take the traces of a first language in second language utterances not simply as errors, not as deviant forms whose deviancy we ignore so as to automatically reassert the “right” meaning, but as valid variations, as signifying signifiers, as evidence of an ongoing – if precarious – love story with language?

27With the help of a reflexive, interdisciplinary approach, we have discussed the pedagogical advantages of breaking monolingual form/meaning habits and writing at one remove from the self, as well as of reading and interpreting at one remove from one’s teacherly or ethnocentric status – taking strikes as we go along at our own received wisdom or punctilious censoriousness. All this, in the hope of grounding our bilingual workshops on more socially and psychologically appropriate assumptions than those we started out with, thereby contributing to the lively current debate on bilingualism as well as to the equally lively ever-recurring one on how to teach a foreign language. And… who knows? Maybe this bee in our bonnet about form/meaning dissociation will take us – and our students – one step further, till we drop once and for all the adjective ‘foreign’ in ‘foreign language’, having unfolded the tightly layered recesses of the term ‘foreign’ along with those of its close neighbour, ‘alien’, in relation to our teaching-through-creation problematics, as we will undertake to do in a paper to come. In any case, who needs the word ‘foreign’ any more?

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1  Greaves, S. & Schultze, M.-L. (2008, 2009, 2011).

2  « Non seulement le langage n’a pas pour fonction de représenter le réel, mais par nature il est en décalage, il ne coïncide pas avec ce qu’il est censé dire. »

3  We use the phrase ‘English as a Foreign Language’ (EFL) to refer to those speakers “for whom English has little or no official function within their own countries (…) to distinguish them from L2 speakers for whom English serves country-internal functions, that is, speakers of English as a Second Language (ESL).” (Jenkins, 2009, 4)

4  « Ce que l’on conçoit bien s’énonce clairement » (1856, 18).

5  Billiez, J. (2011). http://www.youtube.com, last consulted 22/06/11.

6  See, for the juggling metaphor, Greaves S. & Schultze M.-L. (2011) or Billiez J. (2011).

7  “The lecture room was a place of abstract thoughts and bodiless speculation ; it was not an appropriate place to bring a body, still less a body quivering with emotion.” Interesting to apply this to the average University language class.

8  « En entraînant l’intelligence divergente, en prenant l’habitude d’associer des choses qui sont habituellement distantes, et en portant un regard critique sur les effets de ces essais, les enseignants en collaboration avec les artistes peuvent développer une créativité réflexive» (176)

9  “It is well known that tests have a washback effect on classroom teaching: that is, the language and skills that are tested in examinations are the ones that teachers choose to teach and learners desire to learn, otherwise they have nothing to show for the efforts they have made.” (Jenkins, 2009, 123)

10  « La destination ultime du langage, si toutefois on peut en supposer une, est de le mettre en doute au moyen de lui-même, de ne pas succomber à ses façons de dire, de ne pas se laisser faire par le « sens » imposé. […] Le langage est là comme pour faire voir ses propres faiblesses, ses accumulations de clichés ou de mensonges tout faits, ses défaillances qui le font être ».

11  “Celui qui ne sait aucune langue étrangère ne sait pas sa propre langue.”

12  « Les tenants d’une certaine doxa aiment à penser qu’il faut d’abord ‘acquérir les bases de la langue’ et qu’on devient créatif plus tard. Ceci n’a pas de sens, les intentions, les émotions que nous formulons avec des mots, émergent par l’interaction et la langue en est le résultat. »

13  Cook, V. (2004). “Bilingual cognition and language teaching.” Draft of Paper for Talk in Taiwan 2004. Online: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/writings/papers/bilcog& teaching.htm , last consulted 26/03/11.

14  “The Imagination then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary Imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate: or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.
FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The fancy is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phaenomenon of the will, which we express by the word Choice. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association”. (1983, 304-5).

15  As reproduced by Jenkins, 2009, 19.

16  « L’extraordinaire aventure du langage est bien là, dans le choc entre le plus intime et le plus anonyme. Seule l’impropriété du langage à mon intimité en rend compte. Seul l’absolu anonymat du langage de tout le monde préserve mon être-moi.»

17  « […] j’avais besoin de rendre mes pensées deux fois étranges, pour être sûre de ne pas retomber dans l’immédiateté, dans l’expérience brute sur laquelle je n’avais aucune prise. »

18  « Il a fallu tout le génie de Charlie Chaplin pour inventer de toutes pièces un ersatz de langue allemande qui fasse parler son dictateur plus éloquemment encore que dans sa langue originale, galimatias incompréhensible mais pourtant extraordinairement expressif, irrésistiblement drôle, dérisoire et féroce, comme imitation calquée de l’image phonétique et acoustique d’un certain allemand d’Autriche, vociféré dans des haut-parleurs, au point d’en faire surgir une sorte de sens évident – cette évidence à laquelle restèrent sourdes des millions d’oreilles allemandes –, rendu familier par le radotage et le ressassement des authentiques et répétitifs discours de référence du sinistre guignol que Chaplin singeait. »

19  « Pour Ashcroft et alii, les productions verbales (écrites ou orales) d’un apprenant de langue seconde ne sont pas des fautes ou des formes déviantes, mais font partie d’un système linguistique distinct mais authentique, distinct à la fois du langage source et du langage cible. Il peut y avoir des fossilisations morphologiques, phonologiques et syntaxiques dans le discours d’un apprenant qui, même après plusieurs années, ne se conforme pas aux normes du langage cible : cela peut donner un idiome évocateur et culturellement significatif. C’est ainsi que préserver les fautes, les erreurs linguistiques, d’un texte représente par synecdoque les césures et silences qui existent entre le langage du pouvoir et l’expérience qu’il est appelé à « représenter ».

20  « … en fait, il n’y a aucune raison pour qu’une langue première s’efface devant une langue seconde, et la langue seconde aurait tort de se sentir malmenée ou offensée par un accent qui est d’abord le signe d’un désir, d’un intérêt pour elle. »

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Référence électronique

Sara GREAVES et Marie-Laure SCHULTZE, « “Dissociating Form and Meaning in Bilingual Creative Writing and Creative Translation Workshops” », E-rea [En ligne], 9.2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 15 mars 2012, consulté le 24 avril 2014. URL : http://erea.revues.org/2601 ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.2601

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Auteurs

Sara GREAVES

Université d’Aix-Marseille, LERMA (EA 853)
D’origine anglaise, Sara Greaves vit en France depuis 25 ans. Maître de Conférences à l’Université d’Aix-Marseille, elle s’est spécialisée en poésie 20ème, en traductologie et, plus récemment, en ateliers d’écriture bilingues et plurilingues.
werburgh7@aol.com

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Marie-Laure SCHULTZE

Université d’Aix-Marseille, LERMA (EA 853
Enseignante-chercheure de l’Université d’Aix-Marseille, Marie-Laure Schultze est également formatrice et animatrice en ateliers d’écriture. Quelque vingt ans d’enseignement post-bac et presque autant d’écriture de recherche et de création l’amènent désormais à proposer à ses étudiants de “s’approprier” l’anglais par la pratique de l’écriture non académique et à formaliser une pédagogie raisonnée des ateliers d’écriture bilingues et plurilingues.
marie-laure.schultze@univ-provence.fr

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