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Can young readers usher book publishing into a more multilingual future? At a recent literary festival in Kerala, I chatted with teenagers who bought novels in English, ranging from books by Korean author Bora Chung (translated by Anton Hull) to German author Kerstin Gill’s Ruby series (Translated by Anthea Bell). One of them summed up her approach: “As long as the story is interesting, it doesn’t matter if a book is translated or original in English. Anyway, I’m used to reading in two languages: Malayalam and English.”

My conversations with Asian publishers as far away as Singapore, Tokyo and Delhi seem to reflect a trend: Young readers in their teens and twenties seem more willing to read in translation or learn a second language.

Research confirms these impressions.recent Nielsen Survey for the Booker Prize Foundation Emphasis on readers of novels in English translation is much younger than expected. Readers between the ages of 24-35 drive sales of translated fiction compared to fiction readers, whose largest group is between the ages of 60-84.There is still one National Literacy Trust 2021 report Another interesting finding: Young readers who are bilingual or multilingual spend more of their free time reading than children who only learn one language.

About 43 percent of the world’s population is functionally bilingual, according to the Journal of Neurolinguistics, although some studies suggest the number is higher. For many of them, their bilingualism was more the result of historical transitions—from colonialism to immigration and forced displacement—than choice, which often complicated their relationship to language. The great Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who chose to write in his native Kikuyu, explained in a recent interview: “I am not against English, but I am against the hierarchy of languages…”. . The battle of languages ​​is the struggle to restore the soul of Africa. “

However, being bilingual can also be a source of great joy. In the household I grew up in, friends and family could easily switch between Bengali and English and tour in Hindi and Oriya. In the maelstrom of Indian languages, English became both a neutral ground and a bridge to distant lands. Being able to reach writers from all over the world through English and back to the comfort of Bengali was a joy, like moving from a summer house to a winter cottage. Today, like many bilinguals, I have a different reading self, reading much less Bengali non-fiction in favor of poetry and thick fiction, seeking the pleasure of my mother tongue rather than enlightenment.

A Memoir of Language by Bangladeshi-American Writer Chumpa Lahiri in other words (2015) explored in depth the possibility of shedding linguistic burden by choosing a third language (neither mother tongue nor colonial heritage). Returning to the United States after a year in Rome, she “felt more than ever a writer without a clear language, without origins, without definitions”. Learning Italian, a language with which she has no direct connection, gave her a sense of liberation.

For poet Rhina P Espaillat, learning English is a secret pleasure. Born in the Dominican Republic in 1932, she grew up in New York after her family was exiled by the regime of dictator Trujillo. In her wonderful poem “Bilingual / Bilingüe,” she writes of her father’s experience in a foreign land trying to preserve his mother tongue: “English is outside the door, Spanish is inside the door,” / He said, “y basta.” But who can separate the world, the word (mundo y palabra), from any child? ’ Esperat reads smuggled English books in bed late at night, ‘till my tongue (mi lengua) learns to run/Where he stumbles. “

Maybe this generation of young people is more enthusiastic about translating and reading in multiple languages, because they absorb the influence of the Internet from all over the world.UNICEF conducts a high-profile survey in 2021, interviewing 21,000 people in 21 countries Changing Childhood Project. A key finding: 15-24 year olds are twice as likely as older adults to consider themselves global citizens. As the study noted, they were “born into a more digital, interconnected and diverse reality,” and this was reflected in their curiosity about language.

Bilingual readers have a lot to gain. Viorica Marian, Ph.D., author, Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Research Laboratory, Northwestern University, the power of language Put simply in a recent speech: “When you learn another language, you learn another way of being in the world, another way of thinking, and you tend to be less likely to demonize those people.”

Living between languages ​​is not always easy. I’ve been reading and writing in English for most of the summer, and I feel the Bengali side of me starting to fray from disuse.But when it came back, it opened up a world that couldn’t be translated speak saki (summer storms from the Bay of Bengal) and suitable (Tea party, expect lively conversation). As this generation has discovered, if you live between two languages, you will always have multiple homes.

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