Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition

Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition

Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition

Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition

Synopsis

Monolingualism - the idea that having just one language is the norm is only a recent invention, dating to late-eighteenth-century Europe. Yet it has become a dominant, if overlooked, structuring principle of modernity. According to this monolingual paradigm, individuals are imagined to be ableto think and feel properly only in one language, while multiple languages are seen as a threat to the cohesion of individuals and communities, institutions and disciplines. As a result of this view, writing in anything but one's "mother tongue" has come to be seen as an aberration. Beyond the Mother Tongue demonstrates the impact of this monolingual paradigm on literature and culture but also charts incipient moves beyond it. Because newer multilingual forms and practices exist in tension with the paradigm, which alternately obscures, pathologizes, or exoticizes them, thisbook argues that they can best be understood as "postmonolingual" that is, as marked by the continuing force of monolingualism. Focused on canonical and minority writers working in German in the twentieth century, Beyond the Mother Tongue examines distinct forms of multilingualism, such as writing in one socially unsanctioned "mother tongue" about another language (Franz Kafka); mobilizing words of foreign derivation as partof a multilingual constellation within one language (Theodor W. Adorno); producing an oeuvre in two separate languages simultaneously (Yoko Tawada); writing by literally translating from the "mother tongue" into another language (Emine Sevgi Ozdamar); and mixing different languages, codes, andregisters within one text (Feridun Zaimoglu). Through these analyses, Beyond the Mother Tongue suggests that the dimensions of gender, kinship, and affect encoded in the "mother tongue" are crucial to the persistence of monolingualism and the challenge of multilingualism

Excerpt

RETHINKING MONOLINGUALISM

On September 29, 2002, the Sunday issue of the New York Times included a sixty-eight-page paid insert previewing a conceptual artwork called Wordsearch: A Translinguistic Sculpture conceived by German artist Karin Sander and sponsored by the Deutsche Bank, the world's biggest corporate art collector. In response to the sponsor's request to offer a global perspective in a metropolitan location, Sander's project set out to document as many of the languages spoken in New York City as possible. It did so by finding one native speaker for each of 250 languages and asking each speaker to contribute one personally meaningful word in his or her “mother tongue” to a list. This list of unduplicated words was then translated into all the other languages. The resulting 62,500 words were arranged into columns resembling stock market tables and published as the actual “translinguistic sculpture” in another paid, eight-page insert in the business section of the New York Times on October 4, 2002. This commissioned artwork, Wordsearch, thus sought to render the novelty of globalized life at the turn of the millen-

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