Multilingualism in Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater and Zahra Patterson’s Chronology




multilingualism, queerness, postcolonialism


Multilingualism is one of marginalised authors’ strategies to express their stories and identities when writing in what bell hooks labelled ‘the oppressor’s language’. It allows them to navigate language imbued with contradictions: the language that connects and provides terminology for some marginalised  identities while being infused with various oppressive regimes. This article discusses the forms and roles of multilingualism in two queer life-writing texts:  written in English and interwoven with African influences, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater (2018c) is an autobiographical novel; Zahra Patterson’s Chronology  (2018) is an experimental autobiographical essay. The scope and the forms of multilingualism differ: in Chronology, a significant part of the text is written in  Sesotho; in Freshwater, the passages in Igbo are comparably scarce. Emezi, however, also adopts a non-Western register in the English passages as another  strategy of postcolonial writing ‘in character’. The article argues that while the concrete strategies vary, the authors employ multilingualism for similar political  and aesthetic purposes: they utilise it to challenge the presumed universality of the Western conceptualisations of identity, gender, and sexuality, to express  hybridity and heterogeneity of the narrated identities, and for its potential to create intimacy in the language.