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The Mother Tongue as Border


In 1920, the philosopher Fritz Mauthner published an essay entitled “Mother tongue and Fatherland” (Muttersprache und Vaterland) in which he offers a reflection on the metaphor of the “mother tongue” and its political uses, in the context of the rise of nationalisms and the reconfiguration of identities throughout Europe. Languages in general are a powerful means of determination and assignation, but these linguistic boundaries become charged with especially strong associations and delimitations when it comes to the idea of the “mother tongue”. In this paper I propose to analyze how the mapping of (linguistic) borders – that enclose as well as define – is conceptualized and metaphorized in terms of family relations and national issues, by examining the notion of “mother tongue” itself. The expression does not so much denominate a concept but it functions as a common expression that condenses different linguistic, ideological and emotional imaginaires, defining our relation to language by a series of borders, individual and collective – thus the idea of a shared language of communication, the political quality of the national language, the image of the mother’s language and the natal image of the maternal tongue. The paper will examine, in a comparative perspective, the status of the powerful image of the “mother tongue” in contemporary fiction and discourse and how it enables us to better understand the ways of minding (and overstepping) the multiple borders and borderlines it contains and expresses


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Dates et versions

hal-01426628 , version 1 (04-01-2017)


  • HAL Id : hal-01426628 , version 1


Anne Isabelle François. The Mother Tongue as Border. Comparative Criticism: Minding Borders, Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation; St Anne's College, Oxford, Sep 2014, Oxford, United Kingdom. ⟨hal-01426628⟩
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