This essay examines the cultural translation of the Western first-person grammatical category into Vietnamese literature during French colonial rule. In the 1930s, Vietnamese writers began to assimilate the first-person pronoun “tôi” into their writing. The prevalence of tôi suggests a shift from Vietnamese collectivism to individualism during this period. However, through a reading of Khái Hưng's novel Nửa chừng xuân (In the Midst of Spring), this article argues that although male Vietnamese writers adapted the European first-person grammatical category to express individual autonomy, modern female authors and protagonists remained circumscribed by sociolinguistic structures and thus were unable to assume the first-person voice. Khái Hưng's novel, I contend, addresses the gendered transformations of modern Vietnamese language and literature by exploring how the female protagonist must discursively relate herself with and against existing sociolinguistic structures. The heroine's subjectivity is formed not through an appropriation of European individualism but rather through the chasm between the imported first-person and the sociolinguistic structures particular to Vietnam.
Ben Tran; I Speak in the Third Person: Women and Language in Colonial Vietnam. positions 1 August 2013; 21 (3): 579–605. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2144851
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