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Chapter 10 - Language’s Hopes

Global Modernism and the Science of Debabelization

from II - Horizons

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 January 2021

Douglas Mao
Affiliation:
The Johns Hopkins University
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Summary

Twenty-first century paradigms of global modernism implicitly endorse “babelization” (the inscrutable styles of literary texts, the addition of lesser taught languages to the field) as a corrective to linguistic imperialism and the reduction of language to a communicative medium. Yet this stance does not fully account for the distinction between natural and artificial languages. “Debabelization,” as linguist C. K. Ogden put it in 1931, motivated rich debates about the nature of language and whether technological intervention could make particular languages more efficient agents of cultural exchange. Designers of Esperanto, Ido, and Basic English each promised that their artificial language would bridge the gap between speakers of different national tongues. This essay shows how the competitive and techno-utopian discourse around auxiliary language movements intersects with the history and aesthetics of modernist literature. While linguists strove to regulate the vagaries of natural languages, modernist writers (for example, Aimé Césaire, G. V. Desani, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, H. G. Wells) used debabelization as a trope for exploring the limits of scientific objectivity and internationalist sentiment.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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  • Language’s Hopes
  • Edited by Douglas Mao, The Johns Hopkins University
  • Book: The New Modernist Studies
  • Online publication: 21 January 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108765428.013
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  • Language’s Hopes
  • Edited by Douglas Mao, The Johns Hopkins University
  • Book: The New Modernist Studies
  • Online publication: 21 January 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108765428.013
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Language’s Hopes
  • Edited by Douglas Mao, The Johns Hopkins University
  • Book: The New Modernist Studies
  • Online publication: 21 January 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108765428.013
Available formats
×