February 24th, 2015

From Melville to Faulkner to Hemingway to Cormac McCarthy, to any of us American low-brows, we aint learned us our very own language yet? Jeesum Crow, A.L. Kennedy, that’s just backwards!

I went to the Sebald Lecture at the British Library last week, and I’m still chewing on this one: A.L. Kennedy’s use of the pejorative ‘Americanized English.’ The Sebald Lecture is hosted by the British Council for Literary Translation. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill lecture; last year the speaker was Margaret Atwood. To deliver it is an enormous honor. But while the body of Kennedy’s talk may or may not have been uplifting and enriching (it wasn’t to my taste, but that is, after all, a matter of taste), the Q&A undid what good might have been done.

Americanized English. Is Kennedy’s English ‘Scottishized’? I doubt it. The word is purposefully ugly. American English is its own English, but Americanized English implies a bastardization of the mother tongue: the English language as U.S.A.-degraded. There’s a political subtext too: the linguistic aggression of an ineloquent superpower.

But perhaps I’m getting the wrong end of A.L. Kennedy’s loquacious stick, for she went on to assert, ‘there are few things more intelligent than an intelligent reading American . . .’

(Her choice of nouns left me cold, but never mind.)

If only she’d  stopped there. Aside from being a top UK novelist, Kennedy is a stand-up comic, who should recognize the value of a well-timed exit. But she continued, ‘but things increasingly will be translated for the benefit of the people who have no passport and don’t care and would never pick up the book ….’

I’ve googled it: approximately 54% of Americans don’t have passports. 82% in Mississippi, land of Faulkner. My Mayflower blood is boiling.