Poetic Translingualism in English, Afrikaans, and Farsi


In the spring of 2020, Khashayar Mohammadi invited Klara du Plessis to start a collaborative writing project. Knowing du Plessis’ translingual Ekke, a poetry collection in Afrikaans and English, he had been researching possible similarities between Afrikaans and Farsi—their respective mother tongues—discovering that they indeed share a very prevalent G or χ sound. The two poets started playing in a shared Google doc, thinking that they would compose a handful of poems. The creative impetus of the collaboration was so strong, however, that they wrote the first draft of an entire trilingual poetry collection in English, Afrikaans, and Farsi in a matter of weeks. This manuscript is provisionally called Fricatives and is scheduled for publication through Palimpsest Press in 2023.

Both Mohammadi and du Plessis are in the unique position of having more than one language in which they think and create. For him, it is English and Farsi, and for her it is English and Afrikaans. They live in and form part of a country (Canada) and literary community, however, that obviously has an extremely rich linguistic diversity, but only officially acknowledge English and French—in terms of publishing, in particular. Mirene Arsanios diagnoses this linguistic repression as a symptom of settler colonialism in her essay “Notes on Mother Tongues”: “The ‘nation’ of the modern, settler-colonial nation-state is premised on the eradication of […] languages […] it turns lands into territories that stand for a nation’s monolithic identity (nationalism) (monolingualism)” (2020, 2). In other words, Literature is beholden to nationhood in a way that can dictate the kinds of literatures that are allowed to exist, to be published, and to be read.

One form of resistance to this condition is translingualism—writing in and across languages, and deliberately including languages that the majority of a Canadian readership would not necessarily understand. Sarah Dowling writes in Translingual Poetics:

I use the term translingual […] because it describes the capacity of languages to interact, influence, and transform one another […] Translingualism is generally understood as a set of strategies by which writers engage with diverse linguistic codes in ways that are context-dependent. Translingual practice does not simply flout established norms and dominant institutions, but negotiates these social constraints in relation to writers’ competencies and repertoires […] the term translingual typically describes critical, oppositional, and survival practices (2018, 4-5).

For both poets, coming to terms with the strength inherent to translingual poetic practice is a major part of their development as writers. They can write democratically across languages, allowing words to enter poems as they are inspired to do, without worrying whether a monolingual audience would understand the work or not. Even amongst themselves, they also invite each other into their respective languages, creating an exophonic dialogue between languages; this act of hospitality into Farsi and Afrikaans, framed by a shared proficiency in English, allow the poets access into strange linguistic terrain that they themselves do not understand. Semantic comprehension is unimportant and what does gain currency is the productive disruption caused by bringing so-called minority languages into the hegemonic reading space of an anglophone audience. Each time they use an Afrikaans or Farsi word, they perforate the illusion of a stable and universal English.


The fricative reclines in its resonance

across languages and landscapes /

landskappe en tongskappe / 

vibrating at the frequency of speech


The thing about expansiveness

is that it never comes to an end / einder 

being a placeholder for the line of sight

circling around continents / consonants

thrill-seeking and trilling


Each word sinks beneath the horizon

of its throat. Oral moon leaves one last ovum

glimmering in the nighttime stratum

of the sentence. Straddling grammar,

the egg / eier / eie / ei / staggers inside its own

weight, the shell needling its decline

with the technology of a crack


Crack the whip of vocab. Eina, 

roep die sin / sinful / sonde / sondage. 

See, a survey of sounds

shows a sensational reliance on similarity,

on familiarity, intimacy, coitus interruptus,

on a firm verbal handshake shivering

across the surface of poems, loanwords,

and dictionaries in all languages


Dipping in and out of relevance /

reverb fricative / returns with daybreak / 

line break / crisps diction with gruff 

crackling of spikes, spittle, and frills


To separate a sound into functionality,

then to reunite it with the gentle endlessness /

langskap einders / of  lungscapes

Landskappe (Afrikaans) landscapes

En (Afrikaans) and

Tongskappe (Afrikaans) tonguescapes (neologism)

Einder (Afrikaans) horizon

Eier (Afrikaans) egg

Eie (Afrikaans) own

Ei (Afrikaans) used in “vir ’n appel en ’n ei” for a mere song

Eina, roep die sin (Afrikaans) ouch! the sentence exclaims

Sonde (Afrikaans) sin

Sondage (French) survey 

Langskap (Afrikaans) longscape (neologism)

Einders (Afrikaans) horizons


vawhed now vawheh

from toheed to tohee

the tongue is prosthetic unity

pros- : in addition to

+τίθημι : to put (literal act of laying down)

like  τῐ́θημῐ πόδα : I plant the foot

τῐ́θημῐ  τὰ ὅπλα

I rest arms

I bear arms

I lay down arms and surrender

language is pros-θέσις

an addition seeking to fulfil

an absent limb itching

a primal map/ ejaculate from

a time-bruise on the throat

the last song beyond mankind

words as habitat for a thought system

systemic erasure of sounds echo in history

the k now silent in knife

the performative exploitation

of sounds lost to history

q(u’)es(t-ce) q(u)e c’e(st)

(g)nostic tho(ugh)t apropo(s) bigbang ex nihilo

phlegm’s elusive g

the χ of Afrikaans

geld in throat

lifted off to spell

the letter that sands

my tongue-root lucid

there are too many moving parts to the self

the only continuity is through language

there is an entropy to friction 

feel it in your throat

say χ and listen 

to its pulse

climb out 

of your laryngeal Tundra

tah (ته) Farsi for “end”

tahi (تهی) Farsi, correct ancient pronunciation of “Tohi” colloquially meaning “empty” but literally “that without an end” or “endless”

vawhed (واحد) Arabic for “Unit”, commonly used in Farsi

vawheh (واحه) Farsi for “oasis”

toheed (توحید) Arabic word for “unity” commonly used in Farsi

tohee/tohi: refer to “tahi”

τίθημι (Greek) tithenai, meaning “to put” also the literal act of lying down

τῐ́θημῐ πόδα (Greek) tithnyi poda: “to plant the foot”

θέσις(Greek): thesis


“Lungscapes” by Klara du Plessis was first published in The Capilano Review: Translingual Issue, Fall 2020.

“Aarie” by Khashayar Mohammadi was first published in Shrapnel Magazine, 2021. <https://www.shrapnelmagazine.com/poetry/fricative-20>.