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10 What English-language authors learned English as a second language?




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This article is from the Books FAQ, by Evelyn C. Leeper eleeper@jaguar.stc.lucent.com with numerous contributions by others.

10 What English-language authors learned English as a second language?

AUTHOR | FIRST LANGUAGE

Achebe, Chinua Ibo*
Arlen, Michael (Dikran Kouyoumjian) Armenian?
Asimov, Isaac Yiddish*
Bellow, Saul Yiddish, French?
Brodsky, Joseph Russian
Bronowski, Jacob Polish
Broumas, Olga Greek
Budrys, Algis Lithuanian
Codrescu, Andrei Romanian
Conrad, Joseph Polish
Cousteau, Jacques French+
Dinesen, Isak (Karen Blixen) Danish
Heym, Stefan (Helmut Flieg) German
Ishiguro, Kazuo Japanese*
Kakuzo, Okakura Japanese
Kerouac, Jack French
Kingston, Maxine Hong Cantonese
Koestler, Arthur Hungarian
Kosinski, Jerzy Polish
Lewis, Saunders Welsh
Limonov, Eddie Russian
Lin Yu-tang Chinese (Mandarin?)
Lowe, Adolph German
Lundwall, Sam Swedish
Malinowski, Bronislaw Polish
Milosz, Czeslaw Polish
Mukherjee, Bharati Bangla
Nabokov, Vladimir Russian*
Narayan, R. K. Tamil
Nin, Anais French
Rand, Ayn Russian
Sabatini, Rafael Italian
Seth, Vikram Hindi
Skvorecky, Josef Czech
Smirnov, Yakov Russian
Soyinka, Wole Yoruba
Stoppard, Tom Czech*
Traven, B. German?
Tutuola, Amos Hausa? (from Nigeria)
van Gulik, Robert Dutch
Vincinzey, Stephen Hungarian
Wertenbaker, Timberlake French
Wongar, Banumbir Arnhem Land aboriginal language
Zukofsky, Louis Yiddish

* Learned English as a child.
+ First book was in English

B. Traven is a pseudonym for someone of uncertain national origin, who
went to great lengths to obfuscate his past. German was probably his
first language, despite his disclaimers that it was English. (More detail:
His works were mostly originally published in German, and usually
translated into English by someone else, but the US edition of THE
TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE was edited for word order from B. Traven's
own translation. (And we know he was faking the bad word order, since
his letters and diaries are in proper order.) He did sometimes publish
in English first a few times, and that part of a pre-publication English
manuscript for THE DEATH SHIP (originally published in German) is
known.)

Other possible candidates include Timothy Mo, who grew up in Hong Kong
and was later educated in England. There are numerous Indian and
Anglo-Indian writers, like Vikram Seth (Hindi/Punhabi/Hindustani),
R. K. Narayan (Tamil/Kannada), Raja Rao (Kannada), Bharati Mukerji
(Bengali), Gita Mehta (?), Anita Desai (?), Markandaya (?), Tagore
(Bengali), and Salman Rushdie (Hindi/Urdu), for whom English may very
well be their second language. Some of the modern Soviet expatriates
write in English now (see Smirnov, above). Also Guneli Gun (Turkish),
Wole Soyinka, Ayi Kwei Armah (?), Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kikuyu),
Dambudzo Marechera (Shona), many other African writers, Waguih Ghali
(Arabic), Walter Abish (German), Apirana Taylor (Maaori), Albert Wendt
(Samoan). Other possibilities include a number of Chinese and East
Asian authors. Also possibly Mavis Gallant, who spoke French as a child
in Montreal. Jan Willem van de Wetering wrote in Dutch and then
translated his books into English.

How about switches to other languages? French has Samuel Beckett
(first language English), Camara Laye (Dahomey), Julien Green
(English), Leopold Senghor (Senegalese?), Leon Troyat (Lev Tarassov,
a.k.a. Lev Tarossian) (Russian? Armenian?), and Elie Wiesel (Magyar and
Yiddish). Russian has Fazil Iskander (Abkhaz) and Chingiz Aitmatov (a
Central Asian Turkish dialect). Leonora Carrington wrote several short
stories in French or Spanish, before their translation into English.
Was Paul Celan's first language was Hungarian?

Milan Kundera's first language was Czech, but he now writes in French.

Then there are bilingual-from-birth writers, such as Liám Ó Flaithearta
Flann Ó Brien (real name Brian O'Nolan or Ó Nualláin), and Sean Ó
Faoileán. Many authors have also written novels in Esperanto.

 

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