Of Bastard Tongues and Ghosts in the Archive
In my proposal, I focus on orality. I would like to look at first languages (the Mother Tongue) and the complications this notion implies within the context of a colonized nation where the mother tongue is often reduced to a purely spoken language outside of institutional frameworks. “Orality” here then aims to decipher the growth and agency of a marginalized spoken language.
It is with an idea of Orality as potentiality rather than a written “residue” (as in Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy)  that I would like to delve into the field of spoken language. I would like to examine the activation of a spoken language outside the confines of educational modes of instruction: its evolution, cannibalism and appropriation of terms, and production of pidginized words. Is the pervasiveness of the mother tongue, in fact, a form of resistance?
In his essay “Traité du Tout-Monde. (Poétique IV)”, Edouard Glissant coins the term “archipelagic thinking” to reassess the insularity and heaviness of “continental thought”. For archipelagic sea-faring people, the sea does not constitute a barrier, but rather a connective tissue crossed by perpetual flows of exchange. Does archipelagic thinking, then (especially within coastal landscapes), also allow us to think of language, identity, and culture in terms of flows?
The metaphor of a group of islands lends its topography as an alternative imaginary to the schema of a “nation-state” and bound cultures, and asserts the possibilities of exchange beyond a horizon. This idea proposes a culture—and, by extension, language (orality)—in perpetual flux, one that is marked by colonial undertaking and creative becomings. As archipelagic thinking builds a structure of possibility and interconnectedness unique to the archipelagic space, the questions then asked are: can orality be considered in terms of archipelagic thinking? Would the geographic quality of an Archipelago allow us to think in terms of multitudes, positioning oneself outside of insular (continental) thought, of being one yet composed of many? Can this orality reside as a living, embodied, and temporal testament which speaks of the interconnectivity and plurality of things?
The proposal is examined through two comparative case studies: the first is a survey of contemporary expressions of a purely spoken language used within migrant communities (of first and second generations) in Helsinki. The aim of the project, documented through interviews with Somali-Finnish youth, is to analyze the use and importance of creole in their lives, and how this generates an identity that is outside the scope of assimilation or assumed Finnish-ness. The participants interviewed will, as a collaborative artistic output, put together a performance (through spoken word, song, poetry or theater) that aims to verbalize and self- narrate their contemporary concerns. The second case study is research into the wax cylinder recordings of Tasmanian Aboriginal songs sung by Fanny Cochrane-Smith, the only evidence of the presence of a Tasmanian indigenous language. As the last known speaker of the language, the orality ceased to exist with her death in 1905. The proposed artistic intervention for this case study is a video documentation of the research process that attempts (whether successful or not) to unveil the personhood of Fanny Cochrane- Smith through her voice.
The two case studies stand to compare an orality that is present, evolving, and in use, with one that has long passed. The case studies directly contrast what, in essence, an archipelagic framework could allow for voices and subjectivities in the margin. Does insularity, in the end, result in the death of a culture? What the case studies emphasize are the methodologies of resistance and transformation employed by the speakers of these oralities as they navigate a transnational sense of belonging as well as hybrid and multi-faceted identities.
decolonial thinking, mother tongue, orality, social engagement, community