Workshop: Princeton University Program in European Cultural Studies

Graduate Affiliate Working Group on Traveling Identities and Migration (9 April 2019)

Definition: Monolingualism is “the idea that anything […] can be reasonably done, said, or meant in any one particular language, given the proper circumstances. […] It is an artificial plentitude, a communitarian ubiquity that renders a single, centripetal, and heterodox universe of signs recognizable—and has no need for others.” (Invention of Monolingualism, 195)

Propositions for dialogue & debate:


  • Monolingualism is a myth (Barthes), habitus (Bourdieu), a privilege (Sedgwick), a supply-side enterprise. It is not a phenomenon, entity, substance, or state of nature.
  • Monolingualism is an unmarked term, which needs to be critically articulated—as whiteness, heteronormativity, masculinity, etc. have been.
  • Citizenship technologies / administrative procedures have thickened around monolingualism since 1990, as ethnonational forms of citizenship have retreated from normative acceptability.
  • Official languages / legal languages / state languages / constitutionally inscribed languages are not an effective indicator of a polity’s mono/multilingualism, nor of the workings of its juridical systems (Janny Leung 2019).
  • National(ist) monolingualisms are the basis upon which global-translational monolingualisms and commercial multilingualisms are built.
  • National(ist) monolingualisms are expressions of globalized structures of monolingualism—and/or vice-versa.
  • Monolingualism differs meaningfully from linguistic imperialism, linguistic nativism, linguistic purism, and linguistic racism.


  • Monolingualism manifests through its cumulative / interactional effects on persons, and not primarily as a characteristic possession of so-called “monolingual” individuals.
  • The rebranding of bilingual education as global multilingual preparedness (in the US, UK, Germany, etc.) has raciolinguistic (Flores and Rosa 2015) overtones and a monolingualist substructure.
  • Monolingualism corresponds to the embodied, enlanguaged reality of no actual human being (Holquist 2014), and this noncorrespondence is a source of power for monolingualism.
  • Monolingualism has been increasing its ideological, civic, administrative, and technological power since 1990, despite all of the simultaneously increasing evidence of the multilingual subjectivity of citizenries and communities.
  • Monolingualism can become expressed as a counter-hegemonic, decolonial tool.


  • Monolingualism negatively impacts scholars, writers, refugees, immigrants, teachers (Kramsch and Zhang 2017), etc.
  • Monolingualism has little to do with an individual’s competence in multiple languages.
  • Justice (or justice systems) can be more-than-monolingual, but are not yet.
  • Education (or education systems) can be more-than-monolingual, but are increasingly not.
  • Monolingualism has produced features of social, civic, and / or scholarly life that we treasure and would have a hard time doing without.
  • Monolingualism is de jure normative. Multilingualism is de facto normative.
  • Monolingualism is bad and should be canceled.
  • Monolingualism is productive and should be defended.
  • Monolingualism can effectively be resisted, and here’s how:


  • There is a special relationship that endures between monolingualism and literature in most nationalized northern traditions, and this is an awkward fact for literary studies in an era that prizes hybridity and plurality.
  • Other aesthetic fields (film, art) don’t face the monolingual predicament in ways that literary studies does.
  • There are instances of literariness and literary traditions that are entirely unbeholden to monolingualism.
  • Literary / critical theory / linguistics / philosophy / translation studies / etc. have had, for good reason, too little to say about monolingualism.
  • Literature is well equipped to critique monolingualism from within.


  • Since 1990, language(s) has/have crossed the “production boundary” (from non-productive to productive of ‘value’) in ways that financial products were made to do in the 1970s.
  • Languages are now commoditized, not just commodified, in the global, proprietary circulation of meanings.


  • Monolingualism has been able to deploy normative forms of translation, translatability, and (“reactionary”) multilingualism (Moore 2015).
  • Multilingualism is not the same as heteroglossia. Heteroglossia can be monolingual.
  • Monolingualism is not the opposite of multilingualism.
  • The “individual language” is a product of monolingualism.
  • It is possible to think / practice language without “individual languages”, to “disinvent and reconstitute” languages (Pennycook and Makoni 2007) in new ways.


  • Some form of monolingualism impacts my research domain and / or the norms of research & scholarly writing in that domain.
  • Some prevailing narratives in my discipline or field are irrationally constrained by a form of monolingualism.
  • Monolingualism in research is fueled by language-indifference and/or the relegation of language (as a category of analysis) to lowest critical priority (below culture / ideas, etc.).
  • Monolingualism is a profound and often sophisticated epistemological, creative, and procedural constraint.

About livelongday

Associate Professor of German Studies, Director of Graduate Studies Co-Editor of Critical Multilingualism Studies | Co-Investigator, Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law, and the State (2014–2017)
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