Paradoxically, for Johannes English becomes the language of rebellion against the oppressor, his father, in a reversed picture of the oppressed, which is usually the Irish, and the oppressor, the English. In this sense, one can perceive a satirical side to Johannes’ innocent tone, for instance when he describes how languages are to be used within and outside his household:

“So we have to be careful to think in the house before we speak. We can’t speak the words of the Garda or the workers, that’s English. We speak Áine’s words from Connemara, that’s Irish, or my mother’s words, that’s German. I can’t talk to Áine in German and I can’t talk to my mother in Irish, because she’ll only laugh and tickle me. I can talk to my father in German or Irish and he can speak to the Garda for us” [1].

Also, it has a comical effect the way Johannes’ father would test the knowledge of Irish of the children that want to play with his son. Nonetheless, despite the strict regime of his father, Johannes hears different opinions about the Irish language when he leaves the house. For instance, he hears people saying that it is bad for business and that people are ashamed of those that are not at least bilingual and can speak only Irish because they associate Irish to poverty and backwardness [2].

The debates around the Irish language and independence emerge from Johannes’ narration but the real question for him is one of integration. Although coming from a mixed family, Johannes does not want to be different from the other children. He only wants to belong to the community. For this reason he tries to be as Irish as possible thus turning into a caricature of Irish people. He wears German Lederhosen and Aran sweaters, Irish on the top and German below, and repeats obsessively the popular Irish exclamation for “Jesus”: “Jaysus, what the Jaysus” (SP, 5). But on the other hand, when he moves to Germany to escape his family, although fully fluent in German he speaks like the other Irish workers in a broken German, dances Irish music and sings Irish songs.

Nonetheless, for Hamilton like for Abate language can have the positive role of creating harmony and deleting differences. Johannes’ father manages to bring electricity to Ireland because he finds a way to make the English and the German transformers work together although their incompatibility seems an irresolvable mystery. The other engineers working with Johannes’ father, after several failures, finally give up. They start finding the most absurd reasons to explain why the two transformers could not work together, such as, for instance, the past history of conflict between their two nations. Johannes’s father cracks the mystery and, overwhelmed by the joy of his success, he explains to his children how the two transformers simply spoke a different language: one clockwise, the other anti-clockwise. It is a moment of celebration because Johannes’ father has found the harmony and peace between two nations. Without even realising it, Johannes’ father switches to English to his family who is flabbergasted and does not know how to reply (SP, 281-2).

They notice, however, how his English is marked by a strong Cork accent. Although he loses his language war, in a way, he demonstrates how the colonised language can live through the monologism of the coloniser’s language. Even nowadays, although Irish is less and less spoken, the English of Ireland is its own specific variety known as Hiberno-English. This variety carries marks from the Irish language that most of the people would use without even knowing their origins [3].

To conclude, both Abate and Hamilton chose a main language to communicate their experience of their hybrid multicultural origins. For Abate, Italian is a means of outdistancing from his native Arberëshë culture in order to achieve an objective and more convincing perspective. In this way Italian becomes the language of communication between two cultures that are at the same level influencing Abate’s life [4]. For Hamilton, English is not only the language of an early rebellion against his father but also the language of integration through which narrate his relationship with national and individual identity.
Facing the question of identity and integration, Abate and Hamilton answer with heteroglossia and crowd their novels with linguistic plurality in order to highlight the richness that derives from cross-cultural encounter. The use of mixed languages is a conscious stylistic choice that is aimed to reflect the personal experience of cultural hybridity. But also, it is used as an answer to the utopian notion of unified national language.


[1] Hugo Hamilton, THE SPECKLED PEOPLE, London, Fourth Estate, 2003, pp. 28-29. Hereafter SP.

[2] Hugo Hamilton, THE SAILOR IN THE WARDROBE, London, Fourth Estate, 2006, pp. 169-72.

[3] See for example Patrick Weston, ENGLISH AS WE SPEAK IT IN IRELAND, Portmarnock, Wolfhound, 1979.

[4] “En adoptant cette langue italienne qui n’est pas sa langue maternelle, il adopte une langue distantiatrice qui lui permet de raconter de l’extérieur, avec un regard non impliqué, une réalité qu’il connaît bien et des situations qui ne pourraient être comprises si elles étaient décrites de l’intérieur. L’italien devient ainsi filtre et moyen de communication entre deux cultures dont Abate est un fidèle interprète.” (Martine Bovo Romoeuf, RAPSODIE ITALO-ALBANAISE DE CARMINE ABATE, "Kuma online review", Vol. 11, ed. Armando Gnisci).

[The first part of this article was published in Carte allineate, 15-11-2011]