Literary multilingualism as a modern scientific problem

Tyumen State University Herald. Humanities Research. Humanitates


2019, Vol. 5. №1

Literary multilingualism as a modern scientific problem

For citation: Khromova E. O. 2019. “Literary multilingualism as a modern scientific problem”. Tyumen State University Herald. Humanities Research. Humanitates, vol. 5, no 1, pp. 101-113. DOI: 10.21684/2411-197X-2019-5-1-101-113

About the author:

Ekaterina O. Khromova, Postgraduate Student, Department of Russian and Foreign Literature, University of Tyumen;


Literary multilingualism — the key term of the article — should be understood here as a combination of several languages in one literary text (A. Knout). This phenomenon has been known for a long time. However, in the context of the global world, the problem is again relevant. At the same time research approaches developed in the 20th century to analyze multilingual texts cannot be productive for modern material for a number of reasons.

The author of the article hypothesizes that in the past two decades a special type of literary multilingualism has been formed in the world literature and it has a fundamental difference from its previous forms. This new, multilingual discursive practice points to the profound meaningful transformations of modern artistic consciousness. The purpose of the article is to present the literary multilingualism of the era of globalization as a particular problem of literary criticism requiring new theoretical approaches.

The research is based on a new material. These are multilingual novels by contemporary European (e)migrant writers. Herta Müller (Romania — Germany) writes at the intersection of Romanian, German dialect, and Hochdeutsch. Winfried Sebald (Germany — United Kingdom) introduces five more languages into the main German text of the novel “Austerlitz” (2001) which are French, English, Welsh, Dutch, and Czech. In the novel “The Steamboat to Argentina” (2014) by Alexei Makushinsky (Russia — Germany) there are about 300 fragments in seven languages — German, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Latvian, and Latin. Vladimir Vertlib (Russia — Austria) writes that in his discourse the idiomatics, melody, and syntax of the Russian language interact under its “German surface”.

This article summarizes the main provisions of the existing research on the topic of multilingual literature (Knaut, Schmitz-Emans, Hayn-Khatib), the actual literary process (Shaitanov, Belobratov, Stoichesku), and the cultural studies (Bakhtin, Lotman, Curtius, Said). The author of the article shows that the tradition of literary multilingualism is heterogeneous.The centuries-old history of multilingual literature can be divided into almost twenty stages. Therefore, the works of modern multilingual writers is a qualitative leap, representing, nevertheless, the continuation of the existing line. The border between “the old” and “the new” literary multilingualism conventionally coincides with the border of the 20th and 21st centuries. At this period, under the influence of globalization processes (the acceleration of the pace of life, the availability of communication channels, the transparency of state borders), a new type of writer appeared — the supra-national writer (A. Stoicescu).

Based on the analysis of the novels of the mentioned authors, it is concluded that there is a fundamental difference between the new literary multilingualism and its main forms created before the end of the 20th century. This difference lies in the fact that multilingualism today has become not quantitative but a qualitative characteristic of the text; acquired a new, ideological function. In other words, modern multilingualism is not only a stylistic feature but a manifestation at the stylistic level of deep meaningful transformations of modern literary thinking and “self-understanding of culture” (Selbstverständnis — the term of E. Curtius). That is why one can state the emergence of a new, multilingual discursive practice as well as the need to find methods for its research.

The main requirement for the new methodology is the ability to “grasp” the essence of the phenomenon, which, obviously, lies in the writers abandoning the monolingual map of the universe in favor of a multilingual one and in the manifestation of this new philosophy at all levels of the text. As this research has shown, one of the productive approaches can be the combination of multilingual and intermedial analysis methods.


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