Review: Other Englishes

Press Room Contributor Carissa Tan reviews Sunday morning’s Other Englishes panel, with Adolfo Aranjuez, Soreti Kadir, Ahmad Al Rady, and Lachlan Brown.

A lazy, post-party audience starts trickling in 10 minutes into Other Englishes, of the first sessions of the day, and things really start to head up.

Host Adolfo Aranjuez kicks off the conversation bymasking if the panel members think in their native language; and if so, how do they incorporate it into their work? Spoken-word poet Soreti explains that her own Oromo people have their own formal poetry which she has not really mastered. However, she admits that she incorporates Oromo when talking about her roots, family and experiences in Ethopia. ‘The memories, and the fact that I live vicariously through my memories does influence my work through that perspective,’ she claims. Also a poet, Ahmad says that his father is a huge poetry fan, but it is hard to write poetry in Arabic unless one starts from a very young age. He explains that there are different Arabic sayings that he attempted to translate into English but never really succeeded. ‘I feel that sometimes English is bland!’ he exclaims, gaining sympathetic nods from the crowd.  However, Lachlan who has been completely cut off from his native Cantonese dialect, offers a different view on English—he thinks that English can be changed and subverted.

When asked about how English affected his transition into a new country, Ahmad said that he used to be an English translator for his family when they first moved over. Struggling with an identity crisis, he found that growing up and learning English was a must for his family and was amazed when he found that he could connect with others through writing. In terms of her own transition, Soreti said that her family wanted her to learn English, but simultaneously maintain the ability to speak Oromo. But around the age of 16 she started equating intelligence as the ability to speak English as an Australian in Australia, though she now believes that ‘maintaining the ability to speak another language in a country where no one speaks it is a far fiercer intelligence.’

About finding one’s voice while speaking another language, Soreti claims that having a different language and culture definitely does affect her work and the way she performs because the Oromo cause is something that she holds close to her heart. ‘I can get away with so much more about Oromo when I put it into a poem than when I just speak it,’ she exclaims with a grin. Ahmad said that his family was at first apprehensive about the fact that he was going into poetry and writing, for both economic and political reasons due to his cultural background. ‘If you speak up and something goes wrong, your family might be targeted,’ he says. However, drawing upon a previous story he told about poets being hired to perform at Muslim weddings, he explained that his family gradually saw light and came to accept his profession. Lachlan emphasized that English has other languages—the languages of resumes and crappy documents. ‘English too has discourses which become certain languages, particularly poetry which has the ability to spin on a dime and turn around in terms of language.’

Lastly, on representing culture and relationship with place, Ahmad says that to be a Muslim is to be placed under a microscope, and his job is to educate himself as well as the audience. “Relationships with place and people who speak the same language gives life flavor!” he exclaims enthusiastically, inducing laughter from the audience. “The fact that people tend to think that we are the minority although we form the largest population in my area is good for building character.” Soreti, who hails from West Melbourne gives examples of everyday activities—little familiarities that reminds her so much of home. “Home means so much, and I am lucky that I have multiple homes in context of the world. I love the concept of being able to create a home where u were not expected.” Once again offering a different perspective, Lachlan says that coming from a mixed race background is both a blessing and a curse—’with inauthenticity comes agility, and self and other become interesting – you both fit in and don’t fit in.’