September 2021 special issue

Language—and more specifically, the dominance of English—not only is a critical axis of power, especially in relation to colonialism, immigration, and nationalism, but also is a central yet often taken-for-granted and thus invisible element of knowledge production with very real implications and consequences. We thus encouraged two of the foremost scholars whose work on the issues of language and translation have made important interventions to American studies among other related fields—Mary Louise Pratt and Vicente L. Rafael—to propose and guest edit this September 2021 special issue. We have been extremely excited to work with them throughout the review and editorial process and to witness the range of emerging scholarship that looks at the workings of language—often violent but also ingenious and transgressive—and its intersections with settler colonialism and Indigeneity, race and empire, migration and diaspora. It has been particularly exciting to see the many nuanced ways in which scholars examine the complex practices of translation. We are delighted to see the historical, geographic, and cultural as well as linguistic span of this issue, and we hope that it will launch a new phase of research and dialogue that treats language as one of the critical axes of analysis in understanding America in its many permutations.

 


 

Untranslatable Creole: Language Suppression, Racial Segregation, and Louisiana Local Color Fiction

Jolene Hubbs

“Untranslatable Creole: Language Suppression, Racial Segregation, and Louisiana Local Color Fiction” considers how US literature presented French- and Creole-speaking Louisianians to anglophone audiences during the Gilded Age. Concentrating on local color stories highlighting the Pelican State’s distinctive landscapes, customs, speech practices, and foodways, this essay traces out how some celebrated works of Louisiana local color fiction spotlight links between language suppression and racial oppression during the nineteenth century. Their authors’ aim in doing so, I argue, is to push back against anglophone dominance and white supremacy at the start of the Jim Crow era.

A number of primary sources discussed in this essay are available online. George Washington Cable’s “’Tite Poulette” was first published in the October 1874 issue of Scribner’s Monthly, which is available via HathiTrust. In 2011, Vogue’s digitized archive became available to users (via subscription), making it possible to study Kate Chopin’s “La Belle Zoraïde” alongside the poems, essays, other works of fiction, advertisements, and lavish illustrations with which it originally appeared. Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s “M’sieu Fortier’s Violin” was part of her collection The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories, which was published in 1899 by Dodd, Mead & Co. as a companion piece to her then-husband Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Poems of Cabin and Field. Dunbar-Nelson’s essay “A Creole Anomaly,” discussed at some length in my article, came out in the July 15, 1897 issue of Leslie’s Weekly, which is available on Google Books.

Perusing these works in their original publication contexts offers an unrivalled line of sight onto print culture and literary history in late nineteenth-century America.