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The American Indian Quarterly 30.1 (2006) 49-60

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The Dialectics and Dialogics of Code-Switching in the Poetry of Gregory Scofield and Louise Halfe

"Dialectic" and "dialogic" are terms that can be used to describe the internal textual conflict and engagement between two cultures. Code-switching is a linguistic strategy used by Native poets to emphasize the dialectic or dialogic cross-cultural interaction between the hegemonic Euro-American and First Nations cultures. This idea is well represented in the poetry of Gregory Scofield and Louise Halfe, Canadian Aboriginal authors who use Aboriginal languages within their poetry. The juxtaposition of both the English and Cree languages within their poetry is not only an example of linguistic code-switching, it is also a dualistic use of language that results in the dialectic separation of culture and knowledge and the creation of a dialogue between the hegemonic and Canadian Aboriginal cultures.

For Scofield and Halfe, living in two cultures has given them a bicultural awareness and an ability to communicate within both their Native tongues and the language of the dominant society.1 Through their poetry, Scofield and Halfe relate the stories, experiences, and culture of living within "two worlds." The reader is allowed a glimpse into the world of biculturalness. Through code-switching, the authors ask their readers to participate in a cultural exchange. This means that, in order for a more thorough understanding of Scofield and Halfe's poetry, one must enter into this dialogue with some awareness of the two cultures; otherwise the works become dialectic in the sense that the reader is left on the outside of one culture, namely the Canadian Aboriginal culture, without the knowledge that enables participation.

In code-switching bilingual or multilingual speakers are able to switch from one language to another while speaking.2 Reasons for code-switching [End Page 49] can carry both political and social meanings such as indicating cul-tural solidarity or distinguishing between formal and colloquial speech situations.3 Scofield and Halfe's use of code-switching, however, promotes bicultural awareness and participation. Cultural boundaries are crossed through the interjections of Cree language use within their poetry. Susan Gal states, "codeswitching is a conversation strategy used to establish, cross or destroy group boundaries."4 In a literary sense, the code-switching within the poetry by these Aboriginal authors works in the same manner as conversational strategies: they are representative of crossing cultural boundaries.

Within their poetry Scofield and Halfe establish boundaries as well as cross them, thus creating the dialectic in addition to the dialogue between the two cultures. The dialectic refers to binary separation, in particular, David L. Moore notes, "civilization v. wilderness, Euro-American v. Indian."5 The dialectic insinuates an oppositional division in which one culture presumes authority over the other, usually the hegemonic over the minority. Since both cultures are represented through the Cree and English languages, this suggests dialogue; but without some knowledge of each language and culture, these literatures are reduced to dialectical binaries.

The dialogic, then, puts forward the idea of exchange or dialogue between two cultures rather than separation. Moore continues: "[i]n order to engage in a dialogue with Indian literature, the exchange becomes not merely cognitive but also participatory, not merely textual but also contextual. The knowledge of self and other, of 'white ideological investments,' may give way to participation in context [and] in community."6 Not only is knowledge of the Cree and English languages required to participate in Native literatures, but the cultural context surrounding these languages is also needed.

Scofield and Halfe both live within "two worlds": their Cree communities and the world of the dominant society. Gregory Scofield was born in a small urban area in British Columbia, schooled in the public system, and came to experience Cree culture through acquaintances during his childhood and early adult life.7 Louise Halfe was born and raised on the Saddle Lake Reserve in Alberta until the time she was sent to the Blue Quills Residential School...


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