There were a few things about our discussion of language that got stuck in my head today, and I feel like I can’t fully develop them, but I’ll put them out here and see if anyone else can figure them out for me!
One thing that really struck me is the idea of Donald Duk understanding more Chinese than he can speak, and the significance of that in the text. I took Chinese here at UMW, so my speaking is very rudimentary even though I try really hard, but my experience with it is that I have a much easier time speaking than I do understanding the language, due to a variety of factors such as the slang, speed, or accents which native speakers will use without thinking about. Additionally, when forming thoughts in Chinese and speaking them I get to take my time in forming them, and use vocabulary that I know, rather than relying on someone else’s speed and diction.
Of course I don’t expect my experience with the Chinese language to in any way resemble Donald Duk’s, considering I am not Chinese and barely passed my language classes anyway, but the contrast struck me as significant, and I can’t quite figure out why. Why is it more difficult for Donald Duk to speak Chinese, when for me it is so much easier to speak than to understand? And what is the significance of speaking versus understanding? One is passive, and one is active. Since speaking in Chinese is easier for me than listening, I, a white person, get to become an active participant in conversations, even if I lag a bit behind in them; there is a large amount of agency that is gained from being the speaker over the listener. Since Donald Duk understands better than he speaks, does this relegate him to a more backseat role when it comes to participating in Chinese culture, a passive agent with more difficulty defining himself within it?
Anyway, just some thoughts that I don’t really have answers to, I just thought it was interesting to explore the significance of the roles of listener and speaker as they apply to how Donald Duk uses the Chinese language. Does anyone else have thoughts on this? I’ve read about active versus passive roles in feminist theory before but I’m not finding any sources at the present, I’m not sure whether there’s a term for this that I’m forgetting…
One thought on “Language in Donald Duk”
I am taking advanced French, so I think I understand where Donald is coming from with being able to understand better than he can speak. I think that if someone is learning a language and is surrounded by it, like Donald is, it is easy to understand it more. However, you have to actively speak the language and practice it intentionally to become better at speaking because it is both a mental and physical process. At first, Donald Duk just wants to be an American, and speaking Chinese is just another reminder that he isn’t just American. He may have intentionally decided not to practice speaking so as to feel more American, which is why he does not speak as well as he understands.