This Just (checked) In: Rotten English

| September 30, 2011

Rotten English: A Literary Anthology
Edited by Dohra Ahmad
Norton, 2007
PR1109.A44 2007

While sorting through just-returned books and preparing them to go back on the shelves, I happened upon Rotten English, which caught my eye with its arresting title and bold red and blue painted script.  Rotten English is an anthology of literary works written in spoken vernacular, and a marvelous find. It includes pieces by Langston Hughes, Rohinton Mistry, Junot Diaz (he likes the book, too, providing the blurb, “An extraordinary X-ray of English,” that graces the cover), Zora Neale Hurston, Gautam Malkani (he wrote the controversial novel Londonstani which opens with perhaps the most cringe-worthy fight scene ever), Sapphire, Chinua Achebe, and more–the fantastic who’s who list goes on and on.  In case you don’t recognize the international cast of authors, a bio precedes each author’s work, making it easy to get to know the authors better and perhaps read more of their works.  There’s a glossary in the back, defining words within each piece you might not know, including words like “drumlie” and “goopher,” though the introduction to the glossary acknowledges that including a glossary at all “represents a compromise between condescension and clarity.” The purpose of the book, after all, is to show how these writers “challenge the hierarchy implied by ‘dialect’ verses ‘language’ or ‘standard’ verses ‘non-standard,’ insisting that the codes they practice be recognized for their strength, coherence, and communicative capacity.” Ultimately, Ahmad encourages us to challenge the concept of Standard English, reminding us that what’s standard is in fact “one dialect among many.”