Multilingual mirth on the Iberian page

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With a focus on two works by writers from Catalonia, the present article considers the intersections of humour, language and identity in fictional narrative as a response to the deeply embedded cultural politics of Spain's multilingual context. Written in Mexican exile during the Franco dictatorship, Avel·lí Artís Gener’s Paraules d’Opoton el Vell (1968) explores linguistic and cultural plurality in a comical—while problematic—transposition of Columbus's famous expedition of "discovery." Juan Marsé's El amante bilingüe (1990), on the other hand, takes Barcelona as its setting in order to offer a sardonic response to essentialist approaches to cultural and linguistic politics and policy. Although divided by their respective chronological and geographical setting, and even the language in which they were written, what unites these texts, and their humorous engagement with multilingualism is a tendency towards the transgressive. The humour in these fictional novels interrogates, and in many respects undermines, linguistic and identitarian limits by scrutinising, while elucidating, their very existence. In addition to their inclusion of Catalan and Castilian and several other languages, as this essay argues, these texts are also multilingual on account of their heteroglossic landscapes of diegeses, dialogic register, dialect and archaisms, as well as metalinguistic ruminations on translation, signification and neology. As such, the present article applies the concepts of Bakhtinian polyglossia and the carnivalesque to a humour theory lens in order to consider the presence of multilingualism in these two texts as a rhetorical device with which to effect humour and as a subject of humour itself. In so doing, the essay underscores the important role of humour in tracing diverse responses to the multilingual space.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82–112
Number of pages30
JournalThe Journal of Catalan Studies
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2022


  • humour
  • exile
  • multilingualism
  • Avel·lí Artís gener
  • Juan Marsé
  • Bakhtin


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