Competing discourses in Sri Lankan English poetry

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ABSTRACT: The realization that language is ideological has created a debate among postcolonial English writers on what language to use for their creative expression and how. While Ngügï wa Thiong'o has argued for the abandonment of English and the sole use of native languages, Gabriel Okara has argued for the fusion of the native and English discourses, thus constructing an alternate discourse that is ideologically satisfying for native aspirations while being internationally accessible for a wide readership. A reading of contemporary Sri Lankan poetry, to see how poets negotiate the competing discourses of the native and English languages, reveals at least four strategies. Patrick Fernando uses standard English with a Western ‘modernist’ idiom, failing to address the clash of discourses. Yasmine Gooneratne consciously negotiates the conflict through the technique of irony in order to use the same Anglo‐American discourse. Jean Arasanayagam attempts to fuse the discourses; but the mere inclusion of Tamil lexical items into Standard English syntax and cosmopolitan ethos lacks successful integration. It was perhaps the prematurely deceased Lakdasa Wikkramasinha who managed to fuse Sinhala and English into a genuinely creative alternate discourse, as he was more firmly grounded in the native literary and cultural traditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-376
Number of pages16
JournalWorld Englishes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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