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Weird English
by Evelyn Nien-Ming CHIEN and Evelyn Nien-Ming Chʻien
Harvard University Press, 2004
Cloth: 978-0-674-01337-7 | Paper: 978-0-674-01819-8 | eISBN: 978-0-674-02953-8
Library of Congress Classification PR888.L35C47 2004
Dewey Decimal Classification 823.9109


With increasing frequency, readers of literature are encountering barely intelligible, sometimes unrecognizable languages created by combining one or more languages with English. Evelyn Ch'ien argues that weird English constitutes the new language of literature, implicitly launching a new literary theory.

Weird English explores experimental and unorthodox uses of English by multilingual writers traveling from the canonical works of Nabokov and Hong Kingston to the less critiqued linguistic terrain of Junot Díaz and Arundhati Roy. It examines the syntactic and grammatical innovations of these authors, who use English to convey their ambivalence toward or enthusiasm for English or their political motivations for altering its rules. Ch'ien looks at how the collision of other languages with English invigorated and propelled the evolution of language in the twentieth century and beyond.

Ch'ien defines the allure and tactical features of a new writerly genre, even as she herself writes with a sassiness and verve that communicates her ideas with great panache.

Table of Contents:


1. A Shuttlecock above the Atlantic: Nabokov's Mid-Life and Mid-Geographic Crises
2. Chinky Writing
3. The Politics of Design: Arundhati Roy
4. "The Shit That's Other": Unintelligible Languages
5. Losing Our English, Losing Our Language: The Unintelligibility of Postcolonial Theory


Reviews of this book:
Nien-Ming Ch'ien makes a sophisticated theoretical argument by proposing that with the rise of world literatures in English, readers are encountering barely intelligible and sometimes unrecognizable English resulting from a combination of one or more languages with English. She terms this combination 'weird English'...Examining the works of such multicultural writers as Vladimir Nabokov, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Arundhati Roy, [she] posits that weird English obliterates the boundary between the sacred and the profane in language and demands a new literary theory...[Ch'ien's] somewhat unorthodox and vivacious style perfectly complements her argument.
--Aparna Zambare, Library Journal

Evelyn Ch'ien's Weird English offers up an innovative, risk-taking, colorful, richly textualized, and important new text which refigures our tired, familiar, or overly-representative notions of the "global postcolonial" or "US ethnic" text as literary and cultural-political event. Ch'ien's scholarly text is offbeat yet on the social aesthetic mark in a way that has never quite been done before. Weird English posits and defines the allure and tactical features of a whole new writerly genre based and rooted in the minority deformations of British and American English. Activating what she talks about as the newness, stigmata, and social struggle to achieve freedom and respect of writing in this emerging new genre she calls "weird English," Ch'ien herself writes/performs like some scholarly cross between Helen Vendler and Margaret Cho: everywhere mixing the prosodic insight and sensitivity to linguistic close-readings and aesthetic valences of the former, say, with all the sassiness, adventure, and in-your-face verve and minority-rooted freshness of the latter. "Insouciance" of language and attitude is both Ch'ien's subject and, at times, her style, as scholarship swerves into polemic, probe, joke, song, and the social energies of mongrel mixture. Her unprecedented writing on Junot Diaz is especially fine and visceral, close to the inner-American grain of its ghetto life and linguistic-social emergences, and thus grants his Spanglish a new world company and genre. Like some homegrown Deleuze, Ch'ien comes close to, articulates, and thus activates the "minority becoming" of Diaz's writing showing how the Diaz mixed-minority language is seeped in social utterance and subaltern energies, without writing them out of existence or abstracting them via the routine distances of postcolonial theory (which she later bravely and even recklessly admonished for its opaque sublimations of such social forces). In cumulative effect, then, Weird English comprises not so much a direct hit upon the US minority field-imagery as an end-run around and through its over-determined political anguish, racial melancholy, and will-to-be-canonical concerns of Asian American studies as ethnic or subaltern mission.
--Rob Wilson, author of Re-Imagining the American Pacific and American Sublime

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