The Postlingual Turn


No one is born speaking or writing a language. We all begin as language learners, and in that sense, there are no native languages. There are only foreign languages. As language educators and as scholars of literatures produced by Black, migrant, indigenous, and multilingual artists, we know that even the universalism of “foreign languages” and “second languages”—which holds the Other at tongue’s length, so to speak—needs to be replaced by the universalism of “additional languages.” Every language is an additional language, not a primary, national, or natural language (Silva and Wang; Horner et al.). But if every language is an additional language relative to others that we use, or others that our neighbors use, it is also an additional language relative to itself. Languages are not additive or countable in ways that presume a static and durable separation among coherent wholes, one language and then another (Sakai). This is, first, a lingual axiom: we’re thinking here of the blended histories of Anglo-Saxon, Arabic, French, Latin, Spanish, and many other languages that have contributed to the syntax, diction, and spelling of the words we are producing on this page right here. It is, second, an axiom about the technologies of religion, media, communication, performance, translation, and circulation that distribute and also shape the meaning of our words right now.

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