David Gramling

University of Arizona
Link to: Institution information and contact

GramlinghatA great deal of my current work is focused on coming to historical terms with monolingualism: What is it? Whom is it allowed to characterize, in public and scholarly discourse? When, a few months ago, a woman named Emily Dickerson died, she was said to have been the last living monolingual speaker of Chickasaw, and her passing was mourned in the indigenous and Center-Left US-national press on that basis. This moment—and many others in my life as a researcher, teacher, translator, and language learner—left me feeling both puzzled and impugned about how contemporary discourses tend so confidently to triage various speech practices and linguistic subjectivities into the ontological categories of mono- and multilingualism. In my current book project, The Invention of Monolingualism, I attempt to make specific historical claims about how and when monolingualism became a thinkable structure for imagining the multiply-languaged world—round about the late 17th century, alongside various technological innovations for tuning keyboard instruments in “well temperament” and then eventually “equal temperament” in the 19th century. This technological drive for the universal transposability of meaning, unheard of until the early modern period, has given us most recently the “Globalization, Localization, Internationalization, and Translation” (GILT) industry, which promises to instantaneously transpose and distribute monetized content into scores of linguistic markets, peopled by imaginary end-user monolinguals. In focusing on the history of monolingualism-as-transposability, I hope to show that monolingualism is indeed a much more modest and therefore effective vessel for (re)organizing meaning than slogans like “Monolingualism can be cured!” tend to convey. Indeed, I hope to differentiate monolingualism from other important language ideologies like linguistic purism, linguistic nationalism, and linguistic colonialism—systems that have received a great deal of scholarly attention to date.

I became interested in this predicament of mono/multilingualism as a scholar of German literature with applied-linguistic training who studies Turkish labor migration to West Germany. My first two book collaborations, Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration 1955-2005 (Unviersity of California Press, 2007) and Transit Deutschland: Debatten zu Nation und Migration (Konstanz University Press, 2011) were documentary sourcebooks that sought to chronicle 50 years of labor migration—not only from the Republic of Turkey to West Germany, but also from Vietnam, Cuba, Mozambique, Korea, and China to East Germany, and from Bosnia, Morocco, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Russian Federation, and Poland to both sides of the Federal Republic. Of course, this project exhausted and outpaced our research team’s language competencies even in the planning stages: we were ill-equipped to do intensive archival work beyond the German and Germanophone realm, though we spoke Spanish, Italian, French, and Turkish as well. These early projects demonstrated to me—as a philologist, an ad-hoc historian of migration, and as a professor bound by ever-new forms of methodological and linguistic ethnonationalism—how deeply co-rooted multilingualism and epistemology are. I hope one day to assemble a second research team that can approach the history of migration to Germany from a truly multilingual methodology.

In the meantime, I note with concern in my publications on 21st-century literature and film in Germany a tendency in our fields of research to replace ethnic categories with linguistic ones—i.e. to replace the label / aperture “German literature” with “German-language literature.” Though these substitutions seem progressive on their surface, they quickly excorporate as much of the meaning-making that occurs in German spheres as they incorporate. Several of my recent projects have therefore been dedicated to calling for an “interlingual German Studies” that can countenance the vast amount of Turkish-language and multilingual creative production that eludes public and critical recognition in Germany because it fails to subscribe to a new model of citizenship in Germany I call a “ius linguarum”—i.e. a post-ethnic model of civic belonging that ratifies members on the basis of how, when, and where they use or disuse their particular multilingualisms in various public, institutional, or symbolic spheres.

In my current post at the University of Arizona in Tucson, some sixty miles from what has always been a relatively porous and imbricative shoulder with Mexico, I am happy to be able to develop local projects that engage the idea of comparative multilingualisms between the US-Mexico axis and the Germany-Turkey axis. Meanwhile, Tucson is briskly changing from a primarily trilingual (English, Spanish, First Nations) community to a truly multilingual one, as refugee resettlement and transnational migration reinvent Southern Arizona for the 21st century. Tucson has therefore been a deeply enlivening place for my research and teaching, and also a fine locus amoenus for the journal I co-edit with Chantelle Warner, Critical Multilingualism Studies: cms.arizona.edu.

David Gramling

Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

Department of German Studies

Personal Web page: livelongday.info

Email address: dgl@email.arizona.edu