I grew up in Bristol, and completed my PhD at the University of Manchester before joining the Department of English at Queen Mary in 2002 to teach postcolonial literature and theory. I have a background in linguistics and cultural history as well as literary study, and my research continues to draw these fields into conversation with one another. I am particularly interested in how questions of language, translation, and linguistic encounter are mediated by literary and other texts, in colonial, postcolonial, and global contexts – from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century South Africa, to contemporary multilingual Britain.
As well as my own scholarship and collaborative editing projects, I am the co-editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, and serve on the editorial board of Wasafiri: Journal of International Contemporary Writing, and Bloomsbury’s New Horizons in Contemporary Writing series. For three years I ran a project, Reading/Writing Multilingualism, working with local secondary school pupils in Queen Mary’s home borough, Tower Hamlets. In connection with that project I’ve published on the relationship between multilingualism and literature teaching, and developed a range of online resources for English teachers to use in the classroom.
- Colonial and postcolonial literature and theory
- Language politics and literary multilingualism
- Black British and British Asian writing
- Scottish writing
- Anglophone African writing
- Colonialism, postcolonialism, translation and linguistic thought
Recent and On-Going Research:
My research spans the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, and focuses in particular on the relationship between language politics, cultural history, and literary form in colonial and postcolonial contexts. My first book, Grammars of Colonialism (2006), was a study of the complex relation between colonialism and linguistic thought in South Africa – and, by extension, across the former colonial world – focused upon nineteenth-century European representations of the Bantu languages Xhosa and Zulu. There, among other things, I trace the relationship between linguistic texts as models for the exercise of various kinds of power (colonial, scientific, religious) and as records of and frameworks for interpersonal communication between a learner and speakers of the language in question. A significant aspect of my work continues to address the question of how language and linguistic encounter is represented and mediated, not only in linguistic texts like dictionaries and grammars, but also in novels and poetry, visual and performance art, TV and radio.
As time has gone on, I have also come to focus more closely on the literature and cultural politics of postwar and contemporary Britain. With Bill Schwarz, I co-edited End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945 (2011, paperback 2015), which explores the afterlives of empire in English literature and culture. For that book, I wrote a chapter about imperialism’s presence/absence in the novels of William Golding; and I continue to be interested in literature in Britain in the period of decolonization, from the 1950s to the 1980s, including the intersections between black British literature and other kinds of radical, particularly working-class writing.
My most recent book, Bad English [insert link https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526108845/] (Manchester University Press, 2020), draws together several of these strands of research. It examines the denaturalization of “English” in contemporary literature in Britain, and traces the emergence of a field of writing concerned at its core with the representation of the sounds, properties, histories, and experiences of linguistic difference, in a period in which Britain’s linguistic terrain has been radically reshaped by immigration, devolution, rapid social change, globalised culture and transnational connection. Exploring the work of such writers as Daljit Nagra, Xiaolu Guo, Brian Chikwava, Leila Aboulela, Suhayl Saadi, Raman Mundair, James Kelman and Tom Leonard among others, I consider how their writing raises and confronts ideas about language at scales from the intimate, subjective, and local, to the national, transnational, and global. In my current research, I’m pursuing two strands of thinking which emerge out of this book project: one around language diversity and poetic voice, and the other around the relationship between language and asylum.
With Tamar Steinitz (Goldsmith’s) I also recently edited Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation and Culture (Routledge, 2018, paperback 2020), which explores analogous terrain in a global context, addressing the relationship between language diversity and conceptions of literary language, form, and markets. This interdisciplinary book, with contributors from around the world, draws together various strands of literary scholarship with translation theory and applied linguistics; aiming to establish literary paradigms which equip us to understand the complex forces that shape language in the present as they impact upon the production and circulation of literature.
- Bad English: Literature, Multilingualism and the Politics of Language in Contemporary Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020).
- with Tamar Steinitz (eds), Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation and Culture(London and New York: Routledge, 2018; paperback 2020).
- with Bill Schwarz (eds), End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011; paperback 2015).
- Grammars of Colonialism: Representing Languages in Colonial South Africa (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006).
Selected articles and book chapters
- ‘Vahni Capildeo’s multilingual poetics: translation, synaesthesia, relation’, in Jane Hiddleston and Wen-Chin Ouyang (eds) Multilingual Literature as World Literature (London: Bloomsbury: forthcoming).
- ‘Editorial: Multilingualism and English teaching’, English in Education 54:1 (2020). Guest edited special issue: Multilingualism and English teaching.
- ‘“Sight, sound and meaning”: voice/print transitions in black British poetry’, in Kate McLoughlin (ed.) Flower/Power: British Literature in Transition, volume 2, 1960-1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).
- ‘Welcome to The University of Brixton: BBC radio and the West Indian everyday’, in Nadia Atia and Kate Houlden (eds), Popular Postcolonialisms (London and New York: Routledge, 2019).
- With Tamar Steinitz, ‘Introduction: multilingual currents’, in Rachael Gilmour and Tamar Steinitz (eds) Multilingual Currents in Literature, Language and Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2018).
- ‘“Ah’m the man ae a thoosand tongues”: multilingual Scottishness and its limits’, in Rachael Gilmour and Tamar Steinitz (eds) Multilingual Currents in Literature, Language and Culture(London and New York: Routledge, 2018).
- ‘Reading/writing multilingualism: language, literature and creativity in the multilingual classroom’, English in Education51:3 (2017), 296-307.
- ‘Learning Zuluand bearing witness’, part of a round-table on Mark Sanders’ Learning Zulu (Columbia University Press, 2016), Safundi: Journal of South African and American Studies 18:1 (March 2017), 12-15.
- 'Punning in Punglish, sounding 'poreign': Daljit Nagra and the politics of language', Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 17:5 (2015), 686-705.
- 'Doing voices: reading language as craft in black British poetry', Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 49:3 (2014), 343-57.
- ‘British colonial rule in Natal: the growth of missionary activity and the development of language study’, in Christopher Mosley (ed) Writing Systems, vol. II: Orthography (London and New York: Routledge, 2014).
- ‘Living between languages: the politics of translation in Leila Aboulela’s Minaret and Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’, Journal of Commonwealth Literature 47:2 (2012), 207-227.
- ‘The entropy of Englishness: reading empire’s absence in the novels of William Golding’, in Rachael Gilmour and Bill Schwarz (eds), End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011).
- 'Missionaries, colonialism and language in nineteenth-century South Africa', History Compass 5:6 (November 2007), 1761-77.
- '“A nice derangement of epitaphs": missionary language-learning in mid-nineteenth century Natal', Journal of Southern African Studies 33:3 (September 2007), 521-538.
I warmly welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research. PhD projects I am currently supervising or have recently supervised include:
- representations of southern African 'Bushmen' in early nineteenth century literature and culture
- childhood in South African literature
- multilingualism in the twentieth-century novel
- masculinity in contemporary South African fiction
- ‘Spanglishes’ on the move: reading and translating bilingualism in the work of four contemporary prose writers
- Singaporean literatures in/and Singlish
- solitude in the work of Caryl Phillips