– That? – said Stephen. – is that called a funnel? is it not a tundish? –
– What is a tundish? –
– That. The…funnel. –
– Is that called a tundish in Ireland? – asked the dean. – I never heard the word in my life. –
This was really one of those ‘moments’ that struck me when I read Portrait of the Artist for the first time some years ago. It just seems so ironic that the dean, who is an Englishman, ‘a countryman of Ben Jonson’, needs to be taught by Stephen on what the English word ‘tundish’ is about, or that it actually is an English word to begin with. In spite of his brilliant grasp of the English language, Stephen also suggests how the borrowed language makes even the most familiar things seem distant and foreign when he says, ‘How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot read or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words…’
The idea of an ‘acquired speech’ is really what hits home, i supposed. In spite of its foreignness, the underlying self-referencing that this borrowed language belongs ultimately to the English conqueror, imposed upon the subjugated Irish, the English language is however, central to Stephen’s own artistic quest. As he acknowledges towards the end of the novel, the only way for him to utilize this condition is to shape the English language into a medium for him to convey and express the conditions of the subjugated Irish race.