Conforming to a Language

Throughout Dictee, a major question I had about the piece relates to the text and form of the narrative. Dictee cannot be easily categorized into a singular genre. Perhaps that is the goal of the text though. The unmarked pictures, broken language of the narrative, and frequent translations could be commenting on the immigrant experience as depicted in the narrative.

The unique language and form used in Dictee reflects the often broken speech experienced when learning a new language.  As Guan Soon mentions in Dictee, “Still, you speak the tongue the mandatory language like the others. It is not your own. Even if it is not you know you must” (45). Language for the narrator is much more than a way to communicate. Immigrants are often forced to learn a new language in order to adapt and survive in a new country. The imposition of the Japanese language onto the people demonstrates the expectation of conformity; it must be understood. The significance of the form of text in Dictee reflects the struggle of language for the characters.

Guan Soon also shows the influence language can have on future generations of immigrants. As her mother is forced to learn another language, there is still some potential resistance. However, as the narrative develops for Guan Soon, the audience gets the impression that the once foreign language imposed on Guan Soon becomes the other language and the native tongue is abandoned. Guan Soon mentions at one point that, “I speak another tongue, a second tongue. This is how distant I am” (85). In Dictee, imperialism stretches far beyond simple land boundaries, but includes language and culture. So, Guan Soon may view language as one of many things she had to change, which create distance from her native country.

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