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Monolingualism and Its Discontents

PMLA Cover
October 2022

"What follows brings together scholars, writers, and translators working in fields that are rarely in conversation to see what new insights and frameworks these exchanges might generate. In that spirit of experimentation, it also brings together writers habituated to a variety of genres, both cultural critics and producers—to enrich our explorations of how we count languages and what counts as a language. In every sense, then, this cluster is conceived of as a space to propose new approaches, to pursue unexpected openings, to test hypotheses, and to revise assumptions. Some essays explore hip hop, jargon, and Mesoamerican pictorial writing as monolingual phenomena that challenge how we define language and the range of media we take into account (Calderwood, Chow, Garcia). Several examine the monolingualizing pressures of language policy implemented at the imperial, continental, national, settler-colonial, disciplinary, and familial level, documenting their dispossessive force but also their unforeseen and incalculable consequences (Ben Amor, Choi, Dowling, Fleming, Sorensen, Walkowitz, Watson). A number of essays examine the claims of monolingualism outside European models and histories (Ben Amor, Calderwood, Choi, Dowling, Garcia, Mani). All these essays dwell with acuity and subtlety on the generative and destructive power of monolingualism, asking us to reflect on how our disciplinary expertise and investments, our theories and methodologies, and our pedagogies and institutional practices can better account for the vitality, beauty, and world-building power of the languages that are our inheritance and that will shape our futures. What does our propensity to count languages in whole numbers miss? Rebecca Walkowitz's rousing call to rethink teaching and research in the discipline and more broadly the university through the lens of English as an “additional language” is inspired by a civic hospitality toward “the languages that operate both within and across literary histories” and the conclusion that we simply must “read literatures that begin in languages beyond English.” Her essay, like all the others in this cluster, points the way to other monolingualisms, and to that which is other than monolingualism." - Introduction to Monolingualism and Its Discontents