‘The tongue has no bones; wherever you turn it, it turns’. (p.9) Mutterzunge by Emine Sevgi Özdamar
Mutterzunge is a phrase which does not literally exist in standard German. Özdamar’s Mutterzunge (1990: I. Bachmann prize) proposes not only a literal translation of “mother tongue,” but also an artistic gesture in German, since “mother tongue” exists in such other languages as English, French, and Turkish, but not German, which only uses the phrase Muttersprache—“mother language.” She departs from the deep connection with her own mother, and questions Arabic, German, and Turkish, the languages she deals with, as spaces of abstraction, conceptual thinking, composition, intimacy, and articulation. The book investigates the politics of migration through minor gestures of everyday life, from the narrative perspective of a young Turkish migrant woman living in Germany. Creating an open space for our imagination, it develops critical questions on language, state, the public, memory, and the sense of belonging among others. The narrator begins by explaining that in her language, Turkish, “tongue” also means “language”:
For each story in Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s work of fiction, the project generates a staged act in a specific location in Berlin. Each act will include attempts, concerns, and questions about translation, moderation, and editing between diverse languages, communities, and cultures. It aims to reconnect readers with users, increase listening skills with reading interest, and introduce individual writings to co-editing practices. It sometimes takes shape at a long table for shared conversations, or at a brainstorming session in a studio for new ideas, a non profit space dedicated for collective thinking, or at a bar, language class, or cinema—wherever we hear foreign languages.
Circulating conversations, research, field surveys, and methodic thinking, Mutterzunge intends to rewrite those stories with an understanding of current questions on autonomy, anonymity and authenticity.