American Babel: Literatures of the United States from Abnaki to Zuni

Hardcover (Print)
Not Available on


If ever there was a polyglot place on the globe (other than the Tower of Babel), America between 1750 and 1850 was it. Here three continents—North America, Africa, and Europe—met and spoke not as one, but in Amerindian and African languages, in German and English, Spanish, French, and Dutch. How this prodigious multilingualism lost its voice in the making of the American canon and in everyday American linguistic practice is the problem American Babel approaches from a variety of angles. Looking at the first Arabic-language African-American slave narrative, at quirks of translation in Greek-American bilingual books, and at the strategies of Yiddish women poets and Welsh-American dramatists, contributors show how linguistic resistance opposes the imperative of linguistic assimilation. They address matters of literary authority in Irish Gaelic writing, Creole novels, and the multiple voices of the Zuni storyteller; and in essays on Haitian, Welsh, Spanish, and Chinese literatures, they trace the relationship between domestic nationalism and immigrant internationalism, between domestic citizenship and immigrant ethnicity.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This loosely knit collection of 25 essays demonstrates how literature can be American regardless of the language in which ideas are expressed. In the introductory essay, editor Shell (comparative literature and English, Harvard) explains how multilingualism lost its voice and the English language won supremacy in the United States in contrast with bilingual Canada. Detailed essays by other literature professors (e.g., Alexander Del Mar, Ala Alryyes, and Yota Batsaki) examine the literature produced by a remarkable variety of immigrant groups, ranging from Irish to Haitian to Chinese. Some of the essays focus on one group's literature, such as Welsh plays or bilingual presentations of Greek writings. Others follow broader themes, such as the development of characters regarding their language, including those created in Yiddish by Isaac Bashevis Singer and in Spanish-laden English by Oscar Hijuelos. While offering endnotes with each essay, the collection lacks an overarching index. Few recent works offer similar focus, yet readers will find similarities to Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, edited by Werner Sollors and containing an essay by Shell. Recommended for academic libraries.-Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Year's Work in English Studies
American Babel acts enlighteningly on the proposition that from the outset American literature has looked as much to a multilingual as to an English-language literary record...The twenty-five essays which make up the collection confirm a genuine variety of voice...[and] should help deliver a provocative and timely reminder of what historically have always been the more inclusive languages of America's literary-cultural voice.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674006447
  • Publisher: Harvard Department of English and American Literature and Langugage
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Series: Harvard English Studies
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 1.31 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Shell is Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of English at Harvard University.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Pt. I Introduction
1 Babel in America 3
2 The Name of America 34
Pt. II Resistance and Assimilation
3 "And in a Christian Language They Sold Me": Messages Concealed in a Slave's Arabic-Language Autobiographical Narrative 41
4 Unfaithful Translation: Bilingual Versions as Greek-American Strategies of Concealment 55
5 Disturbing the Language Peace: German-Jewish Women Poets in Aufbau, 1933-1993 74
6 Mordecai and Haman: The Drama of Welsh America 93
7 Ferdinand-Kurnberger's Der Amerika-Mude (1855): German-Language Literature about the United States, and German-American Writing 117
Pt. III Authoritative and Nonauthoritative Languages
8 "Neither the King's English nor the Rebbetzin's Yiddish": Yinglish Literature in the United States 133
9 Homing Pidgins: Another Version of Pastoral in Hawai'i 163
10 Irish Gaelic Literature in the United States 188
11 Alfred Mercier's Polyglot Plantation Novel of Louisiana 219
12 Written in Sound: Translating the Multiple Voices of the Zuni Storyteller 238
Pt. IV Loss and Gain
13 Contrapuntal Languages: The Games They Play in Spanish 263
14 America, Everybody's Other World 283
15 The Gothic and the American-Exotic: Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein's Die Geheimnisse von New-Orleans 297
16 Grave Matters: Poetry and the Preservation of the Welsh Language in the United States 307
17 Beyond the National Tradition: Thuong Vuong-Riddick's Two Shores/Deux Rives 322
Pt. V Nationalism and Internationalism
18 The Welsh Atlantic: Mapping the Contexts of Welsh-American Literature 343
19 Carved on the Walls: The Archaeology and Canonization of the Angel Island Chinese Poems 369
20 Immigration Blues: The Portrayal of Chinatown Life in Chinese-Language Literature in America 386
21 "China" in the American Diaspora 404
22 Haitian Literature in the United States, 1948-1986 431
23 Translingualism and the American Literary Imagination 450
24 What Is Aufklarung (in Pennsylvania)? 465
Pt. VI Afterword
25 "Prized His Mouth Open": Mark Twain's The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County: in English, then in French, then clawed back into a civilized language once more by patient, unremunerated toil 491
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)