In CWL week keynote talk, Rebecca Walkowitz evaluates the English language’s global role.
Google-translated Italian, faux Old-English and Latin Winnie the Pooh — each of these and other linguistic oddities featured in the keynote speech of the first annual Comparative World Literature Week.
The series of Comparative World Literature (CWL) events ran from April 17 to April 22 and was organized by the student-run Comparative World Literature Society. The aim of the inaugural event was to promote awareness of the relatively new CWL program founded in 2014. It also sought to raise questions among students and faculty concerning the role and importance of translation and global perspectives on literature in the world today. Earlier this month, the CWL department raised awareness of the program with an essay competition exploring the otherness of the self. The events of CWL Week were aimed at a broader audience of Kenyon students, and included a lecture by Associate Professor of English Carol Fadda-Conrey from Syracuse University, a panel talk with CWL seniors and a show at the Horn Gallery.
Professor Rebecca Walkowitz, director of graduate studies for the English department at Rutgers University, delivered the keynote lecture of the week. The lecture, “English As a Target Language: Comparative World Literature and the Contemporary Novel,” investigated the consequences of English being the dominant language into which novels of other languages are translated.
“The moment works are being produced, novelists are thinking about them as translated works,” Walkowitz said. “The speed and fluidity of communication in today’s globalized world obliges writers to be more aware of their work’s migration across languages.” Though part of this means that English has grown to be the world’s lingua franca, or common language, it does not mean that other languages are crushed beneath it. In fact, it means the opposite.
“I would actually say that in most communities in the world, there’s more than one language being used,” Walkowitz said. “In fact, those of us who think we only speak one language are actually speaking fairly different varieties of that language in different parts of our day.”
Students and faculty are using the CWL program to engage with these issues across departments, including English, Modern Languages and Literatures and the Integrated Program in Humane Studies.
Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities Kate Elkins is the chief faculty member in charge of the CWL concentration. Because she is on sabbatical, William P. Rice Professor of English and Literature Jesse Matz has been informally managing the program in her stead.
“I think that faculty and students discovered that the way our departments are structured didn’t enable people to do the kind of comparative work, and the kind of work on world literature, that they were eager to do,” Matz said. “This work couldn’t really fully be done in the departments and the majors that we currently have.”
Matz hopes that CWL Week will raise awareness for the program, considering the academic diversity of the audience — students and faculty from English, Modern Languages & Literatures, American Studies and History — it seems to be working.
By Armaan Maharaj
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