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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The L2 Journal is an open access, fully refereed, interdisciplinary journal which aims to promote the research and the practice of language learning and teaching. It publishes articles in English on all aspects of applied linguistics broadly conceived, i.e., second language acquisition, second language pedagogy, bilingualism and multilingualism, language and technology, curriculum development and teacher training, testing and evaluation.

Special Issue on Literary Translingualism: Multilingual Identity and Creativity

Preface and Introduction to the Special Issue

General Editor's Preface

It is my great pleasure to introduce the two guest editors of this fourth Special Issue of L2 Journal Steven G. Kellman and Natasha Lvovich. I had known Steven’s work through his two path-breaking books on writers who write in multiple languages or in a language that is not their own: The Translingual Imagination (2000) and Switching Languages: Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft (2003). I knew Natasha’s beautiful autobiographical memoir The Multilingual Self (1997) in which she takes the reader through her experiences learning French, Italian, and English, and her experiences with synesthesia, i.e., seeing the sounds of her various languages in colored images of the mind. After the publication of my Multilingual Subject (2009), Natasha approached me with a paper on synesthesia that we then published in L2 Journal volume 4 issue 2 (2012). When in Fall 2013, she and Steven then offered to coordinate a special issue of the journal on Literary Translingualism: Multilingual Identity and Creativity, we were honored and delighted.

This issue, put together with the passion and the love for languages that characterize the work of the two guest editors, offers a unique collection of research papers, personal testimonies, review articles, and creative pieces as well as a rich bibliography on the topic of literary translingualism. Together they give us a glimpse of the multifaceted artistic productions of translingual poets, novelists, and playwrights, and their emotional and ideological resonances. For applied linguists, this special issue should be of particular relevance, as it brings together literary and linguistic perspectives on a multilingual literacy that has been studied up to now mainly on non-literary texts. By adding to the sensibility of the multilingual subject also the poetic and literary sensibility, the authors presented here add a humanistic dimension to the field of Applied Linguistics - a field that has been seen up to now as located mainly in the social sciences.

Introduction to Special Issue: Literary Translingualism: Multilingual Identity and Creativity

The guest editors introduce L2Journal readers to an emerging field of translingual literature--texts by authors using more than one language or a language other than their primary one. The diverse contributions by scholars of literary translingualism presented here contribute to multilingualism studies a unique lens of literary texts infused by multilingual creativity.


"The Translingual Sensibility: A Conversation Between Steven G. Kellman and Ilan Stavans"

Dialogue might be the most appropriate medium for reflections on translingualism. In a dialogue conducted by email over the course of ten days, Steven G. Kellman and Ilan Stavans consider the validity and implications of linguistic determinism. Their conversation examines whether some words that seem to embody the unique Weltanschaaung of a particular culture – such as Schadenfreude, duende, or mångata – can be appropriated, if not translated, into another culture. Pondering whether there are any inherent qualities that distinguish texts by monolingual writers such as Jane Austen and William Faulkner from work by authors who switch languages, such as Samuel Beckett and Vladimir Nabokov, they agree on the usefulness of thinking in terms of a translingual sensibility. Apart from the biographical circumstances of the author, a text possesses a translingual sensibility if it embodies an awareness of both the power and the limitations of its own verbal medium.



Involuntary Dissent: The Minority Voice of Translingual Life Writers

With reference to Eva Hoffman's Lost in Translation (1989) and four other texts I examine how translingual writers represent experiences of bringing what Hoffman calls 'terms from elsewhere' into dominant cultural dialogues. Alongside Hoffman's memoir I consider Bulgarian-French philosopher Tzvetan Todorov's Bilinguisme, dialogisme et schizophrenie (1985), Indian-born US writer Ginu Kamani's Code Switching (2000), Russian-born Australian journalist Irene Ulman's Playgrounds and Battlegrounds (2007) and French-Australian novelist Catherine Rey's To Make a Prairie it Takes a Clover and One Bee (2013). For all the diversity of translingual trajectories these 5 texts represent, there are conspicuous parallels between their accounts of speaking in a 'minority voice'. My focus is on experiences of involuntary dissent, a form of ambivalent group membership, which constitutes a significant and critically overlooked aspect of translingual identity.

'The Heartache of Two Homelands...': Ideological and Emotional Perspectives on Hebrew Transnational Writing

The work of immigrant writers, whose professional identity is built around language, can deepen understandings of sociolinguistic and psychological issues, including aspects of the immigration experience; the position of language in the ideological and emotional value systems, and the significance of language for individual development. This paper deals with a number of translingual writers who immigrated to Israel prior to its establishment as an independent state and who chose Hebrew as their language. The paper focuses on three figures—Alexander Penn, Leah Goldberg, and Aharon Appelfeld—who came from different countries and different language backgrounds but have in common that Hebrew was not their first language.

Two issues are discussed in depth in this article. One is the unique position of Hebrew, a language that retains high symbolic significance given its association with holy texts and the ideological role its revival played in the Zionist enterprise. Its association with identity issues or childhood memories may thus be somewhat different from that of other second languages. The other issue is the psychological motivations that affected these writers’ language shift. Despite the broad consensus on this shift as having been inspired by ideological/Zionist motives, my claim is that their motives may have been broader. Ideologies may at times serve as camouflage—used either by wider society’s collective interest in promoting its ethos, or by the individuals themselves, who prefer to be viewed as part of the collective and lean on its ideology to serve their own psychological needs.


Eugene Jolas: A Poet of Multilingualism

Eugene Jolas, the first-time publisher of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939 / 2012), started his career as a translingual journalist and poet. A French-German bilingual, Jolas acquired English in adolescence, crossing the Atlantic to refashion himself as an American man of letters. A "Man from Babel," as he styles himself in his posthumous autobiography of the same title (1998), Jolas published poetry in English, French, and German and eventually arrived to an understanding of his linguistic predicament as representative of humanity's path back to a pre-Babel state. Thus, he repeatedly called for a new language, a poetically-charged polygloss, Atlantica, that would surpass Esperanto and allow poets to lead humanity out of a post-war "malady of language."  Here as elsewhere, this self-identified "homme migrateur presque symbolique” was right in his claim: “je fais toujours partie du cosmos inter-racial et inter-linguistique, …. j'appartiens au futur (“The Migrator and His Language”, 1948; French draft Box 4, Folder 100; translation Jolas, 2009, p. 458).

This paper  explores Jolas’ largely unpublished legacy as a multilingual poet. In addition to published collections of poems in three languages, Jolas left a largely forgotten legacy of multilingual, macaronic, and outright nonsense texts that baffle by their inventiveness. These curious poems, which oscillate between virtuosic linguistic creativity and the construction of a new language, carve out a niche within the modernist movement for literally and metaphorically non-native use of poetic language. Jolas does more than simply create a multilingual collage; he is reconstructing the experience of a creative mind that knows no borders between linguistic systems. By forcing us into a world where any words can enter into any relationships, this experiment in a multilingual poetics invites the critic to think not in terms of poetic value alone but also in terms of method, and it is an extrapolation of this method that this article seeks to achieve.

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Comment Dire: A Neurolinguistic Approach to Beckett’s Bilingual Writings

Recent studies from the field of neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics suggest that bilinguals and multilinguals are in many ways fundamentally different from monolinguals, a difference that starts with a different cerebral structure for language. This difference will constitute the point of departure for my paper: If multilingual people are intrinsically different from monolingual people, it should follow that multilingual writers must be intrinsically different from monolingual writers.  Samuel Beckett’s bilingualism was the governing force of much of his writing and has received ample critical attention. Yet this article will examine a hitherto neglected aspect of this topic: the way Beckett’s bilingualism may have inflected his writing in the first place. It will call on some of the research in neuro- and psycholinguistics to illuminate Beckett’s constant back and forth between English and French and the importance this may have had for his writing as well as to show how Beckett’s bilingual background is organically connected to the writing.

Translingual Paratopia and the Universe of Katalin Molnar

The concept of paratopia in Dominique Maingueneau’s literary discourse analysis designates the writers’ paradoxical location, their oscillation between belonging and not belonging to the literary field and to the society. This in-between situation is also characteristic to bilingual people, and as such translingual writers (Steven Kellman, Translingual Imagination, 2000) are outsiders twice over in comparison to other authors: they also live between their original and their adopted societies. The specificity of translingual paratopia consists in the possibility of bilinguals to use their “other” culture or language as a source of legitimization in their adopted society’s literary field. The fluctuation may be observed in different dimensions of literary works, as it is demonstrated by the analysis of the Franco-Hungarian writer, Katalin Molnár’s novel, Lamour Dieu (1999). Since her early texts, Molnár has challenged the validity of linguistic correctness; she plays with the boundaries of text and the limits of language. In her novel too, she transgresses literary forms, rules of grammar, she incorporates Hungarian proverbs and intertextual references into the French text and she creates neologisms that reflect a personal universe. Hence she portrays an image of in-betweenness: she is situated between forms, languages, cultures and universes.

Nancy Huston’s Polyglot Texts: Linguistic Limits and Transgressions

Throughout her career, Nancy Huston has both accepted and transgressed the limits of bilingualism. Limbes / Limbo (1998), L’empreinte de l’ange (1998), The Mark of the Angel (2000), Danse noire (2013), and Black Dance (2014) are five texts that demonstrate Huston’s diverse use of polyglot writing. While Limbes / Limbo is characterized by its use of bilingual writing and self-translation, L’empreinte de l’ange and The Mark of the Angel possess monolingual narratives accompanied by five different languages. By contrast, whereas Danse noire presents self-translations and multilingual dialogues within three alternating narratives, Black Dance demonstrates a less intense use of multilingualism. What, then, can be said about Huston’s use of multiple languages? And what are the stakes of this unique, multilingual style? In view of these five texts, this study will examine the benefits and disadvantages of Huston’s polyglot writing. Moreover, it will expose the linguistic limits for the “readerly” experience of Huston’s work. When used minimally or as a form of bilingual self-translation, Huston’s presentation of foreign languages enhances her narratives. When used excessively, or as a way to dominate the text, however, this multilingualism impedes the reader’s comprehension of the narrative. In navigating these inter-lingual limits and transgressions, this study will uncover some of the linguistic problems and solutions inherent in Huston’s work.


Interlingual Encounter in Pierre Garnier and Niikuni Seiichi’s French-Japanese Concrete Poetry

In the latter half of the 1960s, without meeting each other and without knowing each other’s language, French poet Pierre Garnier and Japanese poet Niikuni Seiichi 新国誠一 collaborated to create French-Japanese concrete poems. This essay examines the interlingual encounters in the two poets’ bilingual poems that facilitate exchange beyond linguistic boundaries. It argues that Garnier and Niikuni’s bilingual concrete poems are grounded not so much in metaphorical significance as in interlingual contiguity, with reference to Jakobson’s view of the poetic function. Since the creation of a syntagmatic dimension between the two languages is a basic step in the making of the French-Japanese poems, the prevalence of contiguity affects both combination and selection of poetic materials. In light of Garnier and Niikuni’s collaboration, the essay proposes the beginning of an interlingual poetics that, in contrast to the primacy of equivalence in Jakobsonian poetics, foregrounds the role of contiguity in bridging the languages involved and staging an interlingual encounter. The instigation of an interlingual poetics also involves the creation of interlingual contiguity through spatial syntagms, an approach that Garnier and Niikuni’s collaboration demonstrates as viable. By opening up the text to invite contingencies and accidents in the combination of words, spatial syntagms contribute to a reevaluation of the relationship between metaphor and metonymy in the operation of language.

Review Essays

New Homes for Translinguals: Re-examining Cultural and Linguistic Belonging in Contemporary Literature

The article discusses the most recent books on multilingualism and transculturalism. It focuses on two edited volumes: Languages of Exile: Migration and Multilingualism in Twentieth-Century Literature, edited by Englund and Olsson (2013) and Transcultural Identities in Contemporary Literature, edited by Gilsenan Nordin, Hansen, and Zamorano Llena (2013).

Writing the Translingual Life: Recent Memoirs and Auto-Fiction by Russian-American and Russian-German Novelists

One of the more remarkable developments in translingual literature over the past decade has been the rise of a new wave of Soviet-born authors writing in languages other than their native Russian. Autobiographical elements have always figured prominently in their fiction, and some of these authors have recently crossed the boundary into non-fiction by writing memoirs. The process of writing in a second language about becoming a writer in a second language gives these books a particular self-referential quality. This essay surveys the latest memoirs and auto-fiction (published 2012-14) of five Soviet-born immigrant novelists in the U.S. and Germany—Gary Shteyngart, Lena Gorelik, Lara Vapnyar, Olga Grjasnowa, and Maxim Shrayer.  It argues that constructing a narrative of the self for a foreign audience serves as a crucial step in the gestation of a translingual novelist. This narrative urge often predates the actual mastery of the new language. Rather than as the result of an already-achieved acquisition of a new linguistic medium, telling one’s story in a non-native language emerges as a means toward language learning and integration.


Selective Bibliography of Translingual Literature

Note from the guest editors:

Translingual Literature is literature written in a language not native to the author, in two languages, or in a mix of languages. This bibliography is the very first attempt to create and publish such an academic tool for researchers of multilingualism, second-language acquisition, comparative literature, and other fields. Given the scope of languages and literatures involved, certain limitations had to be set. This bibliography, which cannot presume to be exhaustive, contains only books written and published IN ENGLISH; documentation of the vast body of translingual writing in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Latin, Persian, Urdu, and other languages awaits another day. The bibliography is comprised of three categories: 1) Fiction; 2) Non-fiction (memoirs and essays); 3) Interdisciplinary Scholarship Related to Translingual Literature.

It is a testimony to the vitality of the field, to the prolific ongoing contributions of fiction, nonfiction, and scholarship in translingual literature, that the bibliography is destined to be incomplete even before it is published. As a true 21st-century effort, this bibliography was “crowd-sourced,” i.e. gathered thanks to the contributions of the community of translingual literature scholars and edited by L2 Journal guest editors, Natasha Lvovich and Steven G. Kellman.