11 – 12 May 2016
My Mother Tongue Is a Foreign Language
Video in EnglishFormat: mp4
First published on: https://www.ici-berlin.org/events/untying-mother-tongue/
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Part of the Conference
Untying the Mother Tongue: On Language, Affect, and the Unconscious
French poststructuralist thought has problematized the notion of a ‘mother tongue’ by dividing it into two discrete elements – the ‘maternal’ and the ‘linguistic’. Derrida has exposed the metaphysical implications of the dream of a ‘mother tongue’: a desire for origin, purity, and identity. In his Monolingualism of the Other – permeated with reflections about his affective relation to French -, Derrida has maintained that ‘the language called maternal is never purely natural, nor proper, nor inhabitable’. Julia Kristeva, on the other hand, has addressed the relationship between ‘maternal’ and ‘language’ in her elaborations on Plato’s concept of chora – a sort of pre-ontological condition of reality. While the Platonic chora is a formless matrix of space, in Kristeva it becomes ‘a non-expressive totality’: that is, paradoxically, both a generative principle through which meaning constitutes itself and a force subverting any established linguistic or epistemological system.
The conference ‘Untying the Mother Tongue’ intends to re-think affective and cognitive attachments to language. If traditional constructions of a monolingual speaker, a pure ‘mother tongue’ reveal the ideology of the European nation-state, then today’s celebration of multilingual competencies simply reflects the rise of global capitalism and its demand for transnational labor markets. French poststructuralist thought has problematized the notion of a ‘mother tongue’ by dividing it into two discrete elements – the ‘maternal’ and the ‘linguistic’ – and by exposing their metaphysical and colonialist presuppositions. Can something be salvaged of the notion of a mother tongue? What are the remains, traces, or vestiges of a language no longer directly tied to the mother yet resounding with a maternal echo and at the same time manifesting itself as a primary idiom with respect to its affective and aesthetic dimensions? This ‘residual notion’ of a mother tongue supposes that language is indeed a basic human need (like food, shelter, or clothing), since it provides an indispensable access to a symbolic dimension shaping affectivity and knowledge.
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Organized byFederico Dal Bo