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  • The Fall, or the Rise, of Monolingualism?
  • David Gramling (bio) and Bethany Wiggin (bio)

At this global moment, nation and language can hardly be presumed to coincide—if they ever did. Yet this Herderian, and also deeply romantic, conception of language as a prepossession of the nation would appear to have a long afterlife in research methodology and disciplinary reconstitution. It continues to provide the subtle but plain ballast for a range of institutional structures: from the primacy of the native speaker in language instruction and the image of the linguistically integrated citizen, to the disciplinary study of nation-based literatures. Monolingualism thus remains, in Elizabeth Ellis's often-cited phrase, "the unmarked case."1 In an era when English has become a hyperpervasive world language of commerce and scholarship, we are perhaps more easily able now to recognize monolingualism in all its contingency, consequence, and historical contour. The academic study of English literature has accordingly turned its gaze in recent years to its constitutive linguistic outsides, in monographs like Jahan Ramazani's 2009 A Transnational Poetics and Rebecca Walkowitz's 2015 Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature. German studies has also shifted from the intercultural to the multilingual, with volumes like Till Dembeck and Rolf Parr's 2017 handbook on Literatur und Mehrsprachigkeit, Bethany Wiggin and Catriona MacLeod's 2016 collection Un/Translatables: New Maps for Germanic Literatures, and the sociolinguist Patrick Stevenson's 2017 Language and Migration in a Multilingual Metropolis. Books like Yasemin Yildiz's 2012 Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition and Brian Lennon's 2010 In Babel's Shadow: Multilingual Literatures, Monolingual States have (re)introduced modernist German studies scholarship to its multilingual late medieval prehistory, and thereby also to the likelihood that monolingualism's modern conceit of naturalness has run its course.

Or has it? Ought we be speaking here of the "rise and fall" or the "fall and rise" of monolingualism in the twenty-first century? From our current vantage point, the political energies invested in the creation of monolingual nations certainly do not seem to be in decline. We can point in any direction and find a world leader or a state apparatus gathering the (supposedly) scattered and benighted tools of monolingual ideology, speakership, citizenship, culture, and social order—and applying them with [End Page 457] unprecedented force and dexterity. Algorithmic machine translation technologies, though seeming to promote intercultural communication and planetary exchange, take the global credit-debit system as their model in reifying and securitizing language as a new species of industrial commodity: that of the translated word, concept, or trope.2 Whereas nation-states like the Federal Republic of Germany (in contrast to the French Republic3) were relatively indifferent to such nationalized public monolingualism prior to 1999, immigration and refugee policies over the last decade—about which, like so much else, we may have previously felt optimistic—now designate proficiency in national languages as "the very least we should expect" of immigrants.4 Though late-1990s visions of European Union-wide personal multilingualism were ecstatically aspirational, buyers' remorse in the implementation and coordination process of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages has resulted in what Robert Moore has called a "reactionary multilingualism," geared more toward strategies of exclusion and surveillance than toward any truly capacious form of cosmopolitanism, hospitality, or intercultural inquiry.5 Though the US state of California recently repealed its antibilingual education act Proposition 227 from 1998, the replacement bill Proposition 58, the California Education for a Global Economy Initiative, envisions an educational orientation toward multilingualism that is predicated not on communication between human speakers/writers in a complex world, but on the accumulation of switchable assets in a context of global commercial deregulation.6 While Yildiz proposed that the age we call contemporary has been marked by the postmonolingual condition, we are also witnessing how phenomena of postmultilingualism are becoming ever more hegemonic in matters of citizenship, public aesthetics, cybertechnology, publishers' in-house style guides, and even disciplinary methodology.7 Monolingualism may be merely getting better, more subtle, and more innovative in achieving its structural objective of managing and containing "other languages" and "others' language" in...


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