Language and Bilingualism in Antigone Kefala’s Alexia (1995) and The Island (2002)


  • Catalina Ribas Segura



language, bilingualism, “wogspeak”, hybridity, Greek-Australian literature, Antigone Kefala


Migrants modify the spaces around them: not only by leaving one territory but also by occupying another one. In fact, their physical appearance, their behaviour, their clothing, their preferences and/or their language may be factors used both by locals to pinpoint them and by immigrants themselves as identity markers. Greek-Australian Antigone Kefala explores the significance and uses of language in her tale Alexia: A Tale for Advanced Children (1995) and in her novella The Island (2002). In these texts, Alexia and Melina –the main characters, respectively- use language as a central tool in their struggle to make sense of the world they live in. Being migrants and bilingual, Alexia and Melina have a relation with language that is not understood by many, mainly locals. Kefala uses language as a marker of difference, but, as shown by Jane Warren (1999), this difference can also be a sign of ethnic pride. Consequently, this article not only explores the relation between language and the main characters in Alexia and in The Island but it also introduces other strategies migrants may use to approach languages. The questions to be answered are the following: “What is the relation of migrant characters with their mother tongue? And with the new language, culture, territory and space?” and “Are there alternative strategies?” The expected conclusions are that language can be understood as the ‘enemy’ and ‘friend’ (Kefala 1995: 104) which can both empower and disempower migrants, but which relates them to the space and people around them. Given the fact that language is a live entity, the strategies may be numerous and may vary in time.