Strathy Language Unit

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Writing English in Montreal
Date: December 11, 2015  |  Category: News
Author: Rachel Montour

Editors Note: This is part one of a four-part series exploring the work of multilingual authors in Montreal who choose to write in English. Why do these individuals choose English, and how have their own linguistic backgrounds and the bilingual context of Montreal shaped this choice and their work? Strathy literary intern and English graduate student Rachel Montour, herself a bilingual Montrealer, interviewed four young writers on this topic. The focus of our first piece is Patra Dounoukos Reiser.

Patra Dounoukos Reiser, a doctoral student in English at the Université de Montréal who is interested in the female gothic, likes to “explore people caught between [two] worlds and struggling to find their place” in her fiction. In her creative works, one can find “a sense of mystery and vaguely supernatural hints here and there”. In further describing her creative inclinations, Patra admits to her usual “referencing [of] a Greek god or goddess” and the “influence of the Greek myths [she] grew up hearing”.  

Indeed, Patra grew up speaking Greek at home with her parents. She learned English in kindergarten and French once she moved to Montreal. When asked if language acts as a significant component of her identity, she writes:

I suppose so if I think deeply about it. Each language is different and rich and resonant in their own way, and when I speak Greek, I feel Greek if that makes any sense. English makes me feel accomplished and educated and a bit persecuted too here in Montreal. I love the feel of French on my tongue. Being able to communicate with many people makes me feel a citizen of the world aussi.

This personal appropriation of each language is reflected in her works of fiction where she likes to “intermix” the three. “I guess because it represents my worlds and the people around me who often mix languages in their oral speech”, she explains. This intermixing can be seen in the following excerpts from Prism (a work in progress):

Emmanuelle always smirked when she heard the word 'trimmings'. Years ago, when she was in what was then called high school, she had read a short story about a man from a small town who goes to New York. In a small diner somewhere, he had seen a sign offering a Thanksgiving dinner, "Turkey and all the tremens, $4,99!"  Tremens.  Chuckle.

Which then made her think of the sign on Avenue du Parc, again a long time ago, offering a falafel sandwich and a dring, 6,99$. Snort.

[…]

"What?" Bewildered, Emmanuelle looked around. "What happened to them?"

"Nothing," Jay walked to join Robert. Emmanuelle looked at Natalia. "What the hell?"

She shrugged. "Pas de clue."

When lastly prompted to reflect on the decision to write in English in Quebec, and as an author with a rich linguistic background, Patra states:

Writing in English, living in English itself is a daring act. Quebec seethes still with language issues and being in this world is a challenge to some of my neighbours. It is also invigorating… perhaps that is one of the secrets to always having ideas?

She leaves the interview in bringing forth the notion that socio-political linguistic tensions might be serving as a muse, enabling effective creative writing through some catharsis.        
 

Click here for a longer excerpt from Prism

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