Blog · Young Adult Books

Language and Identity in Dream Country by Ashaye Brown

Today’s blog post is a guest post about language and identity by debut author Ashaye Brown. As someone who was raised bilingually, language has always been an important element of my life, particularly since my first language, Welsh, has overcome many obstacles to still be spoken today. I was very interested to discover Ashaye Brown’s fascinating thoughts on language as well as identity within Dream Country, which is out on the 27th of April.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I will earn a small amount of commission on any purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you.

Cover image of Dream Country by Ashaye Brown.

A sibling rivalry to fuel your worst nightmares.

The dysfunctional triplet gods of Sleep, Dreams and Nightmares are kept separate by the deadly Gates of Horn and Ivory. Only one fact keeps them tightly bound: each of them is a suspect in their mother’s murder. Their knife-edge feud worsens when a mortal enters the world with astounding abilities that threaten to change the game for them all.

In this thrilling young adult fantasy, Ashaye Brown brings to life a visionary world infused with Kenyan, Brazilian, Caribbean, and Grecian cultural references. A story like no other with stakes as high as they come.

Add Dream Country on: Goodreads

Buy Sistersong: Blackwell’s  | Book Depository | Waterstones

Ashaye Brown’s Guest Post:

There is a contentious theory amongst linguists, known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that argues that language is capable of shaping not only the way we think, but the way we experience the world. According to these theorists, language is so powerful that speakers of a language system that does not contain the word purple would not be able to see the colour purple; to them it would simply be another shade of blue or red.

I’ve always been fascinated by this theory. Is language really that powerful? If it is, that would make it more than just the tool we use to express thought. It would be the tool we use to create thought, and by extension, identity. Identities are formed by the ways in which we think about ourselves which includes the words we use and the ways we choose to say them. For example, many languages contain synonyms which while on a surface level may appear to mean the same thing, actually carry different connotations and can be used in different contexts. The choice that people make between two words is their way of signifying an aspect of their present identity to those that they interact with. This is just one example of how language can be used to form identity within one language system, however in order to really see the impact that it can have it’s necessary to look outside of comparisons within one language in favour of cross-cultural comparisons.

If a monolingual person can affect their own identity so much just by the words they choose to use in any given situation, then how much is the identity of a multilingual person affected by the languages they choose to use? Does having multiple languages at your disposal widen your worldview, like suddenly being able to see every shade of purple? Or does it fracture your sense of identity, with all the different possible meanings coming into conflict with each other?

These are just some of the questions that interested me when I was writing Dream Country. The characters in the book all share a common language, English, but most of them are multilingual, also speaking Swahili, Brazilian Portuguese, or in some instances, Jamaican Patois. In the world of Dream Country these languages would have once all been one, but they were separated at the same time that the characters and the cultures were also separated from each other. For my three main characters, the moment that this language division took place, years before the start of the book, they lost not only up to half of their ways of communicating with each other, but half of their ways of expressing their own identity. Their worldview and their sense of self was fractured because the words that they could once choose to use to describe themselves were no longer an option. This would be like, having been able to see purple your whole life, waking up one day to suddenly only be able to see shades of red and blue.

Fanta, my Kenyan-inspired Dream Goddess, uses Swahili to identify herself as powerful and private. She makes sure her language stays a mystery to outsiders, because she herself wants to remain a mystery. For her, language is definitely a tool to shape thought, but mainly to shape the thoughts of other people, not herself. She does not allow herself to be dominated by language, she does not allow her identity to be limited.

In contrast, Torres, my Brazilian-inspired Nightmare God, peppers his English usage with Portuguese casually, with barely a thought for who can keep up with him. For him, language is not about being perfectly understood all the time, it’s about expressing yourself in the way that feels most natural. He cries out in Portugese when he’s sad or angry, he speaks in Portugese to show the people closest to him that he loves them. For him, language and identity are intrinsically linked as it is when he can use language freely and with no inhibitions that he is most himself.

I don’t know if I managed to answer any of my original questions about language and thought and identity in Dream Country, or if all I really succeeded at doing is showing how complex the relationship between these three concepts are. But one thing that I do know is that language, like identity, is not easily translatable; if we ever truly want to understand who someone is, we must first try to understand the words they use.

Thank you to Ashaye Brown for providing this brilliant piece of writing, as well as the publisher, Onwe, for organising this blog tour and providing me with a copy of Dream Country. Make sure to check out the other blog tour hosts, yesterday Anniek posted their review of Dream Country.

Blog tour graphic of all the tour hosts blog names and their social media handles.

Let me know your thoughts on language in the comments, I hope this piece has inspired you to pre-order Dream Country.

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