Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Richard Wolin

Committee Members

Richard Wolin

Vincent Crapanzano

Caroline Rupprecht

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | German Language and Literature | German Linguistics | Philosophy of Language


linguistic purity, Fremdwort, multilingualism, translingualism, Austerlitz


The German Romantic monolingual paradigm of national identity emerged in the late eighteenth century to establish a mother tongue as a national backbone. This paradigm portrayed multilingualism as destabilizing, impoverishing, and unsuitable for aesthetics. Radicalized by the Nazis and overlooked in postwar debates over German national identity, this paradigm persists in contemporary societies and continues to conceal, belittle, and discredit multilingualism. To oppose that paradigm, this dissertation unveils the enriching and nourishing qualities of foreign languages, presents translingualism as a viable alternative to monolingualism, and reveals how translingual literature creates transnational connectedness. The limitations of the paradigm are traced from the late eighteenth century to contemporary German literature to show how the German Romantics sacralized the concept of the mother tongue through religious and ethical qualities, and to expose how the exaltation of linguistic purity spreads hostility to foreign languages and fuels violence. Theodor Adorno and W.G. Sebald secularize the notion of the mother tongue and rehabilitate multilingualism. Adorno advocates a philosophical and an aesthetic framework with one language open to foreign expressions, whereas Sebald promotes translingual literature that mixes languages to create transnational bridges. This exploration of foreign tongues in Adorno and Sebald adds an ideological and an aesthetic dimension to the scholarship on their multilingualism and refutes the invocations of linguistic purity.