Monday, September 17, 2007

A foreign language writer

What is it to be a foreign language writer?

As Prof. Lourdes Ortega (University of Hawai'i) said at the 2007 Symposium on Second Language Writing on Sept. 15, at Nagoya Gakuin University, "writing in a foreign language across the board is often characterised as a less purposeful and need-driven enterprise than writing in a second language." Then what am I doing here as a foreign language writer?

As I write this essay now, I'm away from my Japanese discourse communities where I usually belong with a sense of security and confidence as a native speaker. In this cyber-space of English, I'm stripped of my undoubted authority and comfortable capacity of a native speaker. I'm vulnerable here.

Yet, I belong to this English discourse community, too. My participation is only peripheral to the community, but I need this engagement for myself. I've met a large number of English speaking people and read not a few books written in English. Literacy in English, however insufficient it may be, is now part of me.

I'm a person who needs thinking to live. That's why language is vital to me. My language now includes this foreign language I'm clumsily using.

For each language (or to be precise, a genre of a language), there is a different discourse community. Different discourse communities offer different sorts of food of thought, and I often find it easier to use the same genre to respond and think together, even when I'm not as proficient in the genre as I wish.

Let me put this way. I need to think to live. Thinking requires a language. A language (or a genre) entails its own discourse community. Different discourse communities provide different language uses, which are reflections of different types of thinking. Perhaps I'm foreseeing more possibilities of who I can be by increasing the number of languages (or genres) and discourse communities in which I can engage myself. I'm trying to diversify myself.

Diversifying myself. Maybe this is my purpose to write in a foreign language. Maybe my need as well. I want to live better.

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