Writing with the Left Hand: Reading(s) of Bilingual Author's Style(s)
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It is a common belief that the mother-tongue is the only language in which one may properly think, feel, and express oneself. In this view, second language (L2) writing is often considered second-rate writing. One line of argumentation, often adopted by L2 writers themselves, suggests that literary “style” is the crowning achievement of language-mastery, and so reserved for the native speaker. Yet, systematic studies of the features of L2 style have been scarce. That is why I seek to answer the question: what does literary L2 writing look like stylistically? To answer this question, I examine the L2 writing style of two authors who wrote intermittently in L1 and L2: Samuel Beckett and of Jhumpa Lahiri. Combining distant- and close reading, I compare L1 and L2 style by use of function words, vocabulary, literary devices, tropes, and language-use as well as lexical diversity and sentence-length with the aim to assess the importance of multilingual competencies for literary writing. Moreover, I examine whether acquiring and writing in L2 has an impact on later L1 style. I show that L2 writing is different from L1 writing, that it tends to be more personal and introspective, employs significantly more first-person narrative perspective, is lexically more diverse than L1 writing, and uses language in a novel and idiosyncratic way, bearing witness to an engagement with L2 textual constructions of meaning. These findings are relevant not only for rethinking the status of L2 writing, but also for evaluating the importance of multilingual competences in, for example, education.
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