Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition.
New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.
***Winner, 10th Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, awarded by the Modern Language Association of America
***Honorable Mention, 2014 Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies, awarded by the Nanovic Institute, Notre Dame
Reviewed in Choice (2012); Parallax (2012); International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (2012); Quaderna: Revue transdisciplinaire multilingue (2013, in French); TRANSIT (2013); Women in German Newsletter (2013); Die Unterrichtspraxis/ Teaching German (2013); Language in Society (2013); Translation Studies (2013); Gegenwartsliteratur: A German Studies Yearbook (2013); Seminar (2013); iaslonline.de (in German, 2013); Monatshefte (2013); Cultural Critique (2014); Comparative Literature Studies (2014); E3W [Ethnic and Third World Literatures] Review of Books (2014); Studies in 20th and 21st Century Literature (2015).
Focused on canonical and minority writers working in German in the twentieth century, Beyond the Mother Tongue is a study of the tense co-existence of proliferating multilingual practices, on the one hand, and a still dominant monolingual framework tied to the nation-state, on the other.
Beyond the Mother Tongue proposes to treat monolingualism not as a simple quantitative term but rather as a widespread structuring principle of modernity that emerged in late eighteenth-century Europe. The “monolingual paradigm,” the book observes, has impacted the imagination and construction of subjectivities and collectives as well as the formation of disciplines and institutions, especially but not uniquely in Europe. According to this paradigm, individuals are imagined to be able to think and feel properly only in one language, while multiple languages are seen as a threat to the cohesion of individuals and communities. As a result of this view, writing in anything but one’s “mother tongue” came to be seen as a stark aberration.
While linguists and other scholars working on languages are aware of the belated status of monolingualism, no study to date has spelled out the wide-ranging implications of this insight. One of the consequences of recognizing the monolingual paradigm is the fact that multilingual forms—that is, forms that draw on or conjoin at least two languages—take on an entirely different meaning after the advent of monolingualism. Newer multilingual forms and practices exist in tension with this paradigm, and are alternately obscured, pathologized, or exoticized by it. Hence my term “postmonolingual,” which indicates the continuing force of monolingualism as well as the incipient moves beyond it.
The specific readings of Beyond the Mother Tongue turn to particular forms of multilingualism, such as writing in one socially unsanctioned “mother tongue” about another language (Franz Kafka), mobilizing words of foreign derivation as part of a multilingualizing 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 Özdamar), and mixing different languages, codes, and registers within one text (Feridun Zaimoglu). Through these writers, 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.