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Bad EnglishLiterature, Multilingualism, and the Politics of Language in Contemporary Britain$

Rachael Gilmour

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526108845

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526108852

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Prosthetic language

Prosthetic language

(p.101) 3 Prosthetic language
Bad English

Rachael Gilmour

Manchester University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter three discusses the polyglot poetry and prose of British-Scottish-Asian novelist Suhayl Saadi and poet and multimedia artist Raman Mundair. As this chapter argues, both writers stage scenes of linguistic prosthesis and performance throughout their writing, treating languages not as fully interior systems of meaning but as samples, sounds, and fragments, reflecting theorist Rey Chow’s insistence that for the postcolonial subject, the encounter with ‘language as a foreign object’, with which one must ‘wrestle in order to survive’, is to be able to recognise more fully its reality as ‘prosthetic’. As both Saadi’s work and Mundair’s is at pains to point out – for example, in Mundair’s poetry in Shetland Scots – despite nativist fantasies to the contrary, no particular form of language has an essential relationship to the inner self. This chapter explores, in this context, how Saadi and Mundair navigate questions of linguistic authenticity or inauthenticity, of experimental or commodified, radical or self-exoticised multilingualisms, and argues that each models a politics of language predicated on the denial of all such fixed distinctions.

Keywords:   Scottish literature, Scottish-Asian literature, Multilingual literature, Suhayl Saadi, Raman Mundair, Politics of language, Prosthetic language

Some of the most powerful myths underlying the idea of monolingualism have to do with ideas of the ‘native speaker’ and the ‘mother tongue’. For the ‘native speaker’, language – the language – is assumed to be something organic, interior, possessed as by right, and used without impediment. The ‘mother tongue’, meanwhile, holds the idea of being born into a language, ‘the site of nativity and pure origin’ from which we come and to which we belong.1 Operating far below the level of consciously held belief, these ideas about language work so effectively by appearing commonsensical.2 As the previous chapters have already suggested, they run counter to other ways in which language is experienced: as something fragmentary, diverse, diffuse, untotalisable; as codes to be adopted, imposed, practised, lost, acquired, or invented.3 Yet their power lies in their ubiquity, and in the pronouncements which they make – without ever seeming to – about what a language is, about who authentically belongs in language and who has authority as a speaker, as well as about language’s intrinsic, self-evident, and given interiority.

As Rey Chow, for one, points out, ‘postcolonial scenes of languaging’ in particular serve to trouble this kind of perception. For postcolonial subjects having to move between different forms of language, whether chosen or imposed, the straightforward possession of ‘a language’ is not necessarily obvious at all. Moreover, questions of linguistic authority and ownership are also by definition exclusionary, and often highly racialised – such as the prevailing association of ‘native speaker’ English with whiteness.4 What, under these circumstances, could any (p.102) kind of straightforward idea of belonging in language possibly look like? Yet, considering the ‘shock, humiliation, rage, and melancholy’ that may define the postcolonial subject’s enforced encounter with a colonising language, and the alienating experience of being racialised in and through language, Chow nevertheless argues (as she admits, ‘counterintuitive[ly]’) that this experience also confers a privileged vantage point.5 To encounter ‘language as a foreign object’, with which one must ‘wrestle in order to survive’, she suggests, is to be able to recognise more fully the reality of language as ‘prosthetic’: ‘Whereupon even what feels like an inalienable interiority, such as the way one speaks, is – dare I say it? – impermanent, detachable, and (ex)changeable’.6 Just as Derrida puts it for French in Monolingualism of the Other, language is not something singular, which it is possible to possess – and this becomes apparent with particular force in ‘the postcolonial scene of languaging’.7

In this chapter I examine the work of two Scottish Asian authors, the novelist and poet Suhayl Saadi and the poet, playwright, and multimedia artist Raman Mundair, both of whom explore what it means to be a postcolonial subject moving between different, chosen or imposed, linguistic forms. Each to a greater or lesser extent chooses a Scottish identification, and with it a semi-peripheral internationalism of minor languages, in allegiance with Scottish literature’s inclination to, in Cairns Craig’s words, provide ‘resistance [to] a world system which sees small and marginal cultures as irrelevant to its logic’.8 Nevertheless, both express a deep scepticism towards superficial celebrations of a multilingual, post-ethnic Scottishness, finding inescapable the ways in which identifications of race and class, insider and outsider, are enforced in and through language.9 Out of this recognition, inculcated by multilingual, postcolonial subjecthood, of language as something imposed from the outside and fundamentally exterior to ourselves, comes a linguistic-philosophical view – a conviction in Saadi’s case, whereas Mundair also maintains a complicated, ambivalent attachment to the idea of the ‘mother tongue’ – of language as prosthetic: where fully inhabiting it, owning it, or maybe even understanding it are no longer entirely the point.

In an essay called ‘Being Scottish’, Saadi poses his title as a provisional assemblage, its profusion gesturing towards an irrepressibly polyglot way of ‘being Scottish’:

(p.103) I celluloid my forehead and hastily scribble: SCOTTISH. But that is inadequate, so I add: English, British, Pakistani, Indian, Afghan, Sadozai, Asian, European, Black (-ish), Minority Ethnic, Male, Non-resident, 21st Century person, 15th Century being, Glaswegian, middle-class, Writer, Seeker, Lover, Physician, Agha Jaan, Son, English-speaking, Music-loving, Left-leaning. … until I run out of space and time and ink.10

This litany of descriptors poses both challenges to conventions about Scottishness (this Scottishness is a black(-ish) Scottishness, a middle-class Scottishness, a non-resident Scottishness) and a riposte to ideas of national belonging at all. Scottishness, as a roomy container for perversity and paradox, is celebrated by Saadi for encompassing ‘all things polyglot, musical and oceanic’ rather than ‘walls, stridency and final definitions’. Indeed, also thinking in aquatic imagery, Raman Mundair uses the Shetland Scots shoormal, the shifting space where the sea meets the shore, to think about how language flows and connects. As both Saadi’s and Mundair’s writing is at pains to point out – for instance, in Mundair’s poetry in Shetland Scots – despite nativist fantasies to the contrary, no particular form of language has an essential, autochthonous relationship to the inner self. Saadi is ‘Agha Jaan’ (father) to his Scotland-born child and ‘son’ to his immigrant parents. He is not an ‘English speaker’, with the definitional solidity of a noun, but ‘English-speaking’, with the present progressive verb suggesting something more contingent and combinatory. In Saadi’s ‘oceanic’, ‘polyglot’ vision, Scottishness is made synonymous with the experience of language as multiplicity: not of the inhabitation of whole and entire, fixed linguistic systems, but as fragments and snatches that may be brought into a constellation of relations, a rewritable ‘celluloid’ surface onto which new meanings can be imprinted ‘until I run out of space and time and ink’.11 At the same time, the same image can’t help but hint at tensions – between ‘all things polyglot’ and the affixing of labels, between the idea of a unified identity and something more unruly and complex, between the idea that languages and identities are there to be claimed and the raciolinguistic ideologies that get in the way – which it will be the concern of this chapter to consider.

(p.104) ‘Ah’m the man ae a thoosand tongues’: multilingual Scottishness and its limits

When Saadi’s hallucinatory, flamboyantly multilingual novel Psychoraag was published in 2006, he was keen to distance himself from comparisons drawn by critics – on grounds, perhaps, of a South Asian, postmodern linguistic experimentalism – with Salman Rushdie. He had little in common, he insisted, with Rushdie’s elite metropolitan, ‘Oxford educated upper class English’ perspective nor, for that matter, with what he termed ‘the Hyper-Hip Multicoloured Multicultural Metropolitan London-Oxbridge “Liberal” Literary Mafia’.12 His nearer affinity and allegiance, he claimed, was to Scottish writers, and particularly James Kelman, in their concern with class and capital, and the material, historical, and social dynamics of linguistic marginalisation.13

‘Diversity’, Saadi has argued, is a defining characteristic of Scottish literature, both because of Scotland’s own internal heterogeneity and because of Scottish writers’ propensity for ‘gazing out’ transnationally, which is at least as old as the British Empire.14 At the same time, though, there are conditions which are necessary for the entry of certain kinds of ‘diversity’ into literature and, in a scene dominated by the ‘London-Oxbridge “Liberal” Literary Mafia’, that entry is not made any easier by being in Scotland.15 Discussing the mechanisms by which writing gets written and published – the role of arts funding, arts councils, publishers, university curricula, and critics in shaping the field of literature – Saadi argues that too much of the literary market, for writers like him, is dominated by the demands of ‘safe multiculturalism’. There is a seemingly boundless appetite for novels with ‘Orientalist covers – a sari-clad henna-daubed Indian woman pirouetting on a pyramid of spices’, a scattering of foreign words, literature that offers an exotic but ultimately safe sense of ‘difference’ that does not trouble the stability of ‘normative absolutes’.16 The commodified, obedient, and manicured performance of difference that serves to reinforce, rather than trouble, rigid boundaries of race and culture, Saadi defines ‘safe multiculturalism’ as a new form of imperialism: ‘the systems of imperialism have merely adapted – their iron grip, on our consciousness, our labour and our purse, remains as tight as ever’.17

Saadi’s own poetry, prose, and short stories have been published by independent Scottish publishers or in online forums, and he has (p.105) discussed his difficulties in finding publishers for his more linguistically experimental work.18 Psychoraag was critically well received in the Scottish press, but almost entirely ignored south of the border. As Ali Smith observed in the one notable exception, a review piece for the Guardian pointedly titled ‘Life beyond the M25’: ‘the critical silence that met it down south is an interesting reaction in itself to a book about race and invisibility, voice and silence, whose central theme is the question of whether anyone out there is actually listening.’19 Set among Glasgow’s Pakistani community, the novel is largely written on a continuum between standard Scottish English and Glaswegian Scots while also performing a visually and stylistically marked multilingualism by incorporating not only Urdu lexis but also fragments of multiple other languages, different font sizes and styles, fragments of Arabic script, capitalisation, upside-down text, right-left reversal of English words, shattered language fragments, as well as images and shreds of maps. Saadi recounts how an anonymous reader for a UK publisher reported of Psychoraag that ‘the use of unusual words and foreign words is a difficulty’ and ‘they seem to be drawn from such a broad range of languages and traditions that their impact and meaning became lost’. Of this, he remarks sardonically:

Signalling acute (partly sexual) anxiety at the dissolution of old boundaries, this kind of response is no less than fundamentalist monocultural rearguard action disguised as a sensible plea for decorum and aptitude.20

Psychoraag is set in an Asian community radio station in Glasgow, Radio Chaandni (‘moonlight radio’), on its final night on air. It follows Zaf, the station’s night-shift DJ, through the last ever broadcast of his Junuune Show (junuune meaning ‘madness, a trance-like state’ according to the novel’s glossary,21 in Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, and Persian), from midnight to 6.00 a.m. Zaf ’s on-air persona is flamboyantly multilingual, mixing Glaswegian Scots and English with a plethora of fragments of other languages, while the novel’s free indirect narration also tacks between English and Glaswegian Scots, with a scattering of languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Gaelic, and Arabic. The night’s hour-by-hour progression is followed chapter-by-chapter, and through Zaf ’s music playlist; yet both the narrative’s linear order and the sequencing of Zaf ’s (p.106) playlist are subject to disruption and doubling throughout the long night of the novel. The narrative travels analeptically to tell the story of Zaf ’s parents’ illicit love affair in Lahore, Pakistan in the late 1950s, and their subsequent journey overland to Glasgow. It is also disrupted by Zaf ’s memories, of his parents and his childhood, but particularly of his relationships – on the one hand, with his current partner Babs, pale, blonde, Galloway-born, and ‘bona fide Scottish, blue and white down to the marrow’,22 and on the other, recalling his Glaswegian-Pakistani ex-girlfriend Zilla and her descent into heroin addiction. The narrative mimics, at times, the psychically disordering effects of absinthe and heroin, both of which Zaf (probably) ingests over the course of the night. Midway through, it splits into two distinct, hallucinatory, parallel narrative realities: one Zaf remaining within the confines of the radio station DJ booth, the other journeying out through the city at night. The novel probes the operations and fissures of race, class, gender, and national and transnational belonging, through a disorientating narrative of linguistic, sensory, and experiential breakdown and recombination.

In the context of the novel’s sometime emphasis on polyglot disorientation and undecidability, it is worth noting Saadi’s perhaps surprising typographic concession to his eventual publisher, the independent Edinburgh-based Chroma, who insisted on the italicising of ‘foreign’ words in the text. In an unmistakeable statement on what counts as ‘native’ and ‘foreign’, switches between Scottish English, Scots, and Gaelic remain unmarked, while romanised Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, and other languages are italicised, so that an endogamous ‘Scottish’ linguistic diversity is typographically marked off from the exogamous or ‘foreign’.23 Nevertheless, the novel’s extensive glossary seems bent, at least in part, on undoing the distinction. Incorporating words and phrases from Scots and Gaelic alongside Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, French, and others, Saadi’s glossary emphasises continuities and resonances between them in a heterogeneous vision of global languaging. Reading through its pages, there is an emphasis on minor or obsolete languages (Basque, Occitan), utopian world-languages, or those that operate across (and threaten) national borders (Esperanto, Mexican Spanish). Nevertheless, as Saadi himself has acknowledged, the inclusion of a glossary also risks being read as a ‘regressive linguistic-political statement’, in terms of what it suggests about the status and the mode (p.107) of reading of a multilingual text.24 However, Psychoraag includes a series of appendices, not only the glossary but also a playlist and a discography, each of which seemingly offers a different hermeneutic key to make sense of the novel’s fragmented narrative, and each of which could be said to raise as many questions as it answers. The playlist reassembles the sequence of music Zaf plays over the course of the night, which becomes increasingly obscure to both the reader and Zaf himself as the novel progresses. Yet its linear chronological sequencing, following the forward temporal motion of the narrative, has no way to account for its analepses and narrative doubling. The alphabetised discography, meanwhile, gives the superficial impression of flicking through Zaf ’s CD collection, yet shorn of any sense of the complex connections and associations that govern his relationship to the music it contains. Similarly, the glossary, while seeming to offer a sense of ‘translatability’ to the narrative, in fact insists on being read and interpreted as a commentary in its own right. In it, the pronounced but reasonably superficial multilingualism that consists in words and phrases scattered through the narrative is given in concentrated form that makes a different, though related, set of points about language. As Saadi himself has argued,

the glossary in Psychoraag represents both a hypertextual, etymological exposition and a creative deviance from the psychological intensity of the narrative itself. For example, hijaab, the Arabic word for a woman’s headscarf (but metaphysically speaking also the term for a protective spiritual ‘covering’) sits next to hijerah, the Urdu word for ‘transvestite’. Similarly, khotay ka lun (Punjabi for ‘you’re a donkey’s prick’) nestles up alongside Khuda hafez, which is Persian/Urdu for ‘God go with you,’ and khuserah, the Urdu term for ‘effeminate homosexual’. I did not intend to be outrageous; these juxtapositions are alphabetical and I have picked them at random. None the less, the effect is subversive and egalitarian: Psychoraag becomes an homage to the work of Diderot’s encyclopedists.25

Saadi here presents Psychoraag’s glossary as a creative endeavour, offering a reading experience that generates its own kind of language politics by partially dissolving ethnolinguistic boundaries in favour of alphabetical contiguity. Both diverting from and reflecting on the narrative itself, it beckons the reader into a backwards-and-forwards (p.108) movement between main narrative and translational paratext, with new meanings being created through relations both of ‘exposition’ and ‘deviance’ between them. Saadi paints the glossary as a heterogeneous and ‘egalitarian’ space of intimate juxtaposition and homophonic ‘nestling’, likened to ‘the work of Diderot’s encyclopedists’.26 The examples Saadi chooses are obviously significant: giving an etymological account of the Arabic ‘hijaab’ – a word which acts as a lightning-rod in mainstream post-9/11 British and European discourses on Islam – while at the same time provocatively underscoring a phonological similarity (and suggesting a ghostly etymological connection) to ‘hijerah’. And yet the glossary also raises discomforting questions. For one thing, how these words ‘nestle up alongside’ each other and seem to resemble one another, inviting readers to suspect spectral etymological relations between unlikely pairs, is itself a function of the glossary’s imposition of the Latin alphabet as an organising principle. The invocation of Diderot also recalls the relationship of European Enlightenment thought to racial thinking (not least in the hands of Scottish Enlightenment philosophers) underpinning slavery and empire, notwithstanding the encyclopedists’ celebratory eclecticism. Even the ‘subversive and egalitarian’ space of Psychoraag’s glossary is, therefore, perhaps not quite what it seems. Its resources include ‘khuserah’, used as a term of abuse by the novel’s violent, hypermasculine Kinnin Park Boys, and translated in the glossary as ‘the Urdu term for “effeminate homosexual”’. A multilingual space is not necessarily, as both the novel’s narrative and its glossary go to suggest, utopian, or even politically progressive.

Psychoraag’s Glasgow, built on the back of the slave trade as Scotland’s first city of industry and empire – therefore globally connected by definition, and a city of immigrants – is correspondingly multilingual to its foundations: the contemporary sounds of Glaswegian Scots, English, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Swahili, and Pashto are continuous with the polyphony of ghostly voices from its past.27 Glasgow is ‘haunted’, not just by the mythic figures of Scottishness (‘the Young Pretender and all that’, ‘Rabbie Burns’) but by the Empire that built the city, global from the start: the ‘Tobacco Barons’, the ‘great sailin ships which had been built by the bonnie banks of the Clyde’, and ‘the sound of marchin boots. The seventy wars of the British Empire which had been fought with Scottish soldiery in the van’.28 Listening to the city, Zaf can hear the long-ago Irish Gaelic songs of the navvies who built much of (p.109) Glasgow, which ‘still slunk about the walls – they had been intoned so often in strange, polyphonic choruses that their notes had become inspissated into the grains’, and the voices of Jewish immigrants, with their ‘fading, twirling mazurkas’.29 Reversing Herderian romantic nationalist understandings of language as an emanation of a specific place and landscape, Zaf imagines languages becoming ‘inspissated’ where they are spoken, their words and rhythms embedding in and altering the city’s very material fabric. Saadi’s Glasgow is multi-voiced, imagined via the polyphonic crackle of radio transmission; as Zaf observes, ‘the whole thing wis one big hi-fi system’.30 Both transmitter and receiver in global flows of language, the city’s multilingualism is at the same time highly localised. The language of the Scottish Pakistani ‘Kinnin Park Boys’, for example – a gang of violent criminals and savvy entrepreneurs, whose fathers took over from the Kinning Park area’s Protestant sectarian ‘Orange gangs’ in the 1980s – bears the traces of unacknowledged, transnational histories of working-class experience:

They were the sons and grandsons ae the kisaan who had powered the buses, the underground trains, the machines of the sweatshop underwear-manufacturers. … [T]hey had clothed the lily-white bodies of whole generations of Scots and then, later, they had filled their stomachs too. You eat what you are. If that was the case, then Glasgae wis Faisalabad a hundred times over. But their sons and daughters had gone in the opposite direction and become Scots. Right down to their gangs and their dancin and their chip-bhatti sahib footba tops, they had sipped of the waters of the Clyde and had become cold killers. And they were swearin at him and Ruby in a mixture of Glaswegian and Faisalabadi.

  • Maa di pudhi!’
  • ‘Fuckin gandu!’
  • ‘Oh, chholae!’
  • Teri maa di lun!’31

The history of Glasgow’s transformation through Pakistani culture is quite literally submerged – underground, beneath Glaswegians’ clothes and in their bellies – while, in an equally unacknowledged set of processes, Pakistani culture has been remade through the filter of Glaswegianness. Along the way, two working-class urban speech forms, Glaswegian Scots and Faisalabad-inflected Urdu, have been (p.110) transnationally recombined, together with ‘stock phrases’ from ‘East Coast gangsta’ culture and American films.32 The outcome, however, is no kind of liberating hybridity, but a hyper-masculine vernacular in which the oppressive codes of a localised white working-class urban Scots – that of the ‘Orange gangs’ of Kinning Park – are mixed with Urdu homophobic and misogynistic obscenities and the ‘stock phrases’ of an implicitly violent, sexist, commodified strand of US culture. Thus for all its transnational, polyglot, apparently improvisatory nature, this is a form of language which splices codes that are equally regressive in compensating for marginalisation through an aggressive masculinity, and which offers a brutal riposte to any easy celebratory account of multilingualism as necessarily progressive.

Zaf himself, Glasgow-born, has ‘never learned his own mother tongue’, Punjabi: ‘not properly so that he would have been able to converse in it, to construct meanin from chaos’.33 His parents, speaking Punjabi between themselves, used English with him ‘except when they were angry or upset or when they had forgotten’.34 In this he resembles other Saadi protagonists, like Sal in ‘Ninety-Nine Kissograms’, who speaks a Glasgow Scots interspersed with Urdu, which he can’t read, and is baffled by the English he encounters in Pakistan which is ‘pretty meaningless. A kind ae jumbled-up mix ae auld colonial-speak and Amrikan Gangsta talk’.35 The living antithesis of the supposedly linguistically unified, self-identical speaking subject, fully ‘at home’ neither in English nor in Punjabi, Zaf articulates his own self-understanding through the motif of musical sampling: ‘He liked samples, felt comfortable with them. He was a sample of Pakistan, thrown at random into Scotland, into its myths. And, in Lahore, he had felt like a sample of Glasgow’.36 At a willed level, Zaf ’s is a playful linguistic polymorphism: languages are resources from which he is free to sample at will, and he self-consciously opposes monologisms of all kinds, whether the supposedly unassailable purity of ‘standard English’, the hermeticism of certain strands of Scots nationalism, or the ‘people who live in halaal universes’ as means to stave off the fear of change.37 In his on-air radio persona, calling himself ‘the man ae a thoosand tongues’, he greets his listeners in a surfeit of languages:

Hi there, (p.111) samaeen. Sat sri akaal, namaste ji, salaam alaikum. Bonjour, Buongiorno, Subax wanaagsan, Nee-haa, Günaydin, Buenos días, Dobro jutro, Làbas rytas, Bom dia, Mirëmëngjes, Guten morgen, Maidin mhaith dhuit, Molo, Boker tov, Shubh subah, Kalai vanakkam, Go Eun A Chim. Hiya in fifty thousand tongues! Zero wan five or five meenuts past wan. Bet ye thought Ah wis skimmin doon a phrase book. But, naw, you’d be wrong. Ah’ve goat loads ae tongues in ma heid – thu’re aw there, wagglin away, almost singin. A babble.38

Zaf ’s multilingual performance here is characteristically ambivalent. On the one hand, branching out from Punjabi, Hindi, and Arabic, he offers greetings in the languages of the city’s immigrant communities old and new, from Hebrew to Somali, Irish to Albanian, beaming out a vision of polyglot Glasgow over the airwaves, which, he tells his listeners, corresponds to the ‘babble’ of the ‘tongues in ma heid’. On the other, Zaf ’s ‘fifty thousand tongues’ represent a multilingualism of the surface that can progress no further than saying ‘hiya’: a market-friendly, unthreatening performance of Glasgow’s inclusivity. It is, in this sense, cut from much the same cloth as the rumoured new ‘“Commonwealth Tartan” that anyone could wear, a pretty blue-and-white woollen skin to wrap around yourself at football matches’.39 His on-air persona both ironises and at times flirts with this kind of superficial, self-congratulatory Scottish ‘multiculturalism’.

Zaf revels in the flamboyant performativity of his on-air multilingualism, and draws attention to its commodified artificiality: ‘Hey, wu’re multilingual oan this station’, he tells his listeners: ‘Polyethylene ethnic’.40 Even his on-air Glaswegian Scots is not strictly ‘authentic’: he slips into and out of it, adopting it as part of his radio performance. He is playfully neologistic: ‘Farangoid’, he portmanteau-terms his lifestyle, which is too much like that of a farangi/white man to please his mother; with deliberately doubled heresy, he coins the hybrid ‘Wahabi Calvinist’ to denote a mindset antithetical to the idea of hybridity.41 Yet Zaf ’s carefully curated multilingualism and language-play does not always seem fully under his control. When he announces ‘Ah’m Zaf-Zaf-Zaf and Ah’m yer ghost. Host, Ah mean, host’, the partial erasure of ‘host’ by ‘ghost’ lends a spectral flimsiness to his exuberant on-air persona.42 Later, drunk on absinthe, his English words begin a kind of disorderly breakdown: ‘I just felt a bit faint. Must be that drink. That buggery blue stuff – green, I mean. Mean I green. Whatever’.43 While his omnivorous language practices serve to disrupt apparent (p.112) distinctions between authenticity and artifice, they are shot through with the confusion, anxiety, and contradiction which mark his interior world. His use of Glaswegian Scots, for example, is worn as a badge of solidarity with his listeners, but it is also a protectively self-ironising performance of class that is kept carefully separate from the rest of his linguistic praxis. Off-air, Glasgow Scots is a source of shame to him: inadvertently slipping ‘intae a broad Glaswegian’, he immediately feels ‘like kickin himself in the shins’.44 Later he admonishes himself, ‘Get yerself thegether! Get yourself together, straighten out your words, down among the lush chords’: in Zaf ’s mind the ‘straight’ words, the proper words, are English.45 He is keenly self-conscious about how race is ‘heard’ in language – to borrow Rey Chow’s terms, he is acutely tuned to the ‘tones’ which signify both the visual and the acoustic dimensions of racialisation.46 At one point, on air, he is tempted to use a ‘fake Indian accent’; later, listening to his mother’s Punjabi-accented English, he finds ‘he had constantly to resist the temptation to stereotype’ her.47 This racialised self-consciousness about voice is further complicated by Zaf ’s sense of the voicelessness of Pakistanis within Scotland and more widely in Britain, in which Pakistan is not only seen as ‘completely differently’ from the rest of Asia (notably, from India) but ‘most of the time, it wasn’t seen at all’. It is ‘perceived as bein a repository of the dirty, the oppressed, the smelly, the cunning and the inscrutable’, its people ‘pictured as nameless, liquid hordes that would pour in’.48 Above all, ‘Pakistanis had remained completely inaudible. They had no music, no voice, no breath’.49 Zaf ’s internalised racism is spliced with misogyny in his negatively distorted and often highly racialised and sexualised view of his ex-girlfriend Zilla: ‘like a tree charred black by lightning’, she ‘could’ve been an Asian Babe if she’d wanted but she’d had other demons to ride’.50 Zilla is a silenced presence in the novel: as Pittin-Hedon notes, she is ‘a figure of the suppressed, inaudible voice’, whose final emergence into the narrative, in a violent, hallucinatory sex scene, ‘provokes an explosion of language, which scatters words on the page as so much shrapnel’.51 By contrast, Zaf idealises his white Scottish girlfriend Babs as embodying a full relationship between language and subjectivity: she ‘never had to think before she felt, before she spoke. The words just came out like a river – clear and rushin and confident. He envied that’.52 He associates Babs with a romanticised, putatively authentic Scottishness rooted in language and land, with (p.113) ‘clarsach spaces and bodhrán mountains, unchangin in their unimaginable antiquity’.53

Zaf ’s intermittent fantasies about linguistic and racial purity are projected, though, against a backdrop of languages endlessly and promiscuously recombining. The novel puts into circulation almost every conceivable permutation of multilingualism: quotidian language-mixing, high modernist polyphony, commodified linguistic exoticism, official celebrations of ‘diversity’, in a city which has never not been multilingual to its core. Meanwhile, at the levels of analogy and metaphor, Psychoraag explores radical possibilities for linguistic recombination and connectivity, particularly in relation to the practices and formal properties of music. Sampling – in which recorded sound is approached as a sequence of disarticulatable components which may be appropriated, recontextualised, and layered into new sound sequences – is a governing metaphor in the novel. Insofar as it involves retaining dim resonances of its source recording, a ‘ghostly aurality’ left over from one sequence as it is repurposed into another, sampling both plays on and self-consciously distorts the idea of ‘original’ signification.54 Sampling in Saadi’s novel stands for the never-authentic, for languages and identities fragmenting, travelling, and recombining into complex new structures in a postcolonial, globalised present. This is true, too, of the musical technique of counterpoint, which Saadi takes as a structuring principle for the novel’s contrapuntal narrative: counterpoint refers to the polyphonic relationship between voices that differ from each other rhythmically and melodically, while working together harmonically, combining into a whole distinct from, and greater than, the sum of their parts. Both sampling and counterpoint stand as metaphors for how different forms of language, pulled into relation with one another, become subject to constant, improvisatory recombination into new forms.55

Over the course of one long, hot Glasgow summer’s night, Zaf plays an eclectic mix of vocal tracks on his radio show, with an emphasis on unexpected fusions and connections, and spanning ‘the whole of recording history’.56 He begins with the 1990s British Asian political punk-electronica of Asian Dub Foundation, going on to play everything from 1960s American psychedelic folk to the Beatles and the Yardbirds, to Scottish folk and Glaswegian indie rock, to Bollywood playback artists, to Algerian raï, back to the earliest, turn-of-the-twentieth-century (p.114) recordings of Indian tawaif singers. While the novel’s playlist and discography give chronological and alphabetical order respectively to its musical contents, Saadi’s narrative itself is concerned with the distorting, disruptive, space-annihilating, time-bending properties of sound recording, playback, and broadcast technology. Sometimes tracks blend into one another, overlap, or emerge in multiple versions; at certain moments, it becomes unclear whether they are playing forwards or backwards. Music and language provide extensions of one another in the novel’s insistently heteroglot exploration of the power of fragmentation and recombination.

The novel’s interest in fragmentation and recombination over notions of purity and wholeness plays out, too, in typographic and visual–textual experimentation and bricolage. These strategies disrupt the apparent linear transparency of the novel’s text and, specifically, they seem to offer a fleeting equivalence in the English text to the experience of multilingual disruption – for example in right-left reversal which makes English conform momentarily to the directionality of written Arabic, Urdu, and Hebrew. The association of these typographic techniques to the methods and concerns of Euro-American modernism is self-consciously evident. At one point, for example, Zaf plays Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a piece of music associated more than any other with high modernism. The music is apt, in a section of the novel that concerns itself with women’s sacrifice, but the reference is oblique: Zaf himself cannot remember what the piece is called (readers will need to consult the playlist at the back of the book to find out), never mind what it is about. Instead, he improvises a title, calling the piece ‘Ode to my Father’:57

It wis classical – Western classical. Some kind of polytonal thing. Modern. Well, not more than a hundred years old, at most. That wis modern. … The swirlin wind produced by the instruments would have been strong enough to have blown the iron needle right out of its groove, even the strongest of the dancers off the stage, the night clean out of its time.58

Zaf ’s response to the power of the music captures its sense of ‘newness’ anew, extracted from its long-standing high modernist associations. At the same time it samples, in the word ‘iron’, T. S. Eliot’s famous review (p.115) of the Rite, with its commentary on the impact of new technology on perception:

[I]t did seem to transform the rhythm of the steppes into the scream of the motor horn, the rattle of machinery, the grind of wheels, the beating of iron and steel, the roar of the underground railway, and the other barbaric cries of modern life; and to transform these despairing noises into music.59

Euro-American modernism, in other words, is subject to the kind of improvisation and recombination signalled by the raag of the novel’s title – a South Asian musical form distinguished, as Saadi’s glossary defines it, by the ‘interplay of prescribed melodic movement and on-the-spot composition’.60 Modernism’s polyphonic models provide important intertexts for Psychoraag’s multilingualism (the novel repeatedly evokes James Joyce, in particular Ulysses),61 but only as elements in a constellation of works of multilingual art to which it responds – for example the early Calcutta sound recordings of Armenian Indian tawaif singer Gauhar Jan:

The impossibly distant and yet somehow knowing voice of Gauhar Jan, singer-songwriter and polylingual diva, lasered out from Deck A, through the twisted metal of the Radio Chaandni Community Asian Radio Station, out into the cracks of the dawn and beyond. ‘Bhairavi’. The vocal cords of Erevan transplanted to Kolkata and the brass horns and thick wax of the Gramophone and Typewriter Company.

It seemed as though the words were issuin from several of Gauhar Jan’s eleven languages at once. But, more than that, the singin style wis archaic, open throated, somethin from the deep past that lay beyond livin memory. Voices which only the insane could hear, issuin from the trees. Voices strainin with the bonded freedom of words and convention. Wild voices.62

Zaf hears in Gauhar Jan’s singing voice something which goes beyond sense or signification. The song is incomprehensible to him not because it is not linguistic, but because it represents an excess of language – ‘several of Gauhar Jan’s eleven languages at once’ – in which meaning (p.116) is transcended by the voice as sound. Polyphonic and plurilingual to the point of incomprehensibility, it is singing which, to use Mladen Dolar’s terms,

[B]rings the voice energetically to the forefront, on purpose, at the expense of meaning. … Singing takes the distraction of voice seriously, and turns the tables on the signifier; it reverses the hierarchy – let the voice take the upper hand, let the voice be the bearer of what cannot be expressed by words.63

In Zaf ’s interpretation, this voice seems able to go beyond language, to travel in time and space, to cross the boundaries between human and non-human nature – even if this transcendence is ultimately illusory. As he himself acknowledges, voice may ‘strain’ for freedom but ultimately remains ‘bonded’ to language.64

What is significant is not only the sound of Gauhar Jan’s ‘wild voices’ themselves, but their survival and reproducibility, through the material processes of sound recording and reproduction, from ‘brass horns and thick wax’ to laser disc, and the capacity of radio broadcasting to transmit them, a century after their recording and thousands of miles away, ‘out into the cracks of the dawn and beyond’. Radio transmission is capable, in the novel, of crossing distances of time as well as space: voices of the past cross over with songs yet to be played. Across the airwaves, sounds meld, distort, and recombine while at the same time, it is often implied, none ever truly disappear:

Well, let me ask ye this: Whit happens tae a particular wavelength aifter a radio station hus stopped usin it? Where dae aw the wurds go? Eh? Does it jis fade away or does it refuse tae disappear? Does it grab the invisible air an take oan a life ae its ane so that, even aifter the radio station’s door hus been closed an bolted, the voice goes oan?65

In such endless, multidirectional flows, relations of speaker and addressee, transmitter and receiver are not straightforward. Zaf, hearing his own voice ‘falling deep into the night’, ‘over the airwaves, spiralling into the darkness of space’, wonders whether anyone is actually listening; at other times, he fantasises about reversing the direction of flow: ‘Ah’ll put my ear up tae the mike. Don’t all answer at wance’.66 (p.117) Voices transmitted via the radio are fragile – they may be lost to static, and tuning to a particular frequency can easily slip. As the narrative travels analeptically to the moment of Zaf ’s parents’ first meeting in 1950s Lahore, a radio emits a sub-audible hum in the background:

Over in one corner, in the window recess, the Bakelite volume control on a wooden radio had been turned down just after he arrived. But, though it had not been switched off, it seemed to have lost its tuning because he was sure that, underneath everything, he could make out the low, dissonant sound of static.67

Right at the end of the novel, the same old valve radio sits in Zaf ’s father’s hospital room:

[Zaf] tried again and, this time, the set began to emit a low-pitched hum. A faint green light began to glow from behind the glass of the frontage, began to illuminate the tables that ran vertically over its surface and which delineated the frequency wavebands all the way from Thirteen Meters to Long Wave, from the Light Programme to Tangier to Kalundberg, Ankara, Tel Aviv, Tehran and then back again to the Third Programme. And, unmarked, somewhere out over the dark ocean, the remembered voices of Lahore, Karachi, Delhi, Agra. Most of the stations on Jamil Ayaan’s radio were long defunct and the wavelengths, which they once had occupied, were now filled with the bark and chatter, the strange burzakh hyper-speak of the disc jockeys with their rhythm-heavy fanfares.68

This radio stands both for lost communication and for the possibility of its coming into being. The sound of static is ‘dissonant’: lacking musicality, made up of multiple, discordant sub-sounds. It is unsettling, unmelodious, and without meaning; yet it also signifies an open channel along which a new signal might be transmitted. On the radio voices are lost, but may also be found. At the novel’s end, it is through the radio that Zaf seeks to communicate with his father, who is lost in dementia. Entering his father’s linguistic realm, in which past and present merge and in which individuated selves lose their borders, he sings in his father’s Punjabi and in the voice of his long-lost brother Qaisar:

(p.118) Zaf turned the volume up to full, pushed the fade switch back as far as it would go and then some. Leaned forwards into the microphone. Whispered. Sang. ‘Haa ji, Papa. Qaisar hai.’69

These are the final words of Saadi’s novel: suspended in the act of travelling towards their intended recipient. Amid Psychoraag’s hyper-trophic whirl of signs and patterns, of crisscrossing systems of meaning, it is in fact never clear whether any act of communication is successful. At one level, undoubtedly, the novel is driven by the urge to interpret, translate, communicate, and make knowable – for example through the relationship between main narrative and glossary. In counterpoint, however, it suspends the circuits of communication: voices circulate without being sure of reaching their hearers, or of being understood if they do so. It also thereby, and perhaps more profoundly, dramatises a surrender to unknowing, to the inability to understand, as a locus of a different kind of revelation. Thus, as Zaf plays the Algerian raï of singer Chaba Fadela, for example, and attempts to continue annotating his increasingly illegible playlist,

his writin resembled a hermeneutic form of shorthand, a kind of hidden Hebrew or mibbee a revealed Arabic. The syncopated quarter-tones of Chaba Fadela’s voice cut in Kufic across the mornin, words transfigured from stone to music to air. It wis a duet with Cheb Sahraoui – a call-and-response thing – and, after a few bars, it became hard to distinguish between words and instrumentation so that the whole was like a flat-woven kilim or a rough woollen prayer rug. … And, somehow, this song, this risin, lyrical piece of raï, whose words Zaf had no hope of understandin, seemed to penetrate his brain, the muscles of his limbs, the lengthenin rubric of his bones, so that he felt, liftin inside him, the urge to dance or, at least, to move about, to do somethin purely physical. To abrogate his mind, his voice, and simply to lose himself in the Rif Berber fractals of the Maghrebian night.70

The recording Zaf plays is, first of all, a commodity in a global marketplace: Fadela’s 1983 ‘N’sel Fik (You Are Mine)’, sung with her then-husband Cheb Sahraoui, was one of the first raï records to become an international hit, via the Euro-American music industry’s marketing of so-called ‘world music’. In common with the majority of the track’s (p.119) audience as it travels globally, Zaf is a listener for whom the meaning of its Arabic lyrics is inaccessible. Excluded from the song at the level of linguistic signification, his experience – just as with Stravinsky’s Rite – dwells instead on its sounds, and the spiralling, ultimately uninterpretable connections between systems of meaning which they convey to him. The textual ‘hermeneutic shorthand’ of Hebrew and Arabic blends with the musical ‘syncopated quarter-tones’ of Fadela’s voice, whose words Zaf imagines as Kufic: an angular, calligraphic Arabic script, carved in stone, ‘transfigured’ by her voice from ‘stone to music to air’. Unable to understand the meaning of the words, to Zaf the human voices and instrumentation become indistinguishable parts of an acoustic field which, in turn, is likened to ‘a flat-woven kilim or a rough woollen prayer rug’ – material objects which, in fact, also possess their own intricate systems of signification. The excess of meaning in this passage, from the carving of Kufic to the rubric of bones, beckons both Zaf and the reader towards an intricately networked decoding. Yet at the same time, their effect on Zaf is in fact the transcendence of meaning and a kind of sublime, synaesthetic surrender, abrogating ‘his mind, his voice’ and calling him ‘simply to lose himself in the Rif Berber fractals of the Maghrebian night’.

This comes close to a fantasy of what Doris Sommer has characterised as the multilingual sublime: an experience of linguistic and cultural difference that is truly ‘foreign, even fearsome’.71 Moving beyond the fear or paralysis of being overwhelmed by difference, Sommer’s sublime constitutes an ethical adjustment not only towards acceptance, but towards the pleasure of being unsettled by what one does not know or understand: a ‘disturbing sublime’ which offers ‘more intense effects than does easily lovable beauty’ and ‘a thrill of survival close to catharsis’.72 Such a move, Sommer argues, is an ethical necessity under global capitalism, dependent on flows of migrant labour, yet haunted by ‘the fear of losing control, given the spectres of violence, scarce resources, or just clogged institutions’. Facing the challenge, and the perceived threat, of difference and incomprehension, Sommer argues that by cultivating a disposition of willingness, even of welcome, towards that which one doesn’t understand,

the enormity that makes any one of us feel small might look inviting, if we developed a taste for the sublime. On reflection, society would (p.120) exceed any individual imagination; the complexities would excite awe and contemplation and our only partial understanding would safeguard the modesty that democracy depends on.73

The jumping-off point for this unsettling, vertiginous experience of the ‘multilingual’ is, in Zaf ’s case, a commodified piece of ‘world music’ which he is still able to experience in all of its strangeness. Multilingualism’s radical possibilities are not, therefore, exclusive to an elite and rarefied field of art, nor can they be kept pristine from the operations of capital. Psychoraag’s insistence on staging and restaging multilingualism – in music, art, in the sounds of an ordinary street, in conversations and radio transmission, in glib celebrations of multiculturalism, in nationalist or institutionalised forms – is intentionally overwhelming. Linguistic diversity is fundamental, in the novel’s imaginary, not only to the formation of individual subjectivity, nor to comprehending contemporary Glasgow, but also to an understanding of the world-system of which they are both products. In Glasgow, as synecdoche for urban late modernity, forms of language mix and combine in a constellation of ways, while opening up new ways of making meaning for the polyglot late-modern urban subject.74

Saadi’s novel expresses an experience of language as fully prosthetic: ‘impermanent, detachable, and (ex)changeable’.75 On the one hand, Zaf experiences the alienating insight which Derrida presents us with – that not just ‘the language’, but any language, can never ‘be mine’; on the other, he discovers the enabling capability of having access to all language, beyond any nativist claim to ownership. Faced with a whole world of language, endlessly interchangeable, Psychoraag suggests there may be (at least) two responses, beyond a withdrawal in nativist fear. The first is Zaf ’s perpetual longing to interpret, even to be able to say, everything, that manifests as a kind of madness – the paranoia of finding hidden meanings everywhere, the pandictic drive to speak in ‘a thousand tongues’. The second is a kind of surrender to alterity without the comfort of a glossary: a surrender to not knowing, Sommer’s ‘multilingual sublime’. In Saadi’s version of the global contemporary, viewed from Glasgow’s semi-peripheral vantage point, incomprehension and partial understanding become, increasingly, dimensions of everyday life. Global capitalism may seek to neutralise the radical potential of rapidly recombining and shifting multilingualism but it also makes (p.121) it inevitable – in ceaseless flows of migration, driven by the demands of capital, and in the global flows that accompany and drive each new technological innovation in cultural reproduction. Overturning Euro-American modernism’s sometime elitism, Saadi reclaims popular and commodified cultural forms for his omnivorous multilingualism, while pointing to the marginal vantage points – on grounds of class, race, Scottishness – from which the dynamics of language, denaturalised, become most clearly visible.

Incoming: Raman Mundair’s voices

In June 2019, as part of Refugee Festival Scotland, Raman Mundair produced an installation the Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow titled ‘Sow, Reap and Slowly Savour’. Thinking about how words and foods are borne across borders, ‘sown’ and ‘reaped’, Mundair invited women of colour and women with experience of the UK immigration and asylum system to take part by making a table place setting for another woman, to participate in the sharing of a meal, and to contribute to the sound installation by reflecting on language, food, and eating.76 In a characteristic move, this most recent project of Mundair’s thinks about food and language in terms of histories and legacies, as things carried with us and as things to be shared, layered, and combined; neither fully interior nor fully exterior, like the mouth itself, where ingestion and utterance both take place. One of the resulting works of sound art, ‘Mu Vich, Ajeeb Jeeb – In my Mouth, Strange and Curious Tongue’, sequences and layers women’s voices speaking languages including Punjabi, Hindi, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay, and English.77 Another recording, ‘Losing my Tongue’, reflects on the ‘emotional puzzle’ of relating to languages of home which you no longer speak fluently.78 As Mundair reflects in a Facebook post about the project:

I lost many things through forced migration, including language – I lost my mother tongue. Schooling in the UK compounded this and in my father’s house, for various reasons, I never had the opportunity to learn my languages except by ear. This meant that I often made errors. I still do. My language in/abilities give me away. These in/ abilities demonstrate that I am different in every context. They speak to my split tongue, double tongued, strange tongued existence.79

(p.122) In a motif which stretches right across Mundair’s work, in repeated scenes of articulation, ‘tongues’ are both lost and gained. The ‘melancholic’ rupture and displacement associated with ‘losing your mother tongue’ recurs, as a loss of ‘harmonious relation’ to language.80 But this nostalgic, and even nativist, way of thinking about language is encountered, nevertheless, alongside assertions of language as a ‘found object’ open to use without claim to pure origins or native belonging.81

As will probably already be obvious, ‘tongue’ is much more than a metaphor in Mundair’s work. The body is the site where language is produced, and her poetry often finds mouths or tongues struggling to shape themselves to unfamiliar language, like the child learning English in ‘Name Journeys’, whose mouth must ‘toil … to accommodate the rough musicality of Mancunian vowels’.82 The child in ‘Name Journeys’ may resemble Mundair herself, who was born in Ludhiana, India and learned English after moving to Manchester, England at the age of five. A poet, playwright, and multimedia artist, as an adult she has lived and worked in India and Sweden, as well as Scotland, where she has largely been based since 2002 – mostly in Shetland, Scotland’s northernmost islands. In the ‘about the author’ section which concludes Mundair’s first poetry collection, Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves (2003), she describes her movement between languages via a characteristically uncanny image:

My journey started in India, where I left for England in my early years, my tongue flowing with Punjabi and Hindi. Having washed up upon these shores my first generation self grew … immersed in a foreign tongue until memories of my umbilical tongue became diluted.83

This passage is in many ways emblematic of how language figures in Mundair’s poetry. On one level, it courts a vision that rests on origins and ruptures: an original ease and facility, ‘tongue flowing’ with language, deposed through migration and entry into ‘a foreign tongue’. On another, the ‘umbilical tongue’ both literalises and makes weird the idea of the ‘mother tongue’ as being that which connects us to the body of the mother – while Mundair also refrains from declaring which, Punjabi or Hindi, the phrase refers to. As Yasemin Yildiz points out, the idea of the ‘mother tongue’ grounds a whole complex of ideas (p.123) which have the deepest purchase on modern concepts of language. The ‘mother tongue’ is primary articulation, first loyalty, one’s real language, rooted in a one-to-one relationship between language and self that originates with the mother. As Yildiz puts it, the term ‘constitutes a condensed narrative about origin and identity’, in which ‘[t]he manufactured proximity between “mother” and “tongue” stages the fantasy … that the mother tongue emanates from the mother’s body’.84

These are ideas which form a subtext to the opening sequence of Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves, rich as they are in images of mothers, tongues, and scenes of articulation. Poems about a young child’s experiences growing up in India – rendering in English an early childhood experienced in Punjabi – proceed to poems about a child’s traumatic and dislocating journey from Punjabi into English. Through the course of these poems Mundair seem to both court and disavow the idea of a straightforward relationship to original (linguistic) beginnings. In ‘Osmosis’, a girl-child’s first expressions of sensual pleasure are rendered in an English scattered with Punjabi, just as ingredients ‘fall like angels’ into her mother’s cooking:

  • Watching sweet, fragrant
  • methay fall like angels
  • into the paraat,
  • knowing that soon there will be
  • fresh parathay with methay inside
  • and ghee melting
  • into its crevices,
  • and dhai, served in small metal bowls
  • with indentations that sing
  • like steel musical drums85

The insertion of individual, romanised Punjabi words for food proffers a quite conventional kind of multilingualism as exotic surface effect, italicised as a flickering visual marker of difference; but these soon give way to something more complex as the pleasure of food, and the pleasure of the sounds of Punjabi, seem to anchor the child’s inchoate longings which are directed towards her mother’s body. In a poem full of images of things inside other things, she presses her face to the ‘special place’ between her mother’s legs, ‘where scent roots me | and leaves me with desires | of burying myself deep inside’: a longing to literally (p.124) return to where she’s come from, back to her own original source, but also a sexual awakening in which her mother’s body is that of a woman, not her own. Tellingly, the poem concludes with her mother lovingly shooing her from her lap and telling her to ‘go and play’: there is no judgement here, but nor is there the option of return. The speaker in ‘The Folds of my Mother’s Sari’, meanwhile, recalls how the first milk to pass her lips as an infant was, by ‘custom’, ‘not my mother’s own’:

  • A neighbour took
  • my sultana body
  • and coaxed my lips
  • to clamp aroused
  • around my first object of desire.86

In place of an initiating moment of plenitude and oneness with the mother, or the mother tongue, the poem subversively stages its primal scene of orality as that of encounter with and desire for what is different from the self, and the site of a queer longing. Mundair’s poems do not look back towards a lost relationship to anything that might once have been the mother tongue, but they also in any case foreclose any possibility of easy return. The speaker’s father’s village, revisited in adulthood, has been decimated by industrial decline and outward migration, and stands for a ravaged and disconnected family in which ‘remnants of my childhood self ’ are ‘trunked into a musty, shuttered | room’ where ‘the trunk has been prised | many times in my absence’.87

The sequence proceeds to poems that narrate a traumatic and dislocating journey from Punjabi into English. In ‘Name Journeys’, the act of entering into English takes place inside mouths: in the speaker’s mouth, which loses Punjabi like ‘milk teeth’ and which ‘toil[s] to accommodate | the rough musicality of Mancunian vowels’, and in ‘English mouths’, filled by her name with a ‘stumble’, ‘a discordant rhyme’. Both her voice and her name are stripped of ‘history and memory’ by the move into an alien English, into ‘the Anglo echo chamber’ in which one’s voice comes back distorted. The loss of Punjabi like ‘milk teeth’ evokes it as a loss of that ‘first object of desire’ that originally filled her mouth with milk. At the same time, it also possesses a sense of retrospective inevitability: like ‘milk teeth’, Punjabi is a relic of childhood, but also like milk teeth, it has been acquired only to be lost.88 This impermanent (p.125) image recalls Chow’s claim that the traumatic experience of enforced linguistic transit is one which reveals all language to be prosthetic. In ‘Refractions’, even more starkly, the speaker is caught between forms of language, none of which offer any kind of linguistic homeliness, in the communicative labyrinth of trying ‘to assimilate’. Her internal language world is ‘fused into a calcified | internal loop-de-loop’, made up of half-remembered rhymes and phrases of ‘broken | Punjabi jammed Bollywood Hindi’. Learning to speak English, meanwhile, is like a stripping and flaying, a ‘willing’, racialised self-brutalising of mouth and voice:

  • I lend myself bleached,
  • Willing to the bone-raw,
  • Blistered voice
  • Unused to dialogue

English – ironised as a set of ‘survival essentials’ – reduces her to empty, pleading, and stilted repetitions:

  • Thank you Thank you
  • Very much Very much
  • Please Please
  • Sorry, so sorry …
  • Is this the queue?

This jagged, broken-up syntax moves the speaking ‘I’ towards her own dissolution: ‘How do you say | I think I do not exist?’89 Later poems retain a lingering sense of language as both embodied and racialised, of the ‘bleachedness’ of English. In ‘The Meeting Point’, for example, the speaker travels to Canada to meet her lover, who urges her to ask for a glass of water in a fast food outlet ‘in my “nice British accent”’. Wryly, she continues: ‘I did, and for the first time ever | my Black Britishness was rewarded’.90

As Mundair’s poetry insistently emphasises, language is visceral, it happens in bodies: bodies articulate language, and language is experienced in the body. Countering a disembodied ideal of language as neutral medium or unquestionably inner property, she stages scenes of speaking and listening which consider articulation and audition as material, embodied acts. Experimenting with the placing of listeners’ (p.126) bodies in relation to the sounds of a human voice, the 2005 Leicester Art Gallery installation ‘A Choreographer’s Cartography’ played a recording of Mundair’s eponymous poem read in three different voices, in English and in Punjabi translation, through three different speakers at different points in the room, so that the audience heard it differently depending on where they stood.91 In ‘Apnea’, the second of Mundair’s 2003 triptych of short films made with the film-maker Lotte Petronella, a Scottish man’s voice whispers the lyrics to the Beatles’ ‘Ticket to Ride’. Shorn of musicality, it becomes the menacing, self-pitying monologue of a controlling lover on his partner’s attempts to break free of his grasp, its whispered tones insisting on an unwelcome, closely confiding intimacy with the listener.92

In 2002, Mundair became Scottish Arts Council Writer in Residence for the Shetland Islands, and she has been based in Scotland, and off and on in Shetland, ever since.93 Her second collection, A Choreographer’s Cartography (2007), includes a sequence of poems in Shetland Scots, a form of language she has also used in other work – for example her contribution to Archipelagos: Writing the North (2014).94 The choice of Shetland Scots, a peripheral form of a peripheral form, ‘minoritised’ with respect to Lowland Scots, which is literarily and culturally dominant over Highlands and Islands varieties even as it is marginalised by English, is a pragmatic response to local circumstances – Shetland is where Mundair lives – but also an act of linguistic prosthesis with particular political implications.95 As Roderick Watson observes of poets who choose to write in an adopted Scots or Gaelic, such acts ‘may have local roots’, but also embody a wider minoritarian politics, as a wilful gesture of resistance to ‘the increasingly global domination of English’:

There may be a more intimate motivation, too, whereby the shift to another language has also led to an untying of the tongue. … It is language, after all, that creates the subject, not vice versa, and to write in Gaelic or Scots (given that the medium is also the message) is to commit to a vision of self and the world that is simultaneously assertive and provisional, even perhaps embattled, and always already under threat of neglect, erasure or even extinction. And for some writers this has been like coming home.96

For Mundair, the estranging move into Shetland Scots has a precedent in the estranging move into English and, before that even, the (p.127) estranging move into Punjabi – ‘coming home’ to a kind of language that is as much home as any other. The move enacts a self-translation away from English’s global dominance into a linguistically minoritarian identity, while at the same time challenging Shetland Scots’ associations with linguistic nativism by an assertive act to embrace the provisional and estranged nature of all language.

In the opening short poem prelude to her sequence concerned with Shetland in A Choreographer’s Cartography, ‘60º North’, Mundair writes:

  • You swallowed my tongue
  • left me fantin,
  • without voice,
  • Now I look
  • for my tongue
  • in other people’s mouths.

Read against Mundair’s earlier work, the poem invites reading in relation to the linguistic dislocation that takes place in the ‘Anglo echo chamber’ and stakes a postcolonial claim on the right to new tongues. But it is also a reflection on the nature of linguistic commons – as well as a comment on the polymorphous erotics of multilingualism, or the intimacy of using another(’s) language, for who but a lover could ‘swallow … my tongue’? The speaker is left ‘fantin’, Shetland Scots for hungry or starving: a hunger that craves new languages to break its silence. Playing on orality in all its senses to consider language’s intrinsically interactional nature, Mundair coins an uncanny image of linguistic collectivity in which one’s tongue has to be found ‘in other people’s mouths’. Thus the poem is suggestive of what may broadly be said about language – that it is both highly intimate and yet never strictly ours, in the sense that it always comes from somewhere else – as well as asserting the poet’s particular right, as one already alienated from her ‘own’ language, to escape silence by adopting new tongues.

Linguistic nativism, against which the above poem asserts its right to claim a new tongue, is by no means the sole preserve of majoritarian languages and cultures. As Mundair reflects in her 2014 project Incoming: Some Shetland Voices, notwithstanding the declining use of Shetland Scots – already a minor form of a minor language, spoken on (p.128) islands whose population growth is largely due to in-migration, predominantly from outside Scotland – there is hostility towards ‘the idea of people who were not born in Shetland learning and speaking dialect themselves’. Writing linguistic nativism right into the body itself, some even go so far as to suggest that ‘folk without Shetland genes are physiologically incapable of producing Shetland words’.97 Shetland terms for those who were not born on the islands include not only ‘incomers’ but also ‘soothmoothers’ – a reference to the literal entry point to the islands, through the south mouth to Lerwick, but also by implication a southern speaker, a linguistic outsider. Incoming sets ‘the image that Shetland projects, and that most Shetlanders convey, of the islands as a kind, friendly, welcoming place’ against pervasive prejudices against ‘incomers’, including the ingrained assumption that to be a Shetlander is to be white. Using archaeological, written, and photographic records to consider the six-thousand-year history of ‘incomers’ to Shetland, and recording testimony from contemporary Shetlanders originating from countries including Bulgaria, China, Burma, Slovenia, and Sri Lanka, the project asserts theirs as ‘Shetland voices’, a challenge to Shetland as a linguistically homogeneous and distinct, ‘mono-cultural “white” space’.98

The poem sequence ‘Stories Fae Da Shoormal’ in ‘60º North’, written in Shetland Scots, was inspired, Mundair has said, by the photographs of unknown Shetlanders in the Shetland Museum and Archive which she includes, too, in the Incoming project.99 The shoormal of the title is the island space where the sea meets the shore: that part of the island which is constantly shape-shifting, open to the sea’s flows. The sequence has five numbered sections, distinct but connected through echoes and repetitions, each an address by an anonymous speaker (perhaps the same speaker, perhaps different speakers). Often speaking as abandoned lovers, it is unclear whether these are men or women, black or white, born Shetlander or ‘incomer’. In the first section, a speaker reflects on the dreaming dark of a Shetland night and her sense of self-presence within it, while the sound of Shetland Scots reflects the distant cracking ice of the Arctic tundra:

  • Unlichted,
  • Unshadowed, I canna see
  • Mysel, bit I kyen, Ah’m dere. Un-alon,
  • (p.129) Awaash o me, awaash o midnicht
  • Blue. Da skies waash ower me.
  • Da ice cracks, da Arctic tundra
  • Shivers, readjusts hits spines,
  • Sends secret messages idda dialect
  • Tae hits nerve-endins in Shetlan.
  • Dir ley lines here
  • Vibratin, crackin – electric.

On the one hand, this poem appears to endorse the romantic ideal of Shetland’s language as an emanation of its landscape, which Mundair plays on, for example, in the onomatopoeic doubled vowel of ‘awaash’, and a sense of mythic island time. Nevertheless, there is a contradictory sense of flux whereby the island and its ‘dialect’ are defined by the living, constant ‘readjustments’ of a world beyond. Correspondingly, the language Mundair uses is not a strictly realised literary Shetland Scots but one which is orthographically and lexically innovative, as in the neologism ‘Un-alon’. Through the sequence, Mundair seems at times to teeter on the brink of a mythologised Shetland, but references to the tankers which pass the islands, a reminder of its economic dependence on North Sea oil revenues, or to the camera which has captured the images of the people she gives voice to, recall the present-ness of the islands and their relationship to a material and technological culture. In the final section, the speaker addresses a lover who has abandoned her, the island, and its language – recalling the island’s long history, like so many other rural areas, as ‘a place of emigration, not immigration’.100 The town has been ‘no big enuff fur dee | ta lose desel’, she tells him, and in order to escape he has ‘lassoed dy tongue | shapeit him intae a “sooth mooth”’, until ‘Noo, riggit in black | like a Reservoir Dug, du | veils desel in da English | wroucht, wry wit, while | aroond dee shadows | hing fae nooses’. The reference to Reservoir Dugs marks the island not as either timeless or remote, but part of a global cultural marketplace, and English as not only the language of London’s dominance, but also of US cultural imperialism, even as its phonetic spelling – Reservoir Dugs – is a striking visual/ acoustic reminder of how all cultural forms are susceptible to remaking through Shetland Scots. Nevertheless, to the speaker, the addressee’s adopted, instrumentalised English ‘wry wit’ – distanced, knowing – is ringed around by ‘shadows’ (p.130) which ‘hing fae nooses’. English, she insists, is not only the language of a dead love affair, but a deathly language. And in the section of poems which follows, ‘Terra Infirma’, this deathliness does indeed reveal itself in the brutalities of Britain and the US in the context of the invasion of Iraq and the ‘War on Terror’. In these poems, English is the language that provides legitimacy and cover – in phrases like ‘shock and awe’ – for new forms of imperialism.101 In ‘Piercing Flesh’, it is the UK asylum system which is the monologic, exclusionary exemplar of language in the service of state violence. The poem addresses Abas Amini, an Iraqi Kurdish poet and refugee who fled to Britain after escaping prison in Iraq. Amini had been granted asylum, but the UK Home Office decided to appeal the decision and to try to deport him back to Iraq.102 In response, Amini sewed his eyes, ears, and mouth closed, in protest over his own case and at the UK government’s policies on asylum. In his written statement, which Mundair uses as her epigraph, Amini represented his actions as an act of prosthetic signification, in a context where meaningful linguistic communication in the form of testimony has proven useless: ‘I sewed my eyes so others could see, I sewed my ears so others could hear, I sewed my mouth to give others a voice.’103 In Mundair’s poem, it is his sewn lips themselves that release a deafening torrent of sound:

  • And with your mouth sewn shut
  •        what a song
  • you sang, what a poem
  •        to pin back deaf ears – what a noise,
  • what a cacophony,
  • and what a silence
  • to greet it.104

Amini’s ‘song’, ‘poem’, ‘noise’, ‘cacophony’, untranslatable into the monologic language of authority, are met by ‘silence’. The rest of the sequence is scattered with more minor or intimate scenes of difficult and failed communication, where language itself is an unsteady ‘terra infirma’ on which to rest. ‘Detox’, for example, reflects the seductive power of digital communication to create illusory intimacy via the addictive thrill of ‘words || I read too much into’.105

Language is a visceral, embodied experience in Mundair’s poetry: mouths long for new tongues, form themselves with pain or delight (p.131) around the difficult shapes of new sounds. On the one hand, her work claims affinity with the complex and politically charged negotiations of belonging and not-belonging in language that are distinctive of certain strands of black British poetry. On the other hand, she places herself in the company of other contemporary Scottish poets who reflect on language’s prosthetic nature and choose to write in adopted languages, such as Jen Hadfield, another ‘incomer’ who writes using Shetland Scots. Mundair’s work is overwhelmingly concerned with the body as the place of articulation, pointing to what happens to bodies using language, and the relationship between how speakers are seen and how they are heard as language emerges from their raced, sexed bodies. What Chow calls ‘the lingering work of language in the form of skin tones and sound effects’ is evident when it takes travelling as far as Canada to be recognised for your ‘nice British accent’.106 Underlying all of this is no original experience of fully inhabiting language: language is what is other to ourselves, and it is on the basis of this insight that Mundair asserts the freedom to choose her language, as in her Shetland Scots poetry. In choosing, she draws a connection between this highly localised context and other experiences of linguistic marginality, working to uncouple the essentialist association of Shetland Scots with some kind of by-birth Shetlandness, insisting on it as a language as open as any other to the ‘incomer’. However, she has recently observed that she still struggles to be recognised as a Shetland poet, or a Shetlander, and that it is a particular property of British rural landscapes to continue to be imagined as white.107

Language as something lost and gained is a theme to which Mundair returns in uncanny images of umbilical, divided, strange tongues. Locating language in an undecidable inside/ outside position – neither fully internal nor external, like the mouths in which she persistently locates it – she pivots between a conviction in language as prosthesis, and the persistent affective force of a lost and irretrievable ‘mother tongue’. In Suhayl Saadi’s writing this ideal is inventively and unsettlingly exploded, as in Psychoraag, where Zaf, who ‘never learned his mother tongue’, also has to resist the temptation to mimic his own mother’s voice. For Mundair, a complex of desire, loss, and longing is held in the displacement of the fantasy that first language is acquired with the ‘mother’s milk’ by the image of taking that first milk from another.108 Thinking about language in ways that are attuned to ‘skin (p.132) tones and sound effects’, both writers dwell on the visceral, embodied experience of language and of being a speaker, as well as the fully detached and prosthetic disembodiment of the voice through sound recording and transmission. And, through enforced confrontation with language’s impermanence, unfixity, and interchangeability, each tries to parse out the enabling potentialities of linguistic unbelonging.


(1) Yasemin Yildiz, Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), p. 67.

(2) On the operations of monolingualism as an ideology, and its naturalisation as common sense, see David Gramling, The Invention of Monolingualism (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

(3) For key critical accounts of language as a practice see Sinfree Makoni and Alastair Pennycook (eds) Disinventing and Reconstituting Languages (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2007); Alastair Pennycook, ‘English as a language always in translation’, European Journal of English Studies 12:1 (2008), 33–47; Alastair Pennycook and Emi Otsuji, Metrolingualism: Language in the City (London and New York: Routledge, 2015).

(4) As Thomas Bonfiglio argues, both ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native speaker’ are concepts underpinned by ‘submerged racial, ethnic, and gender ideologies’ all the more effective for remaining largely unspoken. Thomas Paul Bonfiglio, Mother Tongues and Nations: The Invention of the Native Speaker (Berlin and New York: Mouton De Gruyter, 2010), p. 3. For further critique of the concept of the ‘native speaker’ see Rey Chow, Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), pp. 57–60. On raciolinguistics – theorising the mutual imbrication of language and race – see H. Samy Alim, John R. Rickford, and Arnetha F. Ball (eds) Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); Jonathan Rosa, Looking Like a Language, Sounding Like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

(7) Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

(8) Cairns Craig, ‘Beyond reason: Hume, Seth, Macmurray and Scotland’s postmodernity’, in Eleanor Bell and Gavin Miller (eds) Scotland in Theory: Reflections on Culture and Literature (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2004), p. 259. (p.133)

(9) Berthold Schoene discusses the idea of ‘postethnic’ Scottishness in ‘Going cosmopolitan: reconstructing “Scottishness” in post-devolution criticism’, in Berthold Schoene (ed.) The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 13.

(10) Suhayl Saadi, ‘Being Scottish’, in Tom Devine and Paddy Logue (eds) Being Scottish: Personal Reflections on Scottish Identity Today (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2002), p. 240.

(12) Anna Battista, ‘Facts and fictions: interview with writer Suhayl Saadi’, Erasing Clouds www.erasingclouds.com/0714saadi.html; Suhayl Saadi, ‘Psychoraag: the gods of the door’, Spike Magazine, n.d., www.spikemaga-zine.com/0206-suhayl-saadi-censorship-in-the-uk.php.

(13) Nick Mitchell, ‘Interview – Suhayl Saadi: Psychoraag’, Spike Magazine, 1 April 2006. www.spikemagazine.com/0406-suhayl-saadi-psychoraag-interview.php.

(14) Suhayl Saadi, ‘Infinite diversity in new Scottish writing’. http://asls.arts.gla.ac.uk/SSaadi.html.

(16) Suhayl Saadi, ‘In Tom Paine’s kitchen: days of rage and fire’, in Berthold Schoene (ed.) The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 28–33. The most influential critique of this kind of linguistic exoticism remains Graham Huggan, The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins (London and New York: Routledge, 2001).

(18) Saadi’s 2001 short story collection The Burning Mirror, for example, written in Glaswegian Scots mixed with standard Scottish English and Urdu, was published by independent Edinburgh publisher Polygon. He also publishes essays and other writing online, on his own and a range of other websites. ‘Glaswegian-ish’ (‘first’) and English (‘second’) versions of his short story ‘Extra Time in Paradise’, for example, are published online as part of the Stirling University/ Newcastle University Devolving Diasporas project. www.devolvingdiasporas.com/writing_02.htm.

(19) Ali Smith, ‘Life beyond the M25’, Guardian, 18 December 2004.

(21) Suhayl Saadi, Psychoraag (Edinburgh: Chroma, 2004), p. 425.

(23) Mitchell, ‘Interview’.

(26) Saadi’s glossary self-consciously recalls Diderot’s encyclopedia not least in its refusal of the distinction between sacred and secular, an elision Doris Sommer has termed as itself a kind of ‘bilingualism’. Doris Sommer, Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2004), p. xx.

(35) Suhayl Saadi, The Burning Mirror (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2001), p. 3.

(41) Saadi, Psychoraag, pp. 170, 58. Zaf here echoes the poet Imtiaz Dharker – a contemporary, and important point of comparison with Saadi – who has called herself a ‘Scottish Muslim Calvinist’. James Procter, ‘Imtiaz Dharker’, British Council (2010). https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/imtiaz-dharker.

(51) Marie-Odile Pittin-Hedon, The Space of Fiction: Voices from Scotland in a Post-Devolution Age (Glasgow: Scottish Literature International, 2015), pp. 91–92.

(54) Russell Potter, Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (New York: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 35–36. (p.135)

(55) Given my subsequent discussion of T. S. Eliot, it is worth noting his concern, in Four Quartets, with finding organisational parallels to counterpoint: ‘the properties in which music concerns the poet most nearly, are the sense of rhythm and the sense of structure’. T. S. Eliot, ‘The music of poetry’ (1942) in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1988), p. 113.

(59) T. S. Eliot, ‘London letter’, The Dial 71:4 (1921), 452–455.

(61) This is mentioned, for example, in Pittin-Hedon, The Space of Fiction, p. 84.

(63) Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2006), p. 30.

(74) Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen, and Massimiliano Spotti, ‘Endangering multilingualism’, in Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen, Päivi Pahta, and Tiina Räisänen (eds) Dangerous Multilingualism: Northern Perspectives on Order, Purity and Normality (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2012), p. 9. See also, for example, Jens Normann Jørgensen, M. S. Karrebæk, L. M. Madsen, and J. S. Møller, ‘Polylanguaging in superdiversity’, Diversities 13:2 (2011). www.mmg.mpg.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Subsites/Diversities/Journals_2011/2011_13–02_art2.pdf.

(76) Raman Mundair, ‘Sow, Reap and Slowly Savour’, Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow, June 2019. www.cca-glasgow.com/programme/raman-mundair-sow-reap-and-slowly-savour-workshop.

(77) Raman Mundair, ‘Mu Vich, Ajeeb Jeeb – In My Mouth, Strange and (p.136) Curious Tongue’. https://soundcloud.com/user-724492265/mu-vich-ajeeb-jeeb?f b clid= IwAR 2eicrgvp_kpz_Kgbnpq3paURkDb1qF-OP15 zy wk K3 SF t55K 11ZElHK6Fg.

(79) Raman Mundair, ‘Mu Vich, Ajeeb Jeeb – In My Mouth, Strange and Curious Tongue’. www.facebook.com/ramanmundair/.

(82) Raman Mundair, ‘Name Journeys’, in Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2003), p. 16.

(83) Raman Mundair, ‘About the author’, in Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2003).

(85) Raman Mundair, ‘Osmosis’, in Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves, p. 14.

(86) Raman Mundair, ‘The Folds of my Mother’s Sari’, in Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2003), p. 12.

(89) Raman Mundair, ‘Refractions’, in Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves, pp. 17–18.

(90) Raman Mundair, ‘The Meeting Point’, in Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves, p. 33.

(91) A summary of ‘A Choreographer’s Cartography’, arising out of Mundair’s collaboration with the artist Sean Clark, can be found at: www.seanclark.me.uk/achoreograph erscartography.

(92) Raman Mundair and Lotte Petronella, ‘Apnea’. www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWmW GCDU5ak&t=277s.

(93) In 2013–14, she again became Leverhulme Trust Writer in Residence for Shetland; this is how the Incoming project came about.

(94) Raman Mundair, ‘The Rose of the Rock’, in Linda Andersson Burnett, Archipelagos: Poems from Writing the North ([n.p.]: AHRC/University of Edinburgh, 2014). www.writingthenorth.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/archipelagos-for-download.pdf.

(95) Christopher Whyte, ‘Nationalism and its discontents: critiquing Scottish criticism’, in J. Derrick McClure, Karoline Szatek-Tudor, and Rosa E. Penna (eds) ‘What Countrey’s This? And Whither are we Gone?’: Papers Presented at the Twelfth Conference on the Literature of Region and Nation (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), p. 27.

(96) Roderick Watson, ‘Living with the double tongue: modern poetry in Scots’, (p.137) in Ian Brown (ed.) The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature. Volume 3. Modern Transformations: New Identities (from 1918) (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 164.

(97) Raman Mundair, ‘The Incoming project’, in Raman Mundair (ed.) Incoming: Some Shetland Voices (Lerwick: Shetland Museum and Archives, 2014), p. 17. www.shetlandamenity.org/the-incoming-project.

(99) Mundair discusses this as part of her dialogue with Penny Fielding about ‘The Rose of the Rock’. www.writingthenorth.com/dialogues/rose-of-the-rock/.

(100) Ian Tate, ‘Mementoes of past lives’, in Raman Mundair (ed.) Incoming: Some Shetland Voices (Lerwick: Shetland Museum and Archives, 2014), p. 28.

(101) Raman Mundair, ‘Blood Season’, in A Choreographer’s Cartography (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press), p. 31.

(102) On Abas Amini’s case, see Catherine Adams and Tania Branigan, ‘Refugee sews up his lips, eyes and ears’, Guardian, 27 May 2003. www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/may/27/immigration.immigrationpolicy; Tania Branigan, ‘Kurdish poet finds a voice’, Guardian, 31 May 2003. www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/may/31/immigrationandpublicservices.immigration.

(103) Abas Amini, 2003; epigraph to Raman Mundair, ‘Piercing Flesh’, in A Choreographer’s Cartography, p. 32.

(104) Raman Mundair, ‘Piercing Flesh’, in A Choreographer’s Cartography, p. 32.

(105) Raman Mundair, ‘Detox’, in A Choreographer’s Cartography, p. 33.

(107) Raman Mundair, ‘Your land is my land: perspectives from an immigrant’, Bella Caledonia, 5 January 2018. https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/01/05/your-land-is-my-land-perspectives-from-an-immigrant/.

(108) H. Weinrich, ‘Chamisso’, quoted in Yildiz, Beyond the Mother Tongue, p. 203.