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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The boundary between "us" and "them": readers and the non-English word in the fiction of Canadian Mennonite writers Janzen, Beth E.


This study asks whether the use of non-English words in the novels of Canadian Mennonites perpetuates a cultural binary, and concludes that it does not. The use of the non-English word, rather than enforcing a binary between "us and them", ultimately reveals that cultural boundaries are permeable and unstable. Recent reader-response theory, which sees the reader as always influenced by a context, is central to this inquiry. Analysis of readers' responses in the form of questionnaires constitutes part of the support for my assertions, while an examination of typography, orthography, interlingua, and theme in three novels by Canadian Mennonites provides the balance. Chapter one lays the theoretical framework for the investigation. It discusses: reader-response theory and the impossibility of accessing a stable textual meaning coincidental with the author's intention, the challenge of the non-English word to the concept of universality, and the distinction between proper “English" and non-institutional "english". Chapter two examines some readers' responses to non-English words and finds that “inside" readers have interpretations in common with "outside” readers, and that variations exist between the interpretations of “inside" readers. A binary model is too simplistic to encompass the range of contexts from which readers read. Chapter three discusses typography, orthography, and interlanguage in relation to (Low) German, and suggests the importance of these features to a discussion of the texts. Chapters four through six examine Rudy Wiebe's The Blue Mountains of China (1970), Anne Konrad's The Blue Jar (1985), and Armin Wiebe's The Salvation of Yasch Siemens (1984) respectively. Each novel's thematic concern with cultural boundaries serves as a framework for interpreting its physical and linguistic features. Chapter seven concludes by examining the influence of my own fragmented identity on the development of my argument, and revisits the issue of authorial intent in our politically less-than-perfect world. A lengthy appendix serves as a pluralistic glossary to the texts, and contains the responses to my questionnaires. A brief section outlines some of the appendix's interesting patterns and trends. An index to the appendix is provided since the appendix is not arranged alphabetically.

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