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The myth of the mother tongue

The myth of the mother tongue" (NEMLA 2024, Boston)

Publié le par Marc Escola (Source : Benedetta Cutolo, The Graduate Center, CUNY)

“The mother tongue is an evil myth”, stated in a recent interview Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo. A myth that, as analyzed by scholar Yasemin Yildiz, behind its affective connotation, has played, in the past two centuries, a pivotal role “in the imagination and production of the homogenous nation-state”.

By suggesting the existence of an ancestral bond between every human being and one given language, Yildiz writes, the mother tongue “offers a strong model of the exclusive link between language and identity”.

Yet, in the past two decades, numerous exophonic authors challenged such an equation by deconstructing or reinventing the relationship between languages and subjectivities. From Assia Djebar to Abdellah Taïa, from Jhumpa Lahiri to Yoko Tawada, the mother tongue appears to have ceased to be the sole abode of a writer nowadays.

This seminar invites participants to reflect on the myth, the limits, and the future of the notion of “mother tongue”. How is the relationship between languages and identities evolving nowadays? Are we really moving towards what Yildiz defines as a "post-monolingual" condition of the subject?

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