Chapter

The Uncanny Mother Tongue

Yeasemin Yildiz

in Beyond the Mother Tongue

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780823241309
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241347 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fordham/9780823241309.003.0002
The Uncanny Mother Tongue

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This chapter discusses the force and the inner contradictions of the monolingual paradigm by taking the situation of early-twentieth-century German-language Jews, whose claims to German as their mother tongue were highly contested, as a point of departure. To this end, it analyzes nineteenth-century German discourses on Jews and language with particular attention to Richard Wagner's anti-Semitic pamphlet Judaism in Music. Drawing on the work of German scholars Stephan Braese and Andreas Gotzmann, as well as on Jacques Derrida's book Monolingualism of the Other, the chapter further distinguishes between strategies of appropriation and depropriation as divergent responses to this linguistic dispossession. From this vantage point, it approaches Franz Kafka's writings on Yiddish in his diaries, his letters, and in his 1912 “Speech on the Yiddish Language.” A section on the history of attitudes toward Yiddish in German-speaking lands, starting with Moses Mendelssohn, explains the stakes of Kafka's interest in this language. Although Kafka never considered writing in Yiddish, this chapter reveals that his writings about that language productively altered his relationship to German and allowed him to express the uncanniness of his “mother tongue.” It is also argued that French played a key mediating role in this negotiation.

Keywords: Austro-Hungarian Empire; Franz Kafka; Jacques Derrida; Jewishness; Jews and Language; monolingualism; multilingualism; Richard Wagner; uncanny; Yiddish

Chapter.  12762 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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