On foliage and a plurilingual spring (by John Wayne N. dela Cruz)

Recently, I’ve been watching the Disney+ show Shōgun, a historical fiction drama about the political entanglements between a daimyo (feudal lord) outmaneuvering political rivals, and an English sea navigator shipwrecked in 1600s Japan.

An early scene showing Yoshii Toranaga, the daimyo in question. Image from: https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/behind-the-scenes-of-shogun-fxs-most-ambitious-production-in-history/

The show is visually stunning, emotionally captivating, and, of importance for this blog post, linguistically inspiring. That is, the show is almost entirely in Japanese, interspersed with English dialogues here and there (which is supposed to stand in for Portuguese). Further, aside from wading through my plurilingual repertoire to navigate the intricacies of the English subtitles, the Japanese on-screen speech, and the occasional translanguaged phrases (e.g., padre-sama, meaning Father, and sama being an honorific for, in this case, a religious authority)[1], I am also immersed in the natural world depicted in the series, a world that is both alive and dynamic (one episode I saw included scenes of a landslide-causing earthquake). And it’s in this intersection of dynamic, ever-shifting language acts and natural phenomena that I find myself writing this blog post.

A screenshot from the show’s opening sequence, which depicts nature embedded in the sands’ rippling pattern, or  “samon” (砂紋), a common feature of the Japanese dry garden.

Heeding the call of such plurilingual, natural inspirations, I thought of writing a series of haikus, translanguaged across English and French. In these haikus, I reflect on recent personal conversations I have been having with colleagues and friends about plurilingualism—in particular, its implications for language education, and for/among plurilingual, racialized immigrant Canadians in Québec, and in Canada more broadly. These conversations, I noticed, have serendipitously coincided with the coming of spring in Montréal (finally!). I thought haikus would be appropriate to capture them not only because of my fascination with Shōgun, but also because they tend to include observations about nature. I refer to this series of haikus, foliage in a plurilingual spring.


parle français icitte— 
I do, but choose I can too; 
the spring wind blows cold.

I am plurilingue, 
though I may not always show. 
spring sun hides in clouds.

integrate I want; 
your tongue speaks assimilate. 
snowstorms in late spring.
know fast their values. 
where am I in what I learn?
flowers wait the rain.
the summer sun looms, 
rethink we must our culture—
heat waves of changes: 
j’suis plurilingue, pas bilingue.
my repertoire basks.
humidity blooms 
with hundred accent droplets.
mes langues s’épanouissent.
mountain’s foliage, 
mes paroles résonnent dans l’île.
Sunny Tiohtià:ke.


I wouldn’t want to explain much exactly what I aim to mean with each haiku, or how the series should be interpreted as a whole. I would prefer if the readers would read into them through the lens of their own experiences pertaining to language learning and use (and seasonal changes!).

That said, I hope the haikus highlight the natural (as in akin to “nature”, but also as in “commonplace”) plurality of the languages and cultures in Canada—and by extension, in Québec—which resembles and reflects the beauty and/of diversity we see in the many green hues of a tree, or the refracted sparkling lights in a water droplet. A beauty of which I was plurilingually reminded in Shōgun’s eight episode, by a scroll translated in the on-screen captions simply as “Beauty of Nature”. May we find this beauty in all the that surround us.

A scene from Shōgun, episode 8, The Abyss of Life. The scroll on the wall reads, “beauty of nature”. Image from: https://collider.com/shogun-episode-8-tea-ceremony-meaning/

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts in the comments below, whether as prose or haiku!

[1] e.g., a Japanese character might address a Portuguese priest character as “padre-sama” within a longer utterance, which can either be in Japanese or in English (which again stands in for Portuguese), yet the honorific terms for the priest are in a mix of Portuguese and Japanese.

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