French (De)composition: Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy



Joyce, at the end of ‘Oxen of the Sun’ and in Ulysses as a whole, explores the ways in which hybrid and creole forms demonstrate both the limits of language and the expressive diversity inherent in linguistic mixing, a mixing that find its apotheosis in what Paul Léon describes as the ‘probably perfect’ ‘petit nègre’ of Finnegans Wake.1 In Beckett, ‘petit nègre’, a pejorative term for ‘pidgin’ which is also, colloquially, used to denote the ‘bad’ or ‘broken’ French of the non-native speaker,2 is used by the narrator of L’Innommable to describe his own discourse (I 152), reflecting his sense of linguistic estrangement as well as the dual-language nature of the trilogy itself. Beckett translates the term, in The Unnamable, as ‘pidgin bullskrit’ (T 382), a sophisticated pun which, as this chapter will demonstrate, encapsulates the function of bilingualism in Beckett’s oeuvre: in these words, a simplified hybrid form of language (pidgin) which at the time carried strong connotations of misuse and involuntary error, combines with linguistic erudition (Sanskrit), to form deliberately meaningless obscenity (bullshit). That the term ‘pidgin bullskrit’ is itself produced in and through translation is significant, its punning semantic doubling reflective of the linguistic and textual doubling that underlies its existence. Pidgins develop as simplified languages to facilitate communication between different language communities; Beckettian ‘pidgin bullskrit’ functions instead to maximise the ambiguity, arbitrariness and complexity of interlingual processes.


Foreign Language Mother Tongue Language Pedagogy Language Teacher Grammatical Rule 
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© Juliette Taylor-Batty 2013

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