Surviving the 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:
Surviving the Mother Tongue

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This chapter discusses the practice of translating the expressions of one language literally into another as a particular mode of multilingual writing. Identifying the specificity of this mode, in which another language is simultaneously present and absent, as well as its prevalence in postcolonial writing, it turns to Turkish-German writer Emine Sevgi Özdamar's stories and novels from the 1990s, in which literally translated Turkish expressions feature frequently. Reading literal translation in relationship to the literality of the traumatic flashback as elaborated by trauma theorist Cathy Caruth, the chapter shows that these multilingual instances do not so much express the experience of migration from Turkey to Germany, as is so often presumed, but rather refer back to the experience of state violence perpetrated in the “mother tongue” prior to migration. A discussion of the linguistic history of the Ottoman Empire and the radical language reform in the Turkish Republic underscores the role of state intervention in the construction of the mother tongue. Özdamar's practice of literal translation, it is finally argued, also reconfigures German as a post-Holocaust language.

Keywords: Emine Sevgi Özdamar; language reform; migration; Ottoman Empire; post-Holocaust language; translation; trauma; Turkey; Turkish-German

Chapter.  9157 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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