Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition

Yasemin Yildiz

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


This book is a study of the workings of a monolingual paradigm and of multilingual attempts to overcome it. It argues that monolingualism—the idea that having just one language is the norm—is a recent invention dating back only to late-eighteenth-century Europe, yet has become a dominant, if overlooked, structuring principle of modernity. According to this paradigm, individuals are imagined to be able to think and feel properly only in one language, their “mother tongue,” while multiple languages are seen as a threat to the cohesion of individuals and communities, institutions and disciplines. The book argues that since reemergent multilingual forms and practices exist in tension with the paradigm, they need to be analyzed 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, the individual chapters examine distinct forms of multilingualism: writing in one socially unsanctioned “mother tongue” about another language (Franz Kafka); mobilizing words of foreign derivation as part of 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 Özdamar); and mixing different languages, codes, and registers within one text (Feridun Zaimoğlu). These analyses suggest 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherFordham University Press
Number of pages306
ISBN (Electronic)9780823241347
ISBN (Print)9780823255757, 9780823241309
StatePublished - 2012


  • Emine Sevgi Özdamar
  • Yoko Tawada
  • Theodor W. Adorno
  • multilingualism
  • mother tongue
  • monolingualism
  • literature
  • German Language
  • Franz Kafka
  • Feridun Zaimoğlu

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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