Translating the new world(s): A semiotic approach to Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

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In his latest novel Parrot and Olivier in America (2009) the Australian-born novelist Peter Carey explores the way three seemingly incompatible civilisations translate the New World. On the one hand Olivier, the snobbish French aristocrat, struggles to understand the concept of democracy in America because he wants to translate it ‘literally’ into his own system (of behaviour, social convenience, pragmatics, etc.). On the other hand, Parrot, the British-Australian pícaro and Olivier’s “clown and secretaire”, enjoys rewriting his master’s awful calligraphy, changing some of the Frenchman’s views on America according to his whim, and deliberately acting as a bad translator. Thirdly, the American free citizen, the “Man of the Future” (p. 187): s/he uses language creatively, coining a personal idiolect as evidence of belonging to a nation at its début, where “greed might tear the land apart but still the low could climb so high” (p. 251). This paper aims at illustrating how these three entities translate other systems of values, or their loss of values, into systems with which they can identify. The theoretical framework of my study proceeds from the contributions of Yuri Lotman, the main representative of the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-359
Number of pages18
JournalMacabea: revista eletronica do Netlli
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Peter Carey
  • Parrot and Olivier in America
  • Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics

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