Kaliarda XXV: Anna T.

By: | Post date: 2017-12-20 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

The last article I was going to look at was Anna T.‘s The Opacity of Queer Languages.

There are some good points there, although it’s in the domain of queer theory that I’m not as conversant in:

  • Kaliarda and other queer cants are neither visible nor invisible, but opaque—straight onlookers know that you’re speaking in code, they just don’t know what you’re saying.
  • They are languages of subversion, including social critique.
  • They are often multilingual patchworks:

    For instance, Polari consists of English, Italian, Yiddish, and Mediterranean Lingua Franca (a composite itself), while Kaliarda is made up of Greek, English, Italian, French, Turkish, and Romani. Bajubá or Pajubá seems to have its roots in Africa and is based on several Bantu and Yoruba African languages outfitted with Portuguese syntax. Swardspeak is a mixture of Tagalog, English, Spanish, and Japanese. Lubunca consists of Turkish, Romani, French, Greek, English, Armenian, Arabic, Italian, Bulgarian, Kurmanji, Russian, and Spanish.

  • This indicates their speakers were mobile, possibly interacting with sailors as sex workers, and possibly consciously trying to come across as more sophisticated (Paul Baker posited that for Polari, and it’s clearly the case for the French layer of Kaliarda).
  • The languages often predate contemporary notions of sexuality and gender: “who speaks or spoke these languages long before the emergence of any contemporary understanding of homosexuality, the homosexual, and notions such as trans* or queer becomes an even more sensitive topic in light of queer modes of communication.” (Something we’ve seen time and again with Kaliarda, and the pre-contemporary understanding in this case is barely 30 years ago.)
  • Kaliarda is politically incorrect and has no self-censorship; it is pejorative against oppressors, pejorative against other oppressed social groups (I’ll post some of the misogynistic and anti-semitic words later), and pejorative against the gay speakers themselves.
  • The author interprets this as “a certain adoption of the mores of the general population in addition to their own, no matter how contradictory the two may be”, for the seeming self-hate. Maybe; there’s a pervasive cynicism there, certainly. As for kicking down on other minorities, Anna T. posits that “at least by allowing for a mocking of those seen as oppressors, or by placing themselves somewhere other than the lowest position in the social hierarchy, queers can afford a moment of pleasure that derives from their deviance itself and their organizing around it.”
  • Kaliarda allows its speakers humour and joy, as a respite from oppression. It’s a countercultural kind of pleasure that has not been institutionalised, and so is not as readily accessible to historians.
  • Queer cants present a passive resistance to oppression: they don’t disrupt the status quo, but they build an alternate social space, subverting the hegemonic culture. (Anna T. spends a lot of time comparing that to John Cage’s silences.)
  • Kaliarda is quintessentially camp, and camp is itself a form of resistance to straight hegemony.
  • While writing this text I tried to create some tables with examples of words and expressions, transliterated and translated from Kaliarda and Polari into English, but I realized it was not going to work, and perhaps it was okay that it did not. What I was forcing was a transparency that didn’t want to be there. What I was trying to accomplish (and miserably failed at doing) was beautifully commented on by Celia Britton, who says that camouflaged language can only be understood in a way that respects its opacity and does not reduce it to transparency.

    I get why a social theorist will rejoice in the opacity of Kaliarda. I’m a linguist though, and I’m compelled to gloss.

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