Translingualism and intercultural narratives in Kiana Davenport’s “House of Many Gods”

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Language and culture contacts resulting from the migration of population, as well as current geopolitical and technological processes, enhance the increase of translingual works that reveal symbiotic phenomena of languages and cultures in contact. However, there are still many unsolved problems in defining the translingual discourse and linguistic devices for creating it. The article discusses intercultural narratives in a novel by Kiana Davenport, an American author of Hawaiian descent, whose literary creative translingual work is enhanced by intercultural phenomena related to the contacts of American English, Hawaiian, and Russian languages. The article aims to describe linguistic devices for creating translingualism and to characterize the processes that take place in assimilation and language alteration in contact situations. The research has revealed that translinguality characterizes not only texts that are written in a second language, as is a traditional point of view, but also writings of a bilingual with two native languages enhanced by a third one. Translinguality can be reached by various linguistic tools comprising lexical borrowings, including endonymic toponyms and culture-specific concepts, loan translations, allusions, as well as pidginization of speech and some others. The findings showed that pidginization of speech of different characters results in stylized dialogues with deviated articulation of English words, intentional grammatical deviations, set expressions from Hawaiian Pidgin and wordplay. The results of the paper expand the idea of translingualism and intercultural communication and can be used for further research into linguistic and cultural contacts.

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  1. Introduction

The phenomenon of translinguality was noticed and defined in the end of the 20th century (Kellman 2000) and is still an issue open to debate in the 2020s. The problem concerns the definition of the concept, the spectrum of authors that could be labeled translingual, the interrelation of the term with synonymic names, such as bilinguality and intercultural communication, and the ways translinguality is expressed with.

The emergence of the theory of translinguality was preceded by such notions as transculturality and transculturation. And until now the two notions go hand in hand and are sometimes interchangeable (e.g., translingual literature is also termed transcultural literature), which is hardly surprising, for language and culture are interdependent if not inseparable in social discourse. It has been noticed that the latter term (transculturality) is preferred mostly by philosophers, anthropologists, and politicians discussing relations of Western and postcolonial cultures. The Cuban philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist Fernando Ortiz first introduced the term transculturality in 1940 in his book “Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar” (Ortiz 1995). One of the most notable figures amongst postcolonial intellectuals who helped reinstate the original concept of transculturality was Edward Said, a Palestinian-American researcher. In his most recognized work “Culture and Imperialism” E. Said argued that the oppressing and the oppressed cultures do not fully absorb one another, invoking specific relations between them (Said 1993: 51). Transculturation produces particular identities, which are impossible to grasp within the functionalist framework. The Cuban philosopher advocated for studying cultures not from the point of view of an external observer but from the inside, which allows researchers to distance themselves from the imperialist and colonial remnants of the past and engage in a productive process of transcultural interaction. This also brings us closer to the idea of translingualism that we are going to discuss further on.

To speak of Western and other cultures as presented in one work, we have chosen a novel by Kiana Davenport who is a Kanaka Māoli (Native Hawaiian) and American author. She was born in Honolulu to a mixed-race family, with her father from Alabama and mother of native Hawaiian descent.

“House of Many Gods” is Davenport’s third novel. It develops three distinctive plotlines. One of them is the story of Anahola, a young Hawaiian woman, and Max, an immunologist at a San Francisco clinic. The second main narrative of the novel centers around the daughter of Anahola, Ana, who was abandoned by her mother and raised by her Hawaiian family, later becoming the embodiment of the Hawaiian Renaissance movement. The third line is a story of Nikolai Volenko, a Russian who came to Hawai’i as a documentary film-maker and met Ana who became his beloved and soulmate. Thus, the novel presents three cultures and languages voiced by Hawaiians, Americans and a Russian, two of which are personified in the author and one (Russian) is an external one.

Davenport’s bilingualism and biculturalism are reflected in her writing, as she demonstrates great usage of literary English and an understanding of the indigenous culture of Hawai’i, which allows her to integrate two different cultural experiences. However, with this research we want to prove that “House of Many Gods” is not simply bicultural, but rather transcultural and translingual, as well as intercultural, because of an overarching narrative that is reflected in the stories of characters who belong to three distinct cultures – Hawaiian, American and Russian – and who frequently engage in intercultural communication.

Thus, the objectives of this paper are twofold: to scrutinize the concepts  of translinguality, transculturality, and intercultural communication and their relationship as well as to prove that “House of Many Gods” is transcultural and translingual with the addition of interculturality; and to reveal a set of linguistic devices that create these transcultural and translingual narratives to serve intercultural understanding.

This paper is organized in the following way. Section 2 (Theoretical basis) serves as a presentation of the theories of transculturation and translingualism, as compared with intercultural communication theory. In section 3 (Material and Methods), we describe the material that has become the source for our study as well as the tools, which will be used to evaluate it. Section 4 (Findings) analyses the various linguistic devices used to create transcultural and translingual narratives in Davenport’s novel under study. Section 5 (Discussion) delves into the novel’s translinguality, transculturality and their relevance for intercultural communication. Section 6 (Conclusion) serves as a summary of the answers to the research questions set in the introduction as objectives of the paper.

  1. Theoretical basis

The central concepts of this study are translingualism, transculturation and intercultural communication. The notion of translingualism/translinguality first originated in the 1990s and was introduced into the field of linguistics by the American critic and academic Steven G. Kellman (2000). In his most notable work “The Translingual Imagination”, Kellman conducted a detailed analysis of literary works of various African and Jewish authors, as well as such authors as Mary Antin, Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, John Maxwell Coetzee and others (Kellman 2000, see also Kellman 2019). The results of this research allowed Kellman to lay a foundation of what translingualism is and how it manifests itself in different literary practices. In general, translinguality implies a harmonious transition from one linguaculture to another, leading to their partial merging without complete assimilation. At the same time, members of linguacultures that are in this process of transition manage to retain their identities and create mixed narratives and discourses (Canagarajah 2002: 38). Translinguality also implies a sort of intertwinement of languages, which results in the apparition of an enriched and qualitatively new linguaculture (Proshina 2016: 6). Because of this constant borderline state and the mutual enrichment of linguacultures, the theory of translingualism views language not as a system (which is typical of bilingualism), but as a practice, a process of creation of speech. And, since a translingual person possesses a wider range of linguistic resources, their speech can be characterized as transformative, ludic and integrating. Being translingual opens up additional opportunities, since someone who is translingual can successfully use languages that are in their repertoire, while sometimes allowing themselves to break certain norms and adapt language codes according to their goals and specific contexts (Canagarajah 2013). There are a number of communicative strategies that allow translinguals to transmit information and act as full-fledged participants of a communicative act: code switching; borrowings; hybridization and pidginization of language; simplification; use of international words; paraphrasing; use of non-verbal gestures; activation of metalinguistic knowledge, etc. (Proshina 2017: 162, Lee 2022).

Since the study of translingualism is basically associated with a translingual process of creating literary works of “culturally mobile” authors (Dagnino 2012: 1) who do not write in their mother tongue but maintain their linguacultural and ethnic identity, the notion of translingualism is frequently related to transculturalism and transcultural literature (Wanner 2011, Rivlina 2016). One of the main features of this kind of literature is cultural synergy – the unification of elements that are culturally different, which creates a qualitatively different formation the effect of which surpasses the sum of its elements (Zhukova et al. 2013: 367). However, though in the collocation “translingual/transcultural literature” the attributive terms are used as synonyms, it is better to differentiate between them, with “transcultural” focusing on the cultural aspect of literature and “translingual” relating to the verbal means of expressing linguacultural identity.

Today the term “transculturation” is used not only in the field of culture studies and anthropology, but also in the context of other humanitarian and social sciences and is perceived as a contemporary societal and cultural principal and an epistemological model, which manifests itself in various areas of life and is more fitting for the current era of globalization (Tlostanova 2011: 133). Therefore, transculturation is based on a sort of cultural polylogue, in which cultures actively interact with one another, while not fully merging and retaining their right to opacity (Tlostanova 2004: 28). Sometimes transculturality is defined as “the formation of multifaceted, fluid identities resulting from diverse cultural encounters” (Nordin et al. 2013: ix). In this context a transcultural person acts as a carrier of several identities in both cultures, and this leads to acceptance of differences, hybridization and creation of a new culture that is beyond the established boundaries of different national, racial, gender and professional cultures (Zhukova et al. 2013: 419).

This contemporary understanding of transculturation is inevitably linked but not limited to what is understood by intercultural communication. In a general sense, intercultural communication means interaction between people that represent different cultures (Ter-Minasova 2004). Experts in linguaculture study view intercultural communication as an either direct or indirect exchange of information between members of different linguacultures (Leontovich 2003). One of the more thorough definitions is provided by interdisciplinary scholars. From an interdisciplinary point of view intercultural communication is defined as follows: a combination of cognitive-affective and behavioral processes of sending and receiving verbal and non-verbal messages, produced by communicators that possess different background knowledge and that are interacting in an interpersonal, group, organizational or societal context (Ishii 2006). Given that transculturation creates a qualitatively new culture through a cultural polylogue, intercultural communication can be viewed as an essential step that has to be taken in  order to achieve transculturation. In the triad “intercultural communication – transculturation – translingualism”, the third element should be seen as a result of the first two. Translingualism appears to be motivated by transculturation that belongs to an individual and emerges in intercultural communication between representatives of different cultures.

  1. Material and methods

Kiana Davenport’s novel “House of Many Gods” was chosen as the primary source of transcultural, translingual and intercultural practices, such as code switching; borrowings; hybridization and pidginization of language; simplification; paraphrasing different culture’s concepts, and other language phenomena hinting at linguistic and cultural synergy. The material to be analyzed was selected by method of continuous sampling.

To respond to the research questions motivated by the objectives set in the Introductory section (Can the work of the Hawaiian American author whose native language is English be termed translingual, transcultural or just intercultural? What are the linguistic tools to produce the effect of translinguality, transculturation, or interculturality?), we had to do basic exploratory research developing the theory of translingualism and allowing us to expand the understanding of the discussed concepts. The descriptive analysis was used based on qualitative primary data.

All obtained extracts that were marked as containing results of language contact were grouped according to their linguistic characteristics. The contextual analysis helped to mark the effect of the used translingual devices onto the recipient characters. In cases of doubt, native Hawaiian language resources (Ulukau Hawaiian Dictionaries) were used in order to facilitate the understanding of certain words and phrases.

In addition to that, a number of studies were consulted and cited in order to provide the necessary context for a better understanding of Davenport’s verbalization and cultural explanations. Scholarly texts in the field of contemporary Hawaiian literature helped understand the key defining features of a native Hawaiian novel and thus highlight the distinctive characteristics of the writing in question.

  1. Findings

This section of our research is dedicated to the systematization of different linguistic tools that are used to create translingual, transcultural and intercultural narratives in K. Davenport’s “House of Many Gods”. In case of the material that we have gathered, these tools are as follows: lexical borrowings from Native Hawaiian (which include endonymic toponyms and culture-specific concepts), transliterated Russian words and translations from Russian into English.

4.1. Lexical borrowings from Native Hawaiian

The first and the most noticeable linguistic device that Davenport employs in her writing is the use of lexical borrowings or loanwords from ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, the indigenous Hawaiian language. Due to the prolonged co-existence of the indigenous population and their Western colonizers, many words from Native Hawaiian entered American English as borrowings and are now widely used by different ethnic subgroups of the island.

In the context of the novel, the use of loanwords serves a clear purpose of uniting characters that are speakers of the Hawaiian language, as it allows them to refer to shared cultural and social experiences and reflects their socio-cultural identity. Borrowings from the indigenous language allow Ana, Anahola and other members of their family to express their bicultural identity, communicate what they feel about their intersectional position in society and make sense of their experience living in postcolonial Hawai’i.

4.1.1. Endonymic toponyms

The first major group of borrowings is comprised of endonymic toponyms, meaning native names for certain geographical places and locations. Nowadays, these borrowings transcend cultural bounds and help interlocutors from different subcultures of Hawai’i and Polynesia communicate, as such toponyms are known to members of all cultures represented in the region.

In the novel, endonymic toponyms serve not only the purpose of establishing certain geographical bounds, but also as a means of showing love for one’s indigenous land and expressing pride in Hawaiian linguistic heritage. For instance, names of mountains are known to be vitally important to Hawaiian people as they point to the kindred of indigenous communities that are believed to be spiritually connected with the mountains they were born at. The narrator frequently mentions such places as Wai’anae, Ma’ili, Nanakuli, Lualualei, Makaha and Mākua, all of which are real locations on the island of O’ahu. In example (1) we see how all of them are used in the same passage.

(1)     This was the wild place, the untutored place, where the Grand Tūtū of the coast, the rugged Wai’anae Mountains, watched over the generations. Here, thirty miles west of Honolulu, were the rough tribes of Wai’anae, native clans that spawned outcasts and felons. Yet their towns had names like lullabies – Ma’ili, Nanakuli, Lualualei – until up past Makaha and Mākua the coastal road ran out, coming to a blunt point like a shark’s snout (Davenport 2007: 4).

Example (2) demonstrates the use of a specific endonymic toponym that is deeply rooted in Hawaiian mythology – Wai’ale’ale. It is a sleeping volcano and a sacred mountain named after the wife of Kaua’i, an indigenous god whose name was later given to the second-oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Wai’ale’ale as a word can be translated as “rippling/overflowing water”, referring to the tropical rainforest climate atop the volcano, which causes substantial rainfall throughout the whole year.

(2)     “Folks say this is our most beautiful island. Here is one of the world’s great annual rainfalls high up on Mt. Wai’ale’ale.”

“Which means?”

“A Rippling on the Water. Because of the pond up there on the plateau of that peak. Also Wai’ale’ale was the wife of the god Kaua’i.” (Davenport 2007: 92)

Example (3) provides us with several Kanaka Māoli toponyms that are all connected to the Menehune, who are a mythological race of dwarf people that inhabit remote areas of the Hawaiian Islands. One of the toponyms is Pu’ukapele, a mountain peak on the Kaua’i island believed to be a point of worship and gathering for the dwarf people. The next borrowed placename is Waimea, which in this particular case refers to the so-called Grand Canyon of the Pacific that was formed by a river of the same name. Its literal translation is “reddish water”, a reference to the color of the canyon’s soil. The last endonym of the extract is Maka-ihu-wa’a, a mythologeme of an ancient indigenous lighthouse that was built by the Menehune in order to help them find their way back when they go out fishing on the deep ocean in their canoes. It is also a compound word that can be translated as “eyes at the prow of the canoe”, an image of a lighthouse that helps voyagers find their way.

(3)     “…There is a place, called Pu’ukapele, high up in Waimea Canyon. It was the home of the Menehune. They gathered there to talk and to debate, rather like the Athenian agora…”

“The Menehune also built the first lighthouse in Hawai’i. They called it Maka-ihu-wa’a. Eyes of the canoe prow…” (Davenport 2007: 93)

In example (4) the endonym in question is Polihale, the name of a remote beach on the western side of the island of Kaua’i, now an official state park. As is pointed out in the extract, this location is directly connected to indigenous gods, or ākua. Upon closer inspection, we see that the endonym itself is composed of two lexemes poli and hale, the first one meaning “bosom” and the second one meaning “house”. The word poli itself contains the root po that has several meanings, one of which is “the realm of the gods”, while another pertains to Hawaiian mythology and refers to the original darkness from which life and the world were manifested.

(4)     “Polihale,” Ana whispered. “Home of the spirits. Here the coast road ends and our gods begin. Our ākua.” (Davenport 2007: 94)

Example (5) contains a hydronym, Wailua, which other than being an official placename also contains the meanings “spirit”, “ghost” and “remains of the dead”. The name of the next location is Wailua Nui Hoano, which translates as “great sacred spirit” and refers to a part of land that is taboo to common people and that was once an ancient capital of Kaua’i.

(5)     “There’s Wailua River. See where it flows into the sea? Home to the island’s kings and high chiefs. They called it Wailua Nui Hoano.” (Davenport 2007: 105)

The endonymic toponyms found in examples (1)–(5) mostly refer to proper names of mountains and mountain ranges, bodies of water, towns and cities and, in some cases, geographical features whose names exhibit connections to Kanaka Māoli mythology.

4.1.2. Culture-specific concepts

Another type of Hawaiian lexical borrowings that are present in the novel are words used to signify certain culture-specific concepts. Kanaka Māoli words that refer to flora, fauna and food are often used by Native Hawaiians in their English speech, and some of these words are widely-known and can also be employed by the white population of the island. However, some concepts are too specific, understanding them requires additional background knowledge, which is why their use is reserved to indigenous speakers.

Loanwords that are present in example (6) describe various elements of Hawaiian culture. The word tūtū is a varied spelling of kūkū, which is an affectionate form of address to a grandparent, granduncle or grandaunt and any relative or close friend of this person’s generation. The next lexeme, taro, is a borrowing from the Māori language that has successfully entered English and is now more popular than its Native Hawaiian variant kalo. It is the name of a traditional root vegetable that is cultivated all across Polynesia and, more broadly, Oceania. The phrase Mahealani Hoku is composed of two words, both of which describe a specific time period – the night of the full moon in ancient Hawaiian calendar. The word Mahealani itself is composed of māhea, meaning “hazy”, and lani, meaning “sky”, which is meant to convey the image of a sky that is hazy during moonlight. Lo’i refers to the irrigated soil used to cultivate taro. Next is the lexeme heiau that contains the meanings “shrine” and “high place of worship” and is closely connected to the concept of kapu, a quality of sacredness and prohibition that can be attributed to certain places, actions, words and foods.

(6)     Still, old tūtū men and women planted their taro at Mahealani Hoku, the full moon. And when they harvested the taro, underneath was good. And slogging in the lo’i, the taro mud, was good.

Here too, among steep ridges in valley recesses were ancient ruins, sacred heiau, prayer-towns, and sacrificial altars. Here in caves hidden by volcanic rocks, in bags of rotting nets, eyeless skulls watched the land to see what kapu would be broken (Davenport 2007: 4).

Example (7) contains a lot of loanwords that describe concepts related to childbirth, Hānau. It can be used as a noun, meaning simply “childbirth”, or as the idiom “to give birth”. The alawela refers to the lines that appear on the stomach of a pregnant woman and converge near the navel, in this case described by the Hawaiian word piko. The compound noun pale keiki consists of the verb pale, which is “to deliver, as a child”, and the noun keiki, which stands for “child”, but combined together they create a new meaning – “midwife”, a person who assists childbirth, enunciates its different stages and makes sure that the whole process goes according to Native Hawaiian tradition. Ko’o kua is yet another borrowed phrase, which is made of ko’o that possesses the meanings of “to support” or “helper” and kua, meaning both “burden” and “back”. It is used to describe a person, whose job is to sit behind a woman in labor, support her back and provide psychological relief. The two exclamations that follow, “Ē hāmau!” and “Ho’olohe!”, correspond to the verbs “to be silent” and “to listen” in the imperative mood. ‘Ewe’ewe-iki is a mythologeme that refers to a woman, who, according to an indigenous legend, died during childbirth and is said to return at night as a ghost and produce a certain cry. In Native Hawaiian tradition this is considered an omen of a birth that is approaching. Finally, there is the borrowed noun ‘ina’ina, which describes the amniotic fluid that precedes labor during childbirth.

(7)     When the lines of the alawela, the scorched path, had met and gone into Rosie’s navel her labor pains began. The old pale keiki was called. Boiling water, towels, and clean sheets were readied. Ana prepared herself as ko’o kua, Rosie’s back support.

Ē hāmau! Ho’olohe!” Be silent. Listen. “Have not the dark lines of the alawela met at the piko? Has not the cry of ‘Ewe’ewe-iki, ghost mother, been heard singing on the roof? And look. The ‘ina’ina has appeared.” First bloodstains. “It is time of Hānau.” Childbirth (Davenport 2007: 54).

In example (8) a certain process of is mentioned. The word itself can be translated as either the noun “exhale” or the verb “to breathe”, but in the context of this example it also takes upon itself the symbolic meaning of a ritual that consists of someone “exhaling” their lifeforce into another human being. This is also a way of transferring one’s mana, supernatural or divine power, a Polynesian concept that is well-known to English speakers as it has already become part of contemporary pop culture.

(8)     Through wracking pain and morphine, Emma had whispered, “Child. This is my last will and testament. Through this , you have received my mana.” (Davenport 2007: 65)

Examples (6)–(8) demonstrate the use of culture-specific loanwords that describe Native Hawaiian concepts pertaining to food, forms of address, time periods, sacred practices, supernatural beings and powers.

4.2. Pidginization of speech

The next major translingual and transcultural device is the pidginization of speech of some Kanaka Māoli characters in the novel with the use of a specific vernacular called Hawaiian Pidgin, though it would be more appropriate to term it ‘creole’, as it has native speakers unlike pidgin (Swann et al. 2004). Pidgin is recognized as an official state language of Hawai’i and is still widely used, particularly in rural areas. Considering that the novel is set in the second half of the 20th century, when Pidgin was spoken by older and younger generations of Hawaiians alike (Drager 2012), the use of the vernacular is reflected in the text.

Example (9) describes the reaction of Native Hawaiian kids to the prospect of learning American English, which the character calls “proper” with a clear negative connotation. When recounting the kids’ question, the narrating figure preserves their Pidgin speech by omitting the first-person plural of the auxiliary verb “to be” after the adverb “how” and before the according pronoun. There is also a lack of the particle “to” before the infinitive (going talk). The incorrect pronunciation of the voiced dental fricative in the word “without” is reflected graphically by changing the orthography of the word to “widdout”. Another deliberate deviation is observed in the last sentence, where there is no auxiliary verb and no article before the idiom “the same as”.

(9)     “Today my teacher said we got to learn ‘proper’ English, so we can study things like math and science. Ho, man! Kids got plenty angry. Everybody yelling. ‘How we going talk to parents widdout Pidgin? Pidgin same as English.’” (Davenport 2007: 52)

Example (10) demonstrates similar features of Hawaiian Pidgin, as there is once again a lack of the first-person singular of the auxiliary verb “to be” before the verbal “going” and no appropriate particle after it. In the same sentence there is an omission of the close-mid back rounded vowel in the word “okay”. The pronoun “that” in the next sentence is pronounced differently, and the voiced dental fricative is once again expressed by the orthographic use of the letter “d”. The use of the filler “like” instead of the more grammatically correct modal verb “will” in the phrase “I like have” also is emblematic of Hawaiian Pidgin. In the last sentence the already familiar omission of an appropriate form of the auxiliary verb “to be” before the verb “telling” is observed. The voiced postalveolar approximant is cut from the pronunciation of the preposition “for”, another recurring characteristic of the vernacular, which turns it into “fo’” with an apostrophe. The phrase “dis kine” is a set expression in Hawaiian Pidgin, with “da kine” as a more frequent form, and grammatically it functions as a placeholder name. Interestingly, when talking about standard, “proper” English, the interlocutor also attributes to it a negative connotation by characterizing it as “haole English”, haole here being an ethnonym used by Native Hawaiians to describe white people.

(10)      One of the boys spoke earnestly. “Aunty, I going finish high school, ‘kay? But I like fixing cars, I like engines. Smell of oil, stuff like dat. Maybe one day I like have my own garage. You telling me I got to learn haole English fo’ dis kine work?” (Davenport 2007: 53)

Similar characteristics of Hawaiian Pidgin are once again observed in example (11): multiple omissions of the auxiliary verb “to be” in appropriate forms; a lack of the particles “to”; the omission of the voiced postalveolar approximant with an apostrophe; the changed pronunciation of the voiced dental fricative and its orthographic representation by the letter “d”. However, in case of the articulation of the preposition “with” and the noun “thing”, the same fricative is articulated by Pidgin speakers as a voiceless alveolar plosive, which in writing is fixed by the single letter “t”. In case of the negated imperative form “don’t” the speaker drops the auxiliary verb “do” and substitutes the negating particle “not” for the simpler form “no”. Lastly, a case of wordplay is observed in the extract – the word “homolectuals”, which is a play on the plural form of the noun “homosexual” with a substitution of its root for the one from the word “lecture”. This pejorative also demonstrates the attitude of Pidgin speakers towards those who are trying to get higher education and implicitly position themselves above Native Hawaiians.

(11)      They called out as she passed by. “Ey, Ana! Hear you going university. Going hang out wit all dem… homolectuals.”

“What you trying prove wit all dem books? No fo’get, you one Nanakuli girl. Only good fo’ do one t’ing.” (Davenport 2007: 66)

Examples (9)–(11) demonstrate a fluent use of Hawaiian Pidgin with all of its linguistic properties, such as the difference in phonetic realization of some vowels and consonants, the use of a glottal stop, which is a consonant in Hawaiian, the use of both English and Hawaiian lexical items, and a word order that differs from that in English. In terms of perception of the novel, the use of Hawai’i Pidgin English serves a specific purpose: the repeated patterns of speech among a variety of characters incentivize the reader to attribute them to the same linguaculture, while also allowing them to peek into this linguaculture by virtue of an English-based Pidgin.

4.3. Lexical borrowings from Russian

Another linguistic device that is worth pointing out is related to the third major culture present in the text, and that device is the use of lexical borrowings from the Russian language. These lexemes can be found in the speech of several characters that appear throughout the novel, and most of them are toponyms and transliterated or transcribed words that describe culture-specific concepts.

4.3.1. Russian toponyms

Among the Russian toponyms that can be found throughout the novel, there is a certain category that is frequented more often – econyms. These designate proper names of residential buildings, houses and sites, but in a broader sense can also signify the proper name of an inhabited settlement.

Example (12) contains mentions of three Baroque palaces that are all located in the city of St. Petersburg: Beloselsky-Belozersky, Stroganov and Menshikov Palaces. These econyms are tied to Russian history, as they were attributed to the architectural structures because of the noble families and persons that inhabited them. The Beloselsky-Belozersky were an aristocratic family, the Stroganovs were highly successful merchants and Aleksander Danilovich Menshikov was a Russian statesman and an associate of Peter the Great.

(12)      In pearly, northern light, each palace had an eerie, otherworldly beauty.

Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace… Stroganov Palace… Menshikov Palace… Each set in splendid, private park.” (Davenport 2007: 263)

Example (13) contains another econym attributed to a palace in St. Petersburg – Sheremetyev. The palace was built by the Sheremetevs, an influential and wealthy Russian family, but nowadays it holds a different name – The Fountain House, which takes after the nearby river, Fontanka. This hydronym is also mentioned in the extract.

(13)      “… I want to sit in a tiny garden, behind old Sheremetyev Palace overlooking the Fontanka Canal…” (Davenport 2007: 272)

The provided examples contain famous toponyms of the city of St. Petersburg, which sets certain geographical boundaries of the narrative, demonstrates the author’s knowledge of these locations and serves a specific purpose that will be discussed later.

4.3.2. Transliterated and transcribed Russian words

Transliterated Russian words are used by the author in order to reflect certain realities and concepts that the characters experience while being in Russia, as well as words and phrases that they hear from others or try to emulate themselves. In example (14), one of the native Russian characters is unable to find a suitable English word in order to convey his message, which leads to his using a Russian word “форточка” instead, which means ‘vent pane’. The word itself is transcribed as “fortushka” in order to demonstrate the specific pronunciation of the word.

(14)      “You were suffering. I want to take away the pain. Make you breathe, feel life again. I want to be your… fortushka.” (Davenport 2007: 202)

Example (15) contains an excerpt from the scene, in which a Native Hawaiian character, who is a fluent English speaker, is trying to order food at a restaurant in Russia. The menu items in question are “борщ”, “шашлык” and “чашка чая”, all of which are transliterated and then described in the next sentence.

(15)      Seeing three words on the menu she understood, she pointed and ordered.

Borscht, shashlik, i chashka chaya.” Cabbage soup, shish kebab, and tea (Davenport 2007: 265).

In example (16) the same Native Hawaiian character meets people on a night train and decides to greet them in Russian with the phrase “доброе утро”, which is transliterated. This creates confusion and prompts laughter from other passengers, as the speaker does not know that this greeting is not appropriate during evening hours.

(16)      “Dobraye utra,” she cried. Good morning.

A couple laughed, for it was night, not morning (Davenport 2007: 275).

Example (17) contains another loanword that pertains to the realm of food – “zakuski”, the transliterated form of the Russian “закуски”. Due to the specificity of the products laid out before the narrator, they choose to employ this exotic borrowing instead of an English equivalent like “snacks”, “appetizers” or “starters”.

(17)      A dish of zakuski, little tasties, appeared – radishes, cucumbers, meats, and cheese, tiny pancakes filled with roe (Davenport 2007: 282).

In example (18) we find the borrowing “tapochki”, a transliterated form of the Russian “тапочки”, which is also used as an exoticism due to the fact that the narrator is a stranger to the practice of wearing carpet slippers in their household.

(18)      Katya gestured toward two sets of tapochki, carpet slippers, beside a pair of men’s shoes (Davenport 2007: 294).

In examples (14)–(18), the author puts Russian borrowings in the right context and manages to convey their sound either through transliteration or transcription (reflecting weak reduced vowels), thus putting the characters in the realities of Russia. As is the case with some borrowings from the Hawaiian language, Davenport uses Russian toponyms to set the scene and point out different foreign locations.

4.4. Translations from Russian into English

Other than lexical borrowings, Russian poetry, in particular translated poems of Anna Akhmatova, also plays a significant role in sculpturing transcultural narratives in the novel. The author’s affection for Akhmatova’s poetry is evident from the first pages of the novel, as in the preface Akhmatova’s “The Last Toast” is put right after Pule Ho’ola’a Hale, a house dedication prayer in Native Hawaiian. The same poem makes a reappearance at a very emotional moment of the novel, which makes for a deliberate and compelling addition to the text (Davenport 2007: 273). Another poem by Akhmatova, titled “We Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye”, can be found earlier in the text, recited by a native Russian character to the Native Hawaiian protagonist (Davenport, 2007: 196). Although the author takes already existing translations produced by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward, they are weaved into the text with preciseness and play into the pre-existing narratives of the novel.

  1. Discussion

We have successfully systematized the various types of linguistic devices that can be found within Davenport’s novel and are relevant to the topics of translingual discourse and intercultural communication. The analysis has shown that these devices are predominantly culture-specific items that appeal to recipients that belong to two distinct cultures: Native Hawaiian and Russian.

The transcultural and translingual dimensions of the novel are conditioned by the fact that Kanaka Māoli culture and language are adequately represented in a text that is written in English. In general, most of the contemporary Oceanic literature produced by indigenous writers is written in a colonial language, while publications in native languages are rather scarce. When analyzing the foundations of Hawaiian literature, scholars argue that “while similarities between some indigenous Polynesian languages are close enough for a degree of mutual understanding between them, literature across the Pacific is firmly divided between colonially imposed languages, specifically English (Anglophone) and French (Francophone)” (Ho‘omanawanui 2017: 56). As “House of Many Gods” falls under the category of Anglophone literature, one might point out that it, therefore, should not be considered translingual, because, according to the established notion, translingual literature is written in a language that is not native to the author, whereas English is one of Davenport’s native languages. However, when taking into consideration the definition of translinguality itself, the notion of translingual literature can be modified to also include literature that displays a harmonious transition from one linguaculture to another, which leads to their partial merging without complete assimilation. In that way, translingual literature can also include texts in the author’s native language that demonstrate a high degree of crosslinguistic influence, which in turn testifies to the ethnic and linguacultural identity of the author.

Looking at the novel in question through that lens, we see that the author demonstrates a deep understanding of Hawaiian culture, as well as fluency in ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, and is able to create a transcultural and translingual Anglo-Hawaiian narrative. For instance, the extensive use of endonymic toponyms not only serves the purpose of setting territorial boundaries and diversifying the text, but also becomes a cultural marker for those who are familiar with Hawaiian mythology and history and can recognize allusions hidden in many placenames. If at earlier stages of contact between Hawaiian and English, indigenous placenames were primarily used as exoticisms (Carr 2014, Desmond 1999), their use in postcolonial novels such as “House of Many Gods” implies deeper meanings that are hidden in the linguistic features of such toponyms. The same can be said about the multitude of lexical borrowings that describe Native Hawaiian concepts and traditional practices, some of which may be outdated but still remembered by those who cherish their Kanaka Māoli roots. Their inclusion in an English novel that appeals to a broad audience not only introduces culture-specific concepts to those who have no knowledge of them, but also plays into the feeling of indigenous yearning for ancestral reconnections (McDougall 2021) and further cultural decolonization (Indriyanto 2021, Trask 1999).

The pidginization of speech of different characters, itself being a reflection of a prolonged interethnic contact among Native Hawaiians and other subgroups of the population (Velupillai 2013), results in stylized dialogues with deviated articulation of English words, intentional grammatical deviations, set expressions from Hawaiian Pidgin and wordplay. This translingual device not only shows the recipient, how the vernacular is spoken in day-to-day life, but also serves as a marker for those Hawaiians who have experienced pidginized communication or communicate in Pidgin themselves.

The use of Russian lexical borrowings, however, constitutes a narrative outside of the outlined translingual discourse and goes into the realm of intercultural communication. For instance, Russian toponyms are mostly comprised of famous placenames that do not resonate with the target audience as much as the Native Hawaiian toponyms do. As the author is not a fluent Russian speaker and has a limited understanding of the realities of Russia, the loanwords that are found in the novel serve a more direct purpose of setting the scene or exoticizing the narration. Akhmatova’s poems tie into the overarching story of the novel and translations of these poems represent the original text adequately and accurately, which helps convey a comprehensive message to the recipient, but they still solely act as a reference to another culture’s literature, since translation is not a translingual device.

Our research has shown that the main narrative in K. Davenport’s “House of Many Gods” is the transcultural and translingual Hawaiian-American narrative, represented in the text of the novel on various levels, and that this narrative comes into contact with the Russian culture, reflects it through lexical borrowings and translations, but fails to fully merge with it and create a new linguacultural formation.

  1. Conclusion

In this research we sought to delineate the most characteristic verbal devices that constitute distinctive features of translingual discourse and intercultural communication based on the novel by a Hawaiian-American author. The results of our research confirmed that the novel “House of Many Gods” can be categorized as translingual and transcultural though it is written in the dominant language of the bilingual author, who fluctuates easily between her two languages creating narratives that transcend cultural bounds through the use of specific linguistic devices. The effect of lingual and cultural polylogue that makes a translingual discourse of the novel has been enhanced by the introduction of the third language and culture – that of Russian serving as an additional tool for intercultural communication in the narration. As has been determined, the devices that make linguistic polyphony are lexical borrowings from both Native Hawaiian and Russian languages, references to indigenous mythology and traditions, the pidginization of speech of several characters throughout the novel and the inclusion of translations of Anna Akhmatova’s poems in the text.

While discussing manifestations of transcultural and translingual identities and intercultural communication in general, it is important to distinguish them from simple and often deliberate misappropriation of culture-specific elements. When cultures are described in a language that is foreign to them, the vocabulary of that language reorients towards the described culture and goes through the process of semantic adaptation, which, combined with stereotypes upheld by the recipient or their society, affects the way such descriptions are perceived (Kabakchi & Proshina 2021: 185). When done right, such linguistic experiments can work wonders, as they then appeal to all sides of a language and culture contact and manage to bridge a gap between these cultures.

The limitation of this research consists in its being restricted to one novel only. The expansion of the material might broaden the prospect of future conclusions. Nonetheless, with the questions discussed and inferences made, we believe to have contributed to the clarification of the concept of translingualism and its interplay with the term ‘intercultural communication’, which is relevant for the theory of linguistic and cultural contacts.


About the authors

Semyon Sergeevich Galaktionov

Lomonosov Moscow State University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9025-5522

second-year postgraduate student at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Regional Studies of Lomonosov Moscow State University. His field of study is comparative, typological and contrastive linguistics. His research interests are at the intersection of translation studies, and comparative literary, postcolonial and Polynesian studies. He has published a number of scholarly works dedicated to analyzing contemporary Polynesian literature.

Moscow, Russia

Zoya Grigor'evna Proshina

Lomonosov Moscow State University

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0570-2349

Doctor of Philology (Habil.), Professor at the Department of Theory for Teaching Foreign Languages, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Regional Studies of Lomonosov Moscow State University. Her research interests are in translation studies, World Englishes paradigm, comparative linguistics, and sociolinguistics. She has authored, coauthored, edited and co-edited a number of books, journals, and articles.

Moscow, Russia


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