Co-authored by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, The Perils of Certain English Prisoners is a tale of linguistic subversion in colonial spaces. Christian George King-a native "Sambo" that betrays the English colonists on Silver Store to a marauding band of pirates-demonstrates a linguistic phenomenon that scholars call interlanguage, or a quasi-language that partially resembles both English and his native language. Because of its status as a language between languages, King's interlanguage disrupts the linguistic hierarchy of the tale by opening possibilities for miscommunication. To combat this underlying tension, the colonists must rely on translation-specifically, on the mistaken belief that all non-English languages, including an interlanguage, can be translated perfectly into English. Perfect translation grants colonial spaces a much-needed façade of unity and cohesion against what would otherwise be linguistic chaos. Yet the very notion that meaning can be perfectly translated is shattered by interlanguage's ability to cultivate both intimacy and resistance in the translator-intimacy, because the colonizers see enough of their own language in the learner to lull themselves into thinking that meaning is transparent; and resistance, because the foreign parts of the learner's speech that remain serve as a continual reminder of the unconquered tongue. While interlanguage is most apparent in King's speech, it is also present, in a unique way, in the construction and co-authorship of The Perils itself. Indeed, interlanguage proves a useful concept for thinking about any textual moment in which individual voices combine into a hybrid voice that cultivates the illusion of unity and cohesion.



College and Department

Humanities; English

Date Submitted


Document Type





Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, interlanguage, translation, co-authorship, The Perils of Certain English Prisoners