In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about why certain words and phrases are used in literature, and not others. I’ve been particularly considering the inclusion of foreign languages being included into novels.
Two of the authors I’ve chosen to study (Erdrich and Yezierska) make frequent use of another language to imply kinship, to deepen understanding or to remind readers of cultural differences. Erdrich uses Ojibwe, and Yezierska Yiddish, to link the novel to a heritage that exists in the real world, beyond the pages of the book. I find that it enriches the text, although I’m aware the it bothers others when they have to search out the meaning of a word.
Erdrich’s use of Ojibwe is scattered throughout her novels, particularly “n’dawnis” (my daughter), and serves to reinforce the link between family members, between characters and their culture, and between the past and present.
Yezierska makes far more use of Yiddish than Erdrich does of Ojibewe, however, this is likely influenced by the fact that Yerierska’s first language was Yiddish and it was used a great deal on Hester St, New York and in the surrounding Jewish streets of New York in the early 20th Century. As Yezierska portrays relatively common immigrant experiences in her novels and short stories, it is not surprising that she uses a great deal of Yiddish.
Whilst considering the reasons behind this decision to include non-English words, and the practicalities involved in doing so- should there be a glossary, a footnote explanation, or an in-text explanation I came across a two interesting texts online. The first one is rough guide to Erdrich, and the second is an amusing look at Yiddish for the 21st Century.