Krzysztof Bartnicki

Finnegans Wake: what is its language?


Anyway, it is impossible to list all the languages worked into FW. Joyce mentioned 40 languages (see Van Hulle 2007: 457, n. 13, but see also Lernout 1989a: 399-400): 1. English, 2. Irish, 3. Norwegian, 4. Latin, 5. Greek, 6. Chinese, 7. Japanese, 8. Esperanto, 9. Volapuk, 10. Novial, 11. Flemish, 12. French, 13. Italian, 14. Burmese, 15. Basque, 16. Welsh, 17. Romansch, 18. Dutch, 19. German, 20. Russian, 21. Breton, 22. Hebrew, 23. Sanskrit, 24. Kisuaheli, 25. Swedish, 26. Spanish, 27. Persian, 28. Rumanian, 29. Lithuanian, 30. Malay, 31. Finnish, 32. Albanian, 33. Icelandic, 34. Arabic, 35. Portuguese, 36. Czech, 37. Turkish, 38. Polish, 39. Ruthenian, and 40. Hungarian. Numerous discrepancies appear when one compares this list to others, such as the one with Armenian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Danish, Gypsy, Ido, Hindustani, Latvian, Old Norse, Polynesian, Provençal, Samoan, Serbian, Shelta, Slovak, excluding Flemish, Italian, Novial (and English?) (Szczerbowski 2000: 49) or to the list of 20 languages, including English, Gaelic/Irish, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, Finnish, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Malay, and unspecified dialects of primitive peoples (Naganowski 1997: 166). The numbers vary a lot, ranging from a few languages (Parandowski 1976: 227), through 16 agglutinated languages (Berman 2000: 296), and about 20 languages (T. N. Hudes in Kurowska 1987: 232), “29 (?) of the world’s languages” (Hassan 1975: 89), over 40 languages (Pyzik 2008: 18), 42 languages (Alford 2015), over 50 languages, therein 20 major ones (Rene 2016d), the “echoes of almost 50 languages” (D. Norris 2000: 150), 50 languages (T. Crowley 1996: 58), around 60 languages or dialects (Pascual 2007: 99), “over 60 languages” (Harbison 2015: 136), 62 languages (McHugh 2016: xxviii-xxx), “between sixty and seventy” (Bishop 1999: xi), “seventy-plus” (Milesi 2003a: 3), 77 languages (P. Škrabánek in Paszek 2016: 41, see Škrabánek 2003), over 80 languages (Joyce 2005), to 100 languages (Cixous 2011: 82, Mirkowicz 1982b: 342, Simpkins 2001: 157). There are instances where one person suggests more than one number, see, e.g., nearly 100 languages (Bazarnik 1999a: 109) but over 100 languages (ead. 1998: 4). Some exegetes neglect languages on Joyce’s list (e.g., the Polish tag is overlooked in McHugh’s Annotations). Some promote languages not listed by Joyce, e.g., Tibetan (Helsztyński 1976: 85). 66


66 It is not clear if Helsztyński’s “Tibetan” is Sino-Tibetan, Bodish or Tibetic [see Majewicz 1989: 69-76 for classification]. Some notice a cultural (not linguistic) impression of Tibet on FW: Campbell and Robinson mention Tibetan mandalas (1976: 44), Frumkin speaks of Tibetan Buddhism (1994), McHugh mentions the Tibetan Book of the Dead (1974: 21), and others overlook that influence. Symbolically, Atherton does not mention the Tibetan Book of the Dead, only the Egyptian one (1974: 191-200).

[p. 90]


One theoretical possibility is that Joyce designed Wakese to be a post-Babelian “Esperanto English” (Błoński 1965: 163) to overcome the confusio linguarum and return to some pre-Babelian, Adamic condition when “the whole earth was of one language” (Gen. 11: 1).

[p. 94]


The evident inability of the Joyce industry to establish the sample that represents the entire source text has far-reaching consequences. The inability can discredit the most effective pro-English argument on the list, to appearances. While English is, without doubt, present in the source text (see, e.g., FW 18.24-28), and in fact, it is the most likely language to be recognised in simple random samples, still it is not always more manifest where languages are “intertwined and broken” (Senn 2009: 63); and moreover, in samples small enough, the language is not English-looking, but, i.a., Chinese (FW 6.32),97 Czech (FW 100.5), Danish (FW 50.5), Esperanto (FW 565.26), French (FW 281.4), German (159.17), Greek (FW 293.12), Italian (FW 44.22), Latin (FW 7.22-23), Polish (FW 516.4), Portuguese (FW 180.12), etc.

[p. 128-9]


One will note that the followers of the language principle have hardly ever provided their definition of “English” when they call Wakese English. Instead of such definitions, in the volume of FW exegesis one finds many new names for the language: Finneganian (Eco 2008b: 108, see Soliński 2004: 263, 2006: 197), Wakese (Van Hulle 2002), Wake language (Schlossman 2003: 63, see Roughley 1990, passim), names found in the text (T. Crowley 1996: 58), e.g., nat language (Bishop 1986: 51, Boldrini 1996: 5 and passim), Gnat-language (P. A. McCarthy 1980: 177), Nichtian (Raffan 2014: 212), and names implying a connection with another language: English (“Jinglish”, Poprawa 2005: 132, “unglish”, E. C. Jones 1989: 181, “Wakenglish”, Mezzabotta 2011), Irish (“Eurish”, Shockley 2010: 94, see Blish 1984), Esperanto (“desperanto”, Cosgrove 2007: 74), Volapük (“Volapucky”, Russell 2018: 15), Sanskrit (“Sanscreed”, H. de Campos 1978), German (“Djoytsch”, Jenkins 1998: 14), and so on, which examples of the symbolic confirmation of Joyce’s conlang gesture are not followed by a decision to call the language not-English. Not even a rare voice against the “drive” to “monolingualise” it (Alexandrova 2016: 14) denies its Englishness; instead, in a neocolonial spirit, it asks Wakese to make room for some other languages, and more specifically Russian. Gordin and Katz admit that “only Joyce himself commands the idiom”, or “Wakespeak” (2018: 81), still they do not hesitate to call FW an “English-language work” (ibid., 84). Sam Slote maintains that a claim that FW is not English “would meet little resistance” (2019: 1), yet his own example of the claim falls in terrible vagueness in which Wakese becomes an abstract, a metaphor, a language “that has yet to be” (ibid., 9). With similar vagueness, the language of FW is called re-invented or re-discovered (Bloor 1997: 389). Also, it is “English” in scare-quotes (Merton 1969: 543). It is “basically English” (William D. Jenkins qtd. in Hamada 2013: 180), generally English (“zasadniczo”, Bindervoet and Henkes 2004-2005: 202), “English, of a sort” (Donoghue 1988: 96). It is “Wakean English” (Slote 1994a), “Joyce’s Wakean English” (Senn 2012: 212), the author’s English (Hartwig 2002: 156), “Joyce’s English” emerging “as a new tongue” (Schlossman 1985: 174), “our own English language” shown “to be quite foreign” (De Meyer 2007: 148), English “stretched to its utmost limits” (Zanotti 2019: 10). It is an English which can be agglutinative (W. I. Thompson 1964: 82-83), yet whose grammar is “of the best King’s English” (Pickett 2008: 630), and still it is “not a standard British English” (Slote 2019: 2). It is an “oneiric English” (Jorge Luis Borges in Waisman 2007: 177). A “drunken and cosmic English” (Derek Pyle qtd. in Meier 2017). A “post-English” (Katz 2007: 86). An “English in future” (Binelli 2012: 214). A “multilingual English” (M. O’Sullivan 2018: 144-146). A “foreign English” (Senn 2002b, 2009), though no method is provided how one tells a foreign English from a non-foreign English from a foreign non-English language from a non-foreign non-English language.

[p. 131-2]


SOURCE: Bartnicki, Krzysztof. Finnegans Wake as a System of Knowledge Without Primitive Terms: A Proposal Against the Paradigm of Competence in the So-called Joyce Industry. Dissertation, Anglistik/Amerikanistik, Friedrich-Schiller-Universitšt Jena, 2021. 307 + [Zusammenfassung der Dissertation, 3] pp. Excerpts from pp. 90, 94, 128-9, 131-2.


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