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Speaking in Tongues

Languages at Play in the Theatre

Marvin Carlson

Publication Year: 2006

Speaking in Tongues presents a unique account of how language has been employed in the theatre, not simply as a means of communication but also as a stylistic and formal device, and for a number of cultural and political operations. The use of multiple languages in the contemporary theatre is in part a reflection of a more globalized culture, but it also calls attention to how the mixing of language has always been an important part of the functioning of theatre. The book begins by investigating various "levels" of language-high and low style, prose and poetry-and the ways in which these have been used historically to mark social positions and relationships. It next considers some of the political and historical implications of dialogue theatre, as well as theatre that literally employs several languages, from classical Greek examples to the postmodern era. Carlson treats with special attention the theatre of the postcolonial world, and especially the triangulation of the local language, the national language, and the colonial language, drawing on examples of theatre in the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Finally, Carlson considers the layering of languages in the theatre, such as the use of supertitles or simultaneous signing. Speaking in Tongues draws important social and political conclusions about the role of language in cultural power, making a vital contribution to the fields of theatre and performance. Marvin Carlson is Sidney E. Cohn Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature, CUNY Graduate Center. He is author of Performance: A Critical Introduction; Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey, from the Greeks to the Present; and The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine, among many other books.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

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pp. 1-19

The rise of performance studies at the end of the twentieth century encouraged many theatre scholars to take a broader view of their discipline, and to consider models other than the one long dominant in the West. Ever since Aristotle, Western writers have primarily considered theatre as closely tied to the written text, essentially the physical enact-...

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1. The Macaronic Stage

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pp. 20-61

The theory and practice of postmodern and postcolonial theatre and performance has given new prominence to heteroglossia, but it is not a new phenomenon. Despite Bakhtin’s attempt to deny its operations in the drama, examples of multiple voices can be found throughout theatre history, not only in the limited and abstract sense of voices tak-...

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2. Dialect Theatre: The Case of Italy

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pp. 62-104

Dialects, like foreign languages, except normally in a less extreme form, provide a potential disruption of the normal assumption that a theatre will utilize the same language as its surrounding culture. Thus dialect in the theatre can offer another aspect of heteroglossic production. ...

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3. Postcolonial Heteroglossia

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pp. 105-149

As the previous chapters have sought to demonstrate, linguistic mixtures have, for a variety of reasons, been utilized in the theatre throughout its history. Nevertheless, serious critical attention to the phenomenon of heteroglossia on the stage has developed only recently, largely due to postcolonial theory. ...

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4. Postmodern Language Play

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pp. 150-179

In the preceding chapters, a very wide variety of linguistic mixing, historically and geographically, has been examined, utilized for a very wide variety of reasons. It has been used for comic and serious purposes, for consolidation or subversion of current cultural practice. Almost always it has in some measure reflected the political dimensions of lan-...

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5. The Heteroglossia of Side Texts

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pp. 180-213

The previous material in this study has concerned the type of heteroglossia that has been most widespread in the theatre throughout its history, considering the various strategies and various results involved when actors have utilized a mixture of languages and dialects on historical and contemporary stages. ...


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pp. 215-232


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pp. 233-244


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pp. 245-254

Index of Languages and Dialects

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pp. 255-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026555
E-ISBN-10: 0472026550
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472033928
Print-ISBN-10: 0472033921

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006