Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Defense of Oilei's Language

In the first half of Kisses in the Nederends the focus of the story is on Oilei’s pain in his butt and we discussed in class on Tuesday how Hau’ofa kind of normalizes talking about one’s “embarrassing” physical problems or hiding our imperfections of our bodies.  In the second half of the novel, the message is made clear of why “we should love and respect our anuses” (113 Hau’ofa).  We discussed how when we are finally able to see the world from the top and the bottom and when the top and bottom are switched, only then can we truly value the sacredness of all things equally, including our arse.  With this in mind, I went into the second half of the book with much more of an open mind about Oilei who may be easy to dismiss as inappropriate because of his use of constant offensive language.  There is a kind of parallelism that can be found between finding the sacredness in all parts of the body, and perhaps finding the sacredness in language and culture found in all people.
            There are more people and cultures introduced in the second half of the novel, particularly in chapter 8 when Dr. Zimmerman visits to give his diagnosis of Oilei.  Oilei has always said “arse” to describe where is pain is while Dr. Zimmerman uses “anus,” the proper anatomical term.  Later, one of the priests scolds Oilei for cursing so much saying he should stop using such “ungodly language.”  At another point, the word “oomfoo” cannot be translated into English, but it does not mean fists in “their language.”  There seems to be constant variations and misunderstandings in language in the second half of the book between the different cultures of the characters.  It was clear that Oilei was not accustomed to using “anus” and that he curses a lot since that is his character.    
            In Amy Tan’s book, The Joy Luck Club, she describes at one point how her mother is an immigrant and has “broken English,” words that make sense, but are not following our standard grammar rules.  She is angry when people dismiss her mother as stupid or uneducated or just not trying hard enough to learn proper English, and many people dismiss her ideas as invalid.  In fact, many times Tan had to make phone calls for her mother when reserving something or registering for something important because many times people would not take her mother seriously and treat her much ruder than Tan, a person who can speak “proper” English.  Her mother’s language difference really hinders her ability for the meaning of her thoughts to be considered by someone else.  The same thing can be applied to so many dialects in the United States even from native English speakers.  So many times do people living in urban communities speak using slang and not enunciating words fully, and many times they are deemed uneducated or incompetent.  Whether the person is uneducated or not is not the point.      
            The point between all of these examples is that it does not matter what the words are so much as the meaning behind them.  Dr. Zimmerman uses somewhat technical or elevated terminology while Oilei uses curse words and slang terms to describe where his pain is.  In comparison to the top and bottom of the body analogy, Dr. Zimmerman’s language and culture would assume a dominant position, coming from an educated background, whereas Oilei’s use of “arse” might be seen as a lower or less educated person.  However, either way, the words still mean the same thing.  Even if Oilei reworded his vocabulary instead of using curse words, he would still convey the same message.  Even if Amy Tan’s English is considered “broken” it does not mean her thoughts and ideas are invalidated because of her language.  In this way, I really found a parallel between the sacredness of the body and the sacredness of language and culture, in both cases changing the top and the bottom positions as a chance for cultural renewal.  By seeing all sides of body, we can recognize the sacredness.  Similarly, those who might be considered less-educated like Oilei using “ungodly language” can be seen as an inappropriate person or too offensive in his language, or we can take the meaning of his words as more important than his politeness.  Perhaps we can find the sacredness of the person and of the culture where they use “arse” instead of “anus” or where they curse heavily instead of using synonyms for curse words, in hopes for a similar “cultural renewal” where we can recognize the differences in culture and how language is used.  If we miss parts of life only seeing what is at the top and ignoring what is at the bottom of our physical individual human selves, in a way language portrays the same thing in the second half of the novel on a broader scale between people as a global community.  Dr. Zimmerman tries to use “correct” terms and Oilei is not, creating a higher and lower type of person.  But, if we only listened to and took seriously the “top” people who are educated and speaking perfect English and ignore or frown upon those “bottom” people who have language differences or actually do not have as much education, we are still missing crucial aspects of the wholeness of life and the variance of the human experience.       

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