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Nancy Huston’s Polyglot Texts: Linguistic Limits and Transgressions

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Throughout her career, Nancy Huston has both accepted and transgressed the limits of bilingualism. Limbes / Limbo (1998), L’empreinte de l’ange (1998), The Mark of the Angel (2000), Danse noire (2013), and Black Dance (2014) are five texts that demonstrate Huston’s diverse use of polyglot writing. While Limbes / Limbo is characterized by its use of bilingual writing and self-translation, L’empreinte de l’ange and The Mark of the Angel possess monolingual narratives accompanied by five different languages. By contrast, whereas Danse noire presents self-translations and multilingual dialogues within three alternating narratives, Black Dance demonstrates a less intense use of multilingualism. What, then, can be said about Huston’s use of multiple languages? And what are the stakes of this unique, multilingual style? In view of these five texts, this study will examine the benefits and disadvantages of Huston’s polyglot writing. Moreover, it will expose the linguistic limits for the “readerly” experience of Huston’s work. When used minimally or as a form of bilingual self-translation, Huston’s presentation of foreign languages enhances her narratives. When used excessively, or as a way to dominate the text, however, this multilingualism impedes the reader’s comprehension of the narrative. In navigating these inter-lingual limits and transgressions, this study will uncover some of the linguistic problems and solutions inherent in Huston’s work.


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