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  • Inscribing Difference: Code-Switching and the Metonymic Gap in Post-Colonial Literatures

    Katalin Egri Ku-Mesu

    Chapter from the book: Jonsson, H et al. 2021. Narratives Crossing Borders: The Dynamics of Cultural Interaction.

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    In their seminal work The Empire Writes Back Ashcroft et al. (1989) identify code-switching between two or more codes in post-colonial literary texts as ‘the most common method of inscribing alterity’ (p.72). Ashcroft (2001) further develops the idea of installing cultural distinctiveness in the text and posits that, together with a wide range of other linguistic devices (e.g. neologisms, ethno-rhythmic prose), the use of code-switching – whether between the variants of the same language or between languages – has a metonymic function to inscribe cultural difference.

    In this chapter, I will examine the hybrid nature of post-colonial literary texts through the concepts of nativisation (Kachru, 1982a, 1982b, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1995) and indigenisation (Zabus, 1991, 2007). I will then focus on code-switching, adopting Myers-Scotton’s (1993) approach of matrix language vs. embedded language and considering that ‘EL [embedded language] material of any size, from a single morpheme or lexeme to several constituents, may be regarded as CS [code-switching] material’ (p.5).

    I will analyse examples of code-switching taken from modern Ghanaian English-language novels and short stories, and I will argue that a synecdochic relationship exists between the code-switched embedded language and the culture it originates from. I will contend that it is along the metonymic gap thus created by language variance that readers can be expected to be divided. I will briefly examine the types of authorial assistance that can be provided in order to make the text accessible to the reader, and I will illustrate, in Sperber and Wilson’s (1995) relevance theoretical framework, how different groups of readers cope with code-switched language left in the texts untranslated and/or unexplained. I will argue that by withdrawing assistance from the reader, the author makes it manifest that he concedes ‘the importance of meanibility’ (Ashcroft, 2001, p.76) and opts for the inscription of difference. I will conclude that the metonymic gap is not a simple bi-polar concept between coloniser and colonised culture but a multi-layered entity where the readers’ position in relation to the gap is indicative of their ability to interpret code-switched language unaided. Full appreciation of the writer’s meanings is shown by those readers who share both the writer’s cultural and linguistic experience. Other readers may be able to cross the metonymic gap to various degrees, but for them code-switched language will be the symbol of the writer’s difference of experience.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Egri Ku-Mesu, K. 2021. Inscribing Difference: Code-Switching and the Metonymic Gap in Post-Colonial Literatures. In: Jonsson, H et al (eds.), Narratives Crossing Borders. Stockholm: Stockholm University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16993/bbj.h

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Published on June 15, 2021


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