Why does it appear that Europeans and U.S. Americans are poised to reelect forms of monolingualism in 2019, after thirty (if not seventy) years of being urged to do otherwise? Is this a reactionary retrenchment issuing from other apparently non-linguistic political and cultural trends, or is there a more profound rejection of linguistic difference afoot, underlying general declines in additional-language learning, and abetting the neutralization of language in international education initiatives and translated literary aesthetics? Has monolingualism won the day for good? Taking examples from contemporary Europe and the United States, this lecture will evaluate four propositions: that monolingualism is a political structure on the rise, for reasons that outstrip mere nationalist and nativist animus; that monolingualism as a powerful political structure maintains an increasingly tentative reference to speakers’ actual speech practices, deriving additional power from that tentativity; that monolingualism and multilingualism are not opposing, but rather interlocking discourses; and that monolingualism has acquired a newly productive potency in transnational economic rationales which, in turn, manage the supply-side dissemination of cultural production.
David Gramling is associate professor of German studies at the University of Arizona. His book The Invention of Monolingualism (Bloomsbury) won the American Association for Applied Linguistics’ 2018 Book Award. He is a literary translator from Turkish and German to English, and edits the journal Critical Multilingualism Studies.