Multilingual Realities in Translation

full name / name of organization: 
Angela Flury, DePauw University, and Hervé Regnauld, University of Rennes

Special Issue (11.1, January 2011) for Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture

Edited by Angela Flury and Hervé Regnauld

Cityscapes, landscapes, subway stations, tomato fields, universities, and bedrooms—the locales of multilingual or mixed language realities are everywhere. Yet literary and popular representations of multilingual realities as such remain largely constricted by the single language that must, in hegemonic fashion, encompass all others, especially on the printed page of a novel. The dominance of a single language also affects so-called nonliterary discourse; for instance English is now the primary language charged with disseminating scientific (and technological) words and concepts. Film, arguably, has come closest to conveying the Babeldom of public and private spheres, as its projected translation, by way of subtitles, nevertheless promises a semblance of cohesion. Perhaps this accessible rendering of multilingual fragmentation can even be regarded as one of the emerging conventions of world cinema as a contemporary global form.

But multilingual realities are not exactly reader friendly in any medium, including film. One wonders at the function of characters' thoughts made audible in Wim Wenders's film Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), when commuters on a Berlin subway train can be heard thinking in German and Turkish (though the English subtitles render only the German). One wonders what Apollinaire's already fragmented conversation poem "Lundi Rue Christine" would look like with bits of conversation in languages other than French. Would the bits make a meaningful difference? One wonders at the fragments of French floating through Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Midnight, fragments yet to be translated, even in the most recent edition. Charlotte Brontë's Villette continued to be published well over a century without an annotated translation of all its French bits and pieces. One wonders how and to what extent the foreign language is immaterial (a point raised by Umberto Eco with reference to Tolstoy's War and Peace).

Another open question is the status of languages in the formation of scientific knowledge. When science is concerned, some languages play a unequaled role, as did Greek at the beginning of the Christian Era (or Common Era), Latin in the Middle Ages and English today. It seems English is becoming a language which invents (creates) scientific words (and concepts) and that there is no need to find any equivalent in other languages as most every scientist speaks and publishes in English. But can scientific neologisms properly be considered English in any traditional sense, even given the fact that neologism is a constant process in any language? How can scientific concepts, born inside of one language, be translated into another language? Does working in a "single language" limit scientific creativity? Is there anything (or could there be) like a Pidgin, or Creole way of writing in the sciences?

How do single language texts, in any discourse or genre, signify mixed language realities? What is at stake in the representation of multilingual realities in a particular text, medium, place, or time? To what extent do texts at different historical and cultural junctures reflect the ideologies of their scene of writing? What are the affects of characters/individuals in multilingual situations, the affects of multilingual space? How do "other" languages in a given text/situation play with questions of figure and ground, decor and inflection? How have certain authors and artists made the conventions and realities of multilingual space a central thematics? What formal innovations have writers from various disciplines and traditions produced to address such realities and what are the politics of these experiments? What are the links between language and identity, and what are the problems which may arise from these links when translation is at stake?

We invite papers that address the above issues and related questions from a variety of disciplines and in any conceivable context, including nationalism, imperialism, modernism, epistemology, sexuality, gender, class, religion, race, etc.

Please send completed papers and abstracts to Angela Flury ( and Hervé Regnauld ( no later than May 1, 2010. Earlier submissions and queries are welcome as we may be able to collaborate authors in order to produce work that not only fits with the intent of the issue but with the standards of Reconstruction. Also, we encourage you to forward this CFP to interested parties and lists.

Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture (ISSN: 1547-4348) is an innovative online cultural studies journal dedicated to fostering an intellectual community composed of scholars and their audience, granting them all the ability to share thoughts and opinions on the most important and influential work in contemporary interdisciplinary studies. Reconstruction publishes three themed issues and one open issue per year. Send open submissions (year round) to and submissions for themed issues to the appropriate editors listed on the site at Reconstruction also accepts proposal for special issue editors and topics. Reconstruction is indexed in the MLA International Bibliography.