HomeLanguage as home

HomeLanguage as home

Language as home

Habiter la langue

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Published on Tuesday, July 13, 2021


The third part of the Home seminar series will aim to explore the meaning and scope of the notion of “home” through the multiple use of language. To inhabit language, to be inhabited by language, the one that one considers as one’s own. Or one or more other languages with which one co-inhabits. Or another language that invites itself, another language that is imposed. What does “living” mean in these contexts? Exile, creolization, migration, heterolingualism, nostalgia, madness, dementia are individual or collective experiences, existential ruptures, where only language or languages prove to offer anchors, landmarks, or a home.



To inhabit a language, whether voluntarily plural or not, with which one can not only put into words who one is, express an identity that is sometimes fragmented, but with which one imagines and creates, with which one sketches a "home". The following lines of inquiry are not intended to be exclusive or exhaustive, but rather to serve as a starting point for exchanges that cross and intersect disciplinary fields based on contemporary literary texts.

In the intimacy of language

In what ways does inhabiting language mean inhabiting time, landscape, oblivion and memory, since each of these dimensions is articulated by a linguistic singularity in its grammar, its tenses, its aesthetics and its memories? Language is shared and given to us to inhabit, it welcomes us into it, with its expressions and turns of phrase, its symbolic reservoir, and its silences that we remain free to explore, exploit, or even divert by way of play or retaliation. In this way, we give it the shape of what we are and what we are becoming. What would we be without this origin inscribed in the mother tongue – a curious expression dating back to the XI c., to the Abbey of Gorze, near Metz, which evokes the Virgin Mary, to whom cathedrals were offered at the time, to designate the language of the Church and its schools, which leaves the vernacular, "home-made" (Ivan Illich), at the door? What would it mean to forget one’s mother tongue in the case of long-term expatriates? Or following an accident or neurodegenerative disease?

Inhabiting language in the plural

Samuel Beckett, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Emil Cioran, Assia Djebar, Mircea Eliade, Nancy Huston, Eugène Ionesco, Herta Müller, Vladimir Nabokov, Boualem Sansal, Tristan Tzara, Anne Weber, etc., many are those who explore the nooks and crannies of the language habitat in a host country. To inhabit a language would therefore also mean accepting to welcome the other (of the) (language) into one’s home. In a way, to leave the door of the "home" wide open. What literary innovations does knowledge of the linguistic variations of one’s own language or of another language bring? How can the relationship between the writer and the languages he/she practices, handles, translates, diverts, tortures or sometimes even undergoes, vary when several linguistic spaces and their cultures meet? How does one inhabit a work through the multilingual word that shapes it? How can we envisage literary heterolingualism?

A coded habitat

For many writers from different cultures, the language of writing becomes a heritage to be preserved, the one and only way to ensure the existence of the cultural identity of the group, the society, and the nation, as in the case of political regimes linked to expatriation, exclusion and purge. It is also the “coding” tool to circumvent censorship, and sometimes the only tool to protest against deprivation of freedom. It can be endowed with several of these characteristics as in the work of Czesław Miłosz, Sławomir Mrożek, Vaclav Havel, or Mikail Bulgakov. Therefore, for the writer, inhabiting language would serve to create the liberatory links between different strata of society; language thus becoming the executor of palpable objects (e.g., as an engraving on the monument of the Shipyard in Gdańsk) or the common narrative – the sung poems, or the basis of cathartic satyrdom and humor.

Decolonising language

Colonisers have generally encouraged or imposed their language on dominated peoples, even going so far as to forbid them to speak their mother tongue. In response to this systematic imposition, some writers and activists advocate a return to the use of original languages. Others see the imposed idiom as a more practical alternative both to improve communication between nations and to counter a colonial past by appropriating a “standard” European language and reforming it into new literary forms. For example, the Kenyan Gikuyu writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o began his career writing in English before turning to his native Gikuyu language. Does the author choose to work in a local language or in the settler’s language, or even to combine them (Léonora Miano)? What kind of semantic processes of abrogation/deformation and appropriation/reformation does the work show? When a local language lends terms, in what context do they occur? Furthermore, does the use of language imply an implicit theory of resistance?

In the confinement of language

To what extent does the loss of the first or second language amount to a loss of identity, or at least to social isolation within a language community? How can an individual inhabit his/her language when he/she is psychologically and physically isolated, such as in a prison, an island, or confined to a country where the local language is unknown? Can language be a shelter or the ultimate place of confinement? What resources must be deployed to continue to inhabit one’s language despite everything? In order not to forget it?

The interest of such issues would lie in examining these situations of literary isolation, both in terms of artistic creation and in terms of their literary representation. The question of alternative languages, as in Stefan Zweig's Schachnovelle, is an extension of this problem. Can they replace the (native) language we live in? What functions should these alternative languages have? In the case of the Schachnovelle, it is the desire not to lose one’s mind. But could we add another function, e.g. a memory function linked to the first language?

Inhabiting the language of the non-human

Beyond strictly human language, is it possible to inhabit the language of an animal/non-human like the song of a bird, the roar of a lion or the silence of a tree? Are these not alternative forms of expression (to our anthropocentric logos and logic) with which we co-inhabit the world? What does it mean to consider these (other) languages that come from elsewhere, but also connect us to the earth, such as the “polyphonic scores” of birds (Vinciane Despret) or the interspecies language games (Eva Meijer)? Through these alternative languages we question – territorialize differently or deterritorialize – not only our own space (and its borders), but also touch on a territory that is still little known, or even unknown, until now, inviting us to profoundly revise our perception of and relationship with other living beings.


The third part of the HOME seminar series, subtitled Habiter la langue / Language as Home, will take place on 8, 9 and 10 December 2021 in Brussels (Belgium). The languages of work will be French and English. A peer-reviewed publication of the proceedings is envisaged. The modality of participation in the seminar, whether telematics, face-to-face or hybrid, will be communicated as soon as possible, depending on the evolution of the health situation.

How to submit

Paper proposals, in English or French, in .doc format, should include a title, a 300-word abstract that clearly specifies the corpus studied, a short critical bibliography, and a 4-5 line bio-bibliographic note (including name, institutional affiliation and e-mail address).

They should be sent by email to seminaires.home@gmail.com by 30 October 2021.


  • Grazia Berger (Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles)
  • Julie Deconinck (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
  • Justine Feyereisen (University of Oxford / Université libre de Bruxelles, Fondation Wiener-Anspach)
  • Barbara Fraipont (Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles)
  • Rosanna Gangemi (Université libre de Bruxelles / Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle)
  • Dag Houdmont (Université libre de Bruxelles)
  • Arvi Sepp (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
  • Matthieu Sergier (Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles)
  • Dorota Walczak (Université libre de Bruxelles)

Avec le soutien des centres de recherche / With the support of the research centres Philixte (ULB) / Prospero. Langage, image et connaissance (USL-B) / CLIC (VUB)

Bibliographique indicative

Alexandre-Garner C., Keller-Privat I. (dir.), Migrations, exils, errances et écritures, Nanterre, Presses universitaires de Paris Ouest, 2012.

Arendt H., « Seule demeure la langue maternelle », entretien télévisé avec G. Gauss, trad. S. Courtine-Denamy, La Tradition cachée, le Juif comme paria, Paris, Christian Bourgois, 1987.

Ausoni A., Mémoires d’outre-langue. L’écriture translingue de soi, Genève, Slatkine, 2018.

Bauman Z., La décadence des intellectuels. Des législateurs aux interprètes, Chambon, Actes Sud, 2007.

Bauman Z., Maura E., Babel, Paris, CNRS éd., 2017.

Bill A., Griffiths G., Tiffin H., The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures, London and New York, Routledge, 1989.

Butler J., Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, New York & London, Routledge, 1997.

Cassin B., Vocabulaire européen des philosophies : dictionnaire des intraduisibles, Paris, Le Robert, 2004.

Chamoiseau P., Écrire en pays dominé, Paris, Gallimard, 1997.

Crépon M., Langues sans demeure, Paris, Galilée, 2005.

Delbart A.-R., Les Exilés du langage. Un siècle d’écrivains venus d’ailleurs (1919-2000), Limoges, Presses universitaires de Limoges, 2005.

Deleuze G., Parnet C., Dialogues, Paris, Flammarion, 1977.

Deleuze G., Critique et clinique, Paris, Minuit, 1993.

Despret V., Habiter en oiseau, Paris, Actes Sud, 2019.

Derrida J., Le Monolinguisme de l’autre, Paris, Galilée, 1996.

Dollé M., L’imaginaire des langues, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2002.

Forster L., The Poet’s Tongues: Multilingualism in Literature, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Gauvin L. (dir.), Les langues du roman. Du plurilinguisme comme stratégie textuelle, Montréal, Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1999.

Gikandi S., « Ngugi’s conversion: Writing and the Politics of Language », Research in African Literature, « The question of language », 23/1, 1992.

Glissant E., L'Imaginaire des langues : entretiens avec Lise Gauvin (1991-2009), Paris, Gallimard, 2010.

Goodbody A.H., Ecozon@. Animal Humanities, 2016, 7/1.

Grutman R., Des langues qui résonnent. hétérolinguisme et lettres québécoises, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2019.

Holquist M., “Corrupts Originals: The Paradox of Censorship”, Publications of the Modern Language, 109/1, pp. 14-25, 1994.

Kipman S.-D., L’Oubli et ses vertus, Paris, Albin Michel, 2013.

Knauth A. (dir.), Translation & multilingual literature. Traduction & littérature multilingue, Berlin, Lit, 2011.

Kramsch C., The Multilingual Subject, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Kristeva J., « L’impudence d’énoncer : la langue maternelle », Revue française de psychanalyse, 96/5, 2005.

Kroh A., L’Aventure du bilinguisme, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2000.

Lennon B., In Babel’s shadow. Multilingual literatures, monolingual states, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Mabanckou A., « Le chant de l’oiseau migrateur », in Le Bris M., Rouaud J. (dir.), Pour une littérature-monde, Paris, Gallimard, 2007.

Meijer E., When Animals Speak: Toward an Interspecies Democracy, New-York, NYU Press, 2019.

Mbembe A., Mabanckou A., « Plaidoyer pour une langue-monde. Abolir les frontières du français », Revue du Crieur, 2018, 10/2, pp. 60-67.

Meyer C., Prescod P. (dir.), Langues choisies, langues sauvées. Poétiques de la résistance, Würzburg, Königshausen & Neumann, 2018.

Moura J.-M., Littératures francophones et théorie postcoloniales, Paris, PUF, 2013.

Ost F., Traduire. Défense et illustration du multilinguisme, Paris, Fayard, 2009.

Paquot T., « La langue pour habiter », Sens-Dessous, 17/1, pp. 79-89, 2016.

Quaquarelli L., Schubert K. (dir.), Traduire le postcolonial et la transculturalité. Enjeux théoriques, linguistiques, littéraires, culturels, politiques, sociologiques, Paris, Presses Universitaires de Paris Ouest, 2014.

Rosenwald L.A., Multilingual America. Language and the making of American literature, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Schmeling M., Schmitz-Emans M. (dir.), Multilinguale Literatur im 20. Jahrhundert, Würzburg, Königshausen & Neumann, 2002.

Schmitz-Emans M. (dir.), Literatur und Vielsprachkigkeit, Heidelberg, Synchron, 2004.

Suchet M., LImaginaire hétérolingue. Ce que nous apprennent les textes à la croisée des langues, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2014.

Steiner G., After Babel. Aspects of Language and Translation, Oxford/New York, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Thiong’o N.w., Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, London, Heinemann Education Books, 1986.

Yildiz Y., Beyond the mother tongue. The postmonolingual condition, New York, Fordham University Press, 2012.

Zabus C., Le Palimpseste africain. Indigénisation de la langue dans le roman ouest-africain europhone, Paris, Karthala, 2018.


  • Brussels, Belgium (1000)


  • Saturday, October 30, 2021

Attached files


  • Home, langage, plurilinguisme, habitat codé, déterritorialison


  • Séminaire Home (ULB / VUB / Université Saint-Louis)
    courriel : Seminaires [dot] Home [at] ulb [dot] ac [dot] be

Information source

  • Rosanna Gangemi
    courriel : seminaires [dot] home [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Language as home », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, https://calenda.org/897484

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