Zemblan: The Nitra and Indra of Vladimir Nabokov's Exilic Discourse

Margarit Tadevosyan, Boston College

While various aspects of Vladimir Nabokov's English writing have long been subjects of critical inquiry, this paper proposes to examine for the first time the fictional Zemblan language of Pale Fire (1962) in the context of Nabokov's linguistic transition from Russian into English. Zemblan is the linguistic product of intertextual (pertaining to the novel) and extratextual (pertaining to Nabokov) exilic sensibility, as evidenced by its structure, quality, and function. It enables Nabokov to transcend the duality of his two coexisting creative linguistic systems, Russian and English, by expressing his ideas through a language that cannot be traced to any single etymological origin. The etymological analysis of Zemblan indicates references to various languages and literatures that have contributed to the formation of Nabokov's artistic sensibility. At the same time, it also generates new meanings, semantically and taxonomically different from the etymological stems it contains. This dual derivative and generative quality of Zemblan serves as metalinguistic commentary and provides a unique form of expression. Zemblan words not only signify familiar and unfamiliar concepts but also translate into metrically controlled units literary masterpieces. They indicate Nabokov's awareness of the flexible relationship between a referent and its word, which constitute an important part of a bilingual writer's artistic sensibility. Zemblan thus ensures that the very language of the novel tells the story of linguistic exile.