Translation in the Digital Age

A lecture for Humanities Week, October 2015. Responses welcome. Video thanks to College of Humanities External Relations and Nate Mehr.


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New Book

IOMCoverAdvance reviews: “An extraordinary and illuminating book, spanning literary and cultural studies, applied linguistics, social and cultural theory, and more. Original, brilliantly presented, provocative, and extremely timely, The Invention of Monolingualism is likely to be a blockbuster with its far sighted argument-a little in the vein of Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things in terms of scope and boldness. It will be of great interest to not only literary and cultural studies readers, but also to applied linguists and social scientists as well.” Claire Kramsch, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Photo credit, matthew thorsen, “the family organ”.

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MOOC: Multilingual Learning for a Globalised World

This free online course (beginning April 4) will explore multilingual education and how it can impact and improve education and broader society.

Understand why languages matter

Our languages are an essential part of who we are as human beings. They are instruments of communication and are often a source of dignity and of human pride. Our life experiences and views of the world are bound up in our languages. Our sense of self might be strengthened by our ability to speak the language we choose or curtailed by our inability to understand the language that speaks to us. Some scholars even say that the right to speak one’s languages should be established as an essential part of the right to be oneself. They suggest that this language right should be honoured in all forms of communication.

In this course, you will explore how people’s language practice, and the personal connection people have to the language(s) they speak, provoke important philosophical and pedagogical questions around the ways we form personal relationships, engage in business relations and even view the world around us.

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Workshop: Researching Multilingually in an Era of Neo-Orientalism

Thursday, April 7, 3:30-5:30pm, Marshall Building 491

Questions for Discussion

  • What is monolingualism and how does it inform research methods, formats, disciplines, and concepts?
  • What effects does monolingualism (as a social phenomenon or research method) have on the subjects we research and seek to understand—whether those be historical, sociological, textual, anthropological, political, or aesthetic?
  • What are the pitfalls, pleasures, and benefits of researching multilingually?
  • Under what conditions is translation itself a complex research activity, rather then a mere instrument for rendering data legible / communicable?
  • How do Orientalism, Neo-Orientalism, and other forms of epistemic reification thrive on monolingualism and/or certain kinds of “reactionary multilingualism” (Moore 2015) or “soft multilingualism” (Noorani 2013)?
  • What kind of structuring role is played by the academic lingua franca of English?


Preparatory Reading:

Gramling, David. 2014. “What is Turkish-German Studies Up Against? Thigmotactics and Occidentalism.” Colloquiua Germanica. 44.4: 382–395.

Gramling, David. 2014. “The Invention of Monolingualism from the Spirit of Systematic Transposability.” Philologie und Mehrsprachigkeit [Philology and Multilingualism], edited by Georg Mein und Till Dembeck. Winter Verlag. 113-134.

Moore, Robert. 2015. “From revolutionary monolingualism to reactionary multilingualism: Top-down discourses of linguistic diversity in Europe, 1794-present.” Language and Communication 44: 19–30.

Noorani, Yaseen. 2013. “‘Hard and Soft Multilingualism.” Critical Multilingualism Studies 1.2: 7–28.

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The Rise and Fall of Monolingualism (GSA Seminar 2015)

German Studies Association Seminar, co-convened by David Gramling and Bethany Wiggin (Washington, DC, September 2015)

At this global moment, nation and language can hardly be presumed to coincide (if indeed they ever did). Yet this Herderian, and also deeply Romantic, conception of language as a prepossession of the nation would appear to have a long afterlife in research methodology and disciplinary reconstitution. It continues to provide the ballast for a range of institutional structures: from the primacy of the native speaker in language instruction to the study of nation-based literatures. Monolingualism thus remains, in Elizabeth Ellis’s often-cited phrase, “the unmarked case.”

In an era when English has become a dominant world language of commerce and scholarship, we are perhaps more easily able to recognize monolingualism in all its contingency and historical contours. In his magisterial survey of another world language, Latin, Jürgen Leonhardt for instance suggested that modern monolingualism may be regarded as a historical aberration. It is the contention of this seminar’s conveners that monolingualism urgently needs marking through historical, textual and theoretical interrogation. Does monolingualism even hold up as an (onto)logical category? What are its histories and its local ecologies? Does monolingualism embolden some forms of cultural practice (perhaps those of the nation and literature), while generating resistance to / within others (perhaps empire and network culture)? Is monolingualism indeed a by-gone paradigm, and are our contemporary experiences therefore indelibly imprinted with a post-monolingual condition (Yasemin Yildiz)? Or are certain structures and intensities of monolingualism actually on the rise in the twenty-first century?

Confronted with complex global flows and processes, humanities and social sciences scholarship today is increasingly divesting from the explanatory chronotope of the nation, turning its attention to longue durée and deep-time phenomena. German Studies in North America, however, often maintains an exclusive procedural allegiance to German-language frames of reference—often, paradoxically, in order to promote a progressive and pan-ethnic politics of recognition toward multicultural literature in German among immigrants and post-migrants. Here too this seminar is poised to propose methodological recalibrations.

The seminar’s focus on this single keyword “monolingualism” requires a spectrum of participants whose work spans a wide historical and disciplinary range. We invite proposals from scholars at all career stages and in all disciplines whose work considers any of these questions:

  • Was the medieval always already multilingual? How might we best understand the coinage of the term “Muttersprache” in 1522, in relation to modernist and poststructural preconceptions about monolingualism and nativism?
  • To what ends might we analyze monolingualism alongside other such unmarked positionalities as whiteness, the natural, the metropole, the global North, class and gender hierarchies, and other identarian norms?
  • How can scholarship go beyond merely dismissing monolingualism as benighted or reactionary, and instead offer accounts that carefully enumerate its forms, intensions, and implications?
  • How has monolingualism—as an organizing logic and historical development—facilitated other heuristic and disciplinary categories, such as multilingualism, translation, comparative literature, linguistic purism, linguistic nationalism, World Literature, civil rights, and citizenship?
  • How do encounters with these (and other) historical moments and questions help us think language ecology differently in the present?
  • If we consider ecology without nature (Timothy Morton), might we also think about language without nature or nativeness? Are there ever natural languages, and what is at stake in disarticulating language from embodiment? What work has the term Natursprache accomplished, and in what contexts? What is its relationship to Muttersprache?

The questions this seminar poses also have significant bearing on neighboring conversations, for instance on the theory and practice of translation, including the translator’s invisibility (Lawrence Venuti), the status of untranslatablity (Barbara Cassin et al), the politics and ideologies of World Literature, the aesthetics of multilingualism, and the language of nature / nature of language. Scholars working in various spheres of German, Austrian, Swiss, Germanophone, and multilingual contexts, from the medieval to the posthumanist, are welcome to join this conversation. Historians, anthropologists, political scientists, literature and film scholars, music and art historians, applied linguists, pedagogy / SLA / DaF scholars, translators and translation studies scholars, and representatives of other disciplines are equally encouraged to contribute. Empirical and theoretical explorations, as well as reflections on methodology, are welcome.

All participants will prepare a 10-page paper, to be circulated in advance. Our meetings each day will offer a workshop setting for the papers, as well as a broad, participatory, and substantive discussion. Publication of select papers is planned. There will be no silent auditors for this seminar.

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American Literary Translators Association 2015: Traffic & Translation (Call For Proposals)

logo Fall 2015, in Tucson, AZ

The annual American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conference is the largest gathering of literary translators all year. In a different city each fall, hundreds of literary translators, editors, students, professors, and others come together for three days of panels, workshops, roundtables, readings, and meetings with editors.

Translators traffic in words, sounds, meaning, styles, perception, politics, images, information, and voices. Our traffic as translators—whether literary, poetic, or otherwise—shapes larger-scale flows of people, resources and culture across time, space, and thought. Our translations traverse borders, silences, regions, and ages, often unaccompanied by those of us who made them.  To paraphrase Mary Louise Pratt: by translating, we become part of the traffic in meaning, though that becoming doesn’t always mean we can control the traffic too. The 2015 ALTA conference in Tucson will explore, among other things, our roles in the traffic in meaning—as translators, scholars, readers, editors, students, publishers, citizens, and teachers.

The ALTA Conference Committee invites session proposals for panels, workshops, and roundtables for the ALTA 2015 Conference, which will take place in the fall of 2015 in Tucson, AZ (dates and venue to be announced).

Session Proposals deadline May 1, 2015. Click here to submit.
Bilingual Readings Series deadline July 1, 2015. Click here to submit.
Full Conference Announcement (PDF); ALTA15 Call for Proposals (DOC).

Questions may be sent to Conference Committee Chair Chad Post at or ALTA Managing Director Erica Mena at

ALTA is a non-profit, independent arts association, working to support the work of literary translators and advance the art of literary translation.

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