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Re-enchanting Englishness: Multiculturalism and the Matter of Britain

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'Have you theh lahn-ed the kupreh?' Is this instance of the argot commonly used by young Sikhs in Britain simply a kind of illegitimate English? Or does this mongrel idiom attest to a new linguistic reality in contemporary Britain? What Kathleen Hall represents, in an echo of Homi Bhabha, as the end of the absolute tenure of the national tongue for the expressive latitude of translation. Drawing on insights from Jacques Derrida's Monolingualism of the Other I argue that this expression actually reflects a language that is English and Punjabi at the same time, invoking a native tongue that exists before its nativity, what I refer to as arche-english. I discuss the consequences of this accursed idiom for the question of being English, proposing that it vests ethnic minorities with a pedigree of belonging as profoundly 'archaic' as the lineage of native ness recorded by the folk traditions and legends of England. By reference to key textual sources for the Matter of Britain I show how the archaic depth of English tradition is also informed by contra-diction. These texts communicate the idea that King Arthur's law is established by deferral to another law, via the secret antinomies of incest and filicide, revealing that this political legitimacy is still to come. Ironically, then, the representation of Punjabi intrusions into British public culture as illegitimate, far from pressing it into a state of ethnic exile places it at the heart of an economy of alternative Englishness.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2007

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