Accented America

Accented America : The Cultural Politics of Multilingual Modernism

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Accented America is a sweeping study of U.S. literature between 1890-1950 that reveals a long history of English-Only nationalism: the political claim that U.S. citizens must speak a nationally distinctive form of English. This perspective presents U.S. literary works written between the 1890s and 1940s as playfully, painfully, and ambivalently engaged with language politics, thereby rewiring both narrative form and national identity. The United States has always been a densely polyglot nation, but efforts to prove the existence of a nationally specific form of English turn out to be a development of particular importance to interwar modernism. If the concept of a singular, coherent, and autonomous 'American language' seemed merely provocative or ironic in 1919 when H.L. Mencken emblazoned the phrase on his philological study, within a short period of time it would come to seem simultaneously obvious and impossible. Considering the continuing presence of fierce public debates over U.S. English and domestic multilingualisms demonstrates the symbolic and material implications of such debates in naturalization and citizenship law, presidential rhetoric, academic language studies, and the artistic renderings of novelists. Against the backdrop of the period's massive demographic changes, Accented America brings a broadly multi-ethnic set of writers into conversation, including Gertrude Stein, Jean Toomer, Henry Roth, Nella Larsen, John Dos Passos, Lionel Trilling, Americo Paredes, and Carlos Bulosan. These authors shared an acute sense of linguistic standardization during the interwar era and contend with the defamiliarizing sway of radical experimentation with invented and improper literary vernaculars. Mixing languages, these authors spurn expectations for phonological exactitude to develop multilingual literary aesthetics. Rather than confirming the powerfully seductive subtext of monolingualism-that those who speak alike are ethically and politically likeminded-multilingual modernists composed interwar novels that were characteristically American because, not in spite, of their synthetic syntaxes and enduring strangeness.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 432 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 27.94mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 019533700X
  • 9780195337006

About Joshua L. Miller

Joshua L. Miller is Associate Professor of English at the University of Michigan where he teaches courses in twentieth-century U.S. literature and visual culture. He has written broadly on language politics, transnational modernism, and photography. He is currently at work on a book on twentieth-century photo-text collaborations and a collection of essays on translation, new media, global English, and cultural critique.show more

Review quote

this book is absolutely indispensable for any future consideration of how the experimental languages of American modernism negotiated and helped shape the complex language politics of the early twentieth century. Its combination of lucid and scholarly cultural historicism and agile close readings of verbal texture is exemplary. I can foresee using this in graduate seminars for years to come. * Mark Whalan, Literature & History *show more

Table of contents

SERIES EDITORS' FOREWORD; INTRODUCTION: "EVERY KIND OF MIXING"; LANGUAGE, HYGIENE, AND NATIONAL SECURITY; MENCKEN AND THE CULTURAL WORK OF POLEMICAL PHILOLOGY; CONTEMPORARY "AMERICAN" AS STANDARD VERNACULAR; "A STANDARDIZATION NOT IMPOSED BUT VOLUNTARILY ACCEPTED"; THE MAKING OF AMERICANS' SPEECH: STEIN'S AURAL "ENGLISH"; MULTILINGUAL FUSION AND THE LIMITS OF COSMOPOLITAN EXPRESSION: DOS PASSOS'S U.S.A; LOCUTIONS OF DISLOCATION AND THE POLITICAL USES OF DESPAIR; "FLESH OF THEIR LANGUAGE"; "BEEN SHAPIN WORDS T FIT M SOUL": TOOMER'S CANE; "KENT'CHA TUCK ENGLITCH?": LINGUISTIC DISSONANCE IN CALL IT SLEEP; "THE PURPOSE OF JEWISH LIFE IS CULTURAL, IS IT NOT?": THE POLITICS OF TRILLING'S STYLE; THE RETURN OF THE DEPRESSED; U.S. EMPIRE AND IMPOSED SYNTAX; "BORN A FOREIGNER IN HIS NATIVE LAND": PAREDES AND BINATIONAL SPEECH; "CITIZENSHIP, THEN, IS THE BASIS OF ALL THIS MISUNDERSTANDING?": BULOSAN'S AMERICA; IDIOMS OF ANNEXATION; CONCLUSION: "SAY SOMETHING AMERICAN IF YOU DARE"show more

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