Accented America: The Cultural Politics of Multilingual Modernism

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American literary works written in the heyday of modernism between the 1890s and 1940s were playfully, painfully, and ambivalently engaged with language politics. The immigrant waves of the period fed into writers' aesthetic experimentation; their works, in turn, rewired ideas about national identity along with literary form. Accented America looks at the long history of English-Only Americanism-the political claim that U.S. citizens must speak a singular, shared American tongue-and traces its action in the language workshop that is literature. The broadly multi-ethnic set of writers brought into conversation here-including Gertrude Stein, Jean Toomer, Henry Roth, Nella Larsen, John Dos Passos, Lionel Trilling, Américo Paredes, and Carlos Bulosan-reflect the massive demographic shifts taking place during the interwar years. These authors share an acute awareness of linguistic standardization while also following the defamiliarizing sway produced by experimentation with invented and improper literary vernaculars. Rather than confirming the powerfully seductive subtext of monolingualism-that those who speak alike are ethically and politically likeminded-multilingual modernists compose literature that speaks to a country of synthetic syntaxes, singular hybrids, and enduring strangeness.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Joining such works as Hana Wirth-Nesher's Call It English and Lawrence Rosenwald's Multilingual America, Joshua Miller's Accented America offers compelling readings of major Anglophone writers against the background of what Miller calls 'the genealogy of monolingualism' and the emergence of a vox Americana in a multilingual country in the period from 1898 to 1945. Readers interested in notions of 'the American language' will find Accented America fascinating." —Werner Sollors, author of Ethnic Modernism

"Accented America makes a brilliant case for the multilingual dimension of American modernist writing. By focusing on how authors imagined, negotiated, translated and represented the languages that shaped their worlds, Miller has greatly enriched ongoing debates about ethnicity, race and class in modernist fiction. He has demonstrated that attention to linguistic policies, strategies, and voices brings poetics and politics into sharper focus." —Hana Wirth-Nesher, author of Call It English

"A remarkable piece of scholarly work. It is a dense book that will dazzle its readers with its acute literary analyses...Accented America deserves to be unanimously praised as an outstanding contribution to the understanding of American modernism and language diversity."—Linguist List

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195336993
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/21/2011
  • Series: Modernist Literature and Culture Series
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 1.80 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Joshua L. Miller is Associate Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan.

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Table of Contents

Series Editors' Foreword
Introduction: "every kind of mixing"

Chapter One: Reinventing vox Americana
Language, Hygiene, and National Security
Mencken and the Cultural Work of Polemical Philology
Contemporary "American" as Standard Vernacular

Chapter Two: Documenting "American"
"A Standardization Not Imposed But Voluntarily Accepted"

Chapter Three: Foreignizing "english"
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

Chapter Four: Vernacularizing Silence
"Flesh of their Language"
"Been Shapin Words T Fit M Soul": Toomer's Cane

Chapter Five: Translating "Englitch"
"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

Chapter Six: Spanglicizing Modernism
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"

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