Multilingual French identities Lancaster University
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About the Conference

Keynote Speakers

Timothy Mathews - Professor of French and Comparative Criticism
University College London

Eric Robertson - Professor of Modern French Literary and Visual Culture
Royal Holloway, University of London


The multilingualism of authors and artists often remains side-lined from debates about the creative production and canonisation of literary works in a global context. Yet without integrating the concept of multilingualism in our visions of a global literary production, isn’t there a risk of homogenising our views on the relationship between languages and cultures?

Many multilingual authors in France have discussed their relationship to language as a way of reflecting on their relationship to their own textual and artistic practices. In an attempt to frame this relationship between language, the self and culture, Derrida discussed the issue of monolingualism in Le Monolinguisme de l’autre where he famously stated: "Je n'ai qu'une langue, ce n'est pas la mienne". The question of monolingualism is radically challenged in Derrida's text. Indeed, do we only ever speak one language? And by the same token, can we ever speak more than one language? The demystification of the relationship between the self and language widens the debate to engage with the question of multilingualism on a philosophical level.

Recent debates in France over what constitutes and delimits French identity have tended to represent France as a monolithic, centralised linguistic identity, leaving little room for multilingual voices from the French borderlands or regional languages, city slangs such as verlan, or for the interaction between French and other foreign languages in French writings. How have multilingual French authors and artists explored their plurilingualism through literature, philosophy and art? Can multilingualism constitute a different way of thinking about the relationship between language and the self? Can the relationship between authors, artists and language be re-imagined outside of the prism of monolingualism? Has a specific philosophy of language and belonging been developed in France and French speaking countries based on the notion of multilingualism as opposed to nationalist monolingualisms?

Topics for proposals include, but are not restricted to:

  • The layering of languages and identities in literary and cultural production
  • Literary production from the French borderlands
  • The bilingual / multilingual author in France
  • Foreign language intrusions into the French literary text
  • French multilingual writers’ influence abroad
  • The use of French by writers outside of France
  • The breaking down of the French/Francophone divide
  • The challenge of translating the multilingual text
  • Multilingualism in French philosophy, cinema and art


Department of European Languages and Cultures

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