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The Figure of the Multilingual Child in Literature

La figure de l’enfant plurilingue en littérature

La figura del niño plurilingüe en literatura

Die Figur des mehrsprachigen Kindes in der Literatur

Call fot an edited volume

Convocatoria para participar en el volumen

Aufruf zur Beteiligung an dem Sammelwerk

Ouvrage collectif

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Published on Friday, March 25, 2022


This edited volume aims to extend the findings of the conference "The Figure of the Multilingual Child in Literature". This edited volume aims at analysing child narrators and/or figures evolving in and between several languages – either because they speak at least two languages, or because their family, school or country is made up of a web of languages.  These child figures can be autobiographical or autofictional shadows of the author. They can also be pure beings of paper. In all these cases, their identity is made of a fabric woven of all their languages, whether they are acquired simultaneously or successively, within the otherness of their monolingual fellow creatures. 



This edited volume aims to extend the findings of the conference "The Figure of the Multilingual Child in Literature" which took place at the University of Caen Normandy on the 18th of  November 2021. On the one hand, the question of literary multilingualism is a recent object of study despite the seminal work of L. Forster in the 1970s. On the other hand, the figure of the child (narrator or character) in literature has been widely studied since the 1960s: as Philippe Ariès reminds us, until Rousseau's Confessions, which heralded the advent of the childhood narrative in 19th-century Europe, childhood is a mere part of a human subject’s prehistory. In literature, the child is thus a figure of little interest. As a result, the figure of the multilingual child has widely been overlooked in the field of literary studies of multilingualism.

Mutilingualism refers to the multiplicity of languages and the mixture of languages as themes, but also to the ways in which languages are represented and staged in literature. Moreover, the hybridity of languages in the literary text is a fascinating object of study which can be taken into account scholars from many fields, in line with what R. Grutman and M. Suchet call heterolingualism. Heterolingual texts are truly situated "at the crossroads of languages": they mixed several idioms.

This edited volume aims at analysing child narrators and/or figures evolving in and between several languages – either because they speak at least two languages, or because their family, school or country is made up of a web of languages. Whether one thinks of Elias Canetti, Nancy Huston, Vassilis Alexakis, Augusto Roa Bastos (Hijo de hombre) or Agota Kristof, multilingual children are frequent characters in multilingual literature. These child figures can be autobiographical or autofictional shadows of the author – as explored in the recent work of A. Ausoni. They can also be pure beings of paper. In all these cases, their identity is made of a fabric woven of all their languages, whether they are acquired simultaneously or successively, within the otherness of their monolingual fellow creatures. This edited volume will explore the fictionalisation of children's characters and/or narrators who speak several languages and the literary implications of such linguistic mixing.

Contributions can also look at imaginaries and representations of languages. These themes appear in narratives portraying multilingual childhood, especially when child figures are confronted with the monolingualism of other narrative instances. The phenomena of language assimilation, hybridity, attrition, diglossia, etc. and their literary rendering can also be studied. What associations and imaginaries of languages are deployed in literature, depending the linguistic context experienced in childhood?

Contributors are invited to examine the role of the author in the creation of multilingual fictions. Authors are in a paradoxical situation indeed, since they are caught between two representations: language learning and language teaching (whether they teach themselves or their readers). What does the choice – or the abandonment – of a language of writing imply when said language was spoken by the author in their childhood?

We are looking forward to reading contributions by authors looking at literary works in French, Spanish, German, English and Italian: these languages have a strong potential for mixing with each other due to school policies geared towards European languages. Mixing of other regional languages or dialects within countries that have official or national languages can also be taken into account.

Contributions examining works of children's literature are also welcome.

Research axes

Papers may refer to one of the four themes that structured the original conference:

Childhood narratives by multilingual autobiographers, and linguistic creativity

How is multilingualism rendered in literature when a child figure is involved? Authors are encouraged to look at the representation of languages by child narrators and at the multilingual child as a specific narrative voice. Questions of self-writing between languages (translingualism as understood by A. Ausoni) from childhood, for example from a genetic point of view (diaries, autofiction, autobiography) can be considered. In this respect, questions of translatology/traductology and self-translation may be considered if they pertain to childhood-related themes, especially within self-narration.

From home to the world: childhood languages, transmission and emancipatio

a) Home: The theme of the multilingual children and their family home in literature can be looked at. Questions related to the intertwinement of emotions and languages (Pavlenko, 2005) within child characters can may be taken into account. Language play and psycholinguistic aspects can also be examined in this respect.

b) The world: Issues pertaining to school language learning and multilingual pupils and students in literature are to be heeded. Further sociolinguistic considerations should be addressed: the multilingual child at school, their confrontation with a possibly hostile or monolingual allophone environment following Cazden's findings about the greater accuracy of metalinguistic awareness in multilingual children (Cazden, 1974).

Furthermore, the function of the multilingual author is to be considered, in relation to aspects of language acquisition: is the author a learner when deploying multilingualism in literature? Is the author a teacher? If so, towards which other literary figures? Does the author aim at teaching or introducing a new language to the reader?

Adolescence and the lure of language exoticism: identity and otherness

Usually conceived as a time of self-discovery and discovery of the other, adolescence is set up as the moment when identity is built. This occurs in particular within the confrontation with otherness. This alterity can either be radicalised or, on the contrary, it can leave room for tolerance and mutual enrichment. Adolescents strives to determine what one is, and what one is not – and to explore what others are and are not. In this respect, mastering several languages can make this process of self-construction easier, or conversely more complex. What are the roles and functions related to languages within the construction of the self and the other during adolescence, and which literary issues pertain to these themes?

Language as a homeland for multilingual youth without a fatherland?

Growing up between languages can imply an intricate positioning towards the range of cultures which young multilingual speakers knows. Articles can look at cases where children and youth do not feel completely part of one or several cultures, or where they are rejected by one or several linguistic communities. Multilingual child characters or narrators are prone to experience such a loss of bearings, but this can also be the case for multilingual authors. Thanks to a literary narrative, or through the act of writing, they question their place in the world: how is this language and identity-related disorientation represented? By what means do they seek to resolve it? Literature, for its part, could open up a third way for youth without a reliable fatherland: can a language constitute a literary homeland for those who no longer have one – or conversely, who have too many of them?

Submission guidelines

Deadline for submission of the paper proposals (500 words + short presentation of the author):

14th of May 2022

Deadline for submission of the articles: 29th of June 2022

Paper proposals should be sent to the following e-mail addresses: marie.gourgues@unicaen.fr

; louise.sampagnay@unicaen.fr

Papers should follow the standards of the Editions des Archives Contemporaines: https://www.archivescontemporaines.com/Instructions/

Papers should be written in either French, English, Spanish, German, or Italian.

Scientifc committee

  • Marie Gourgues, doctorante en Études hispaniques, Université de Caen Normandie
  • Éric Leroy du Cardonnoy, PU en Études germaniques, Université de Caen Normandie
  • Brigitte Poitrenaud-Lamesi, MCF (HDR) en Études italiennes, Université de Caen Normandie
  • Louise Sampagnay, doctorante en Études germaniques et littérature comparée, Université de Caen Normandie
  • Emilio Sciarrino, docteur en Études italiennes, professeur en CPGE à Amiens


AMATI MEHLER, Jacqueline, ARGENTIERI, Simona, CANESTRI, Jorge, The Babel of the Unconscious: Mother Tongue and Foreign Languages in the Psychoanalytic, Madison, International Universities Press, 1993.

ARIES, Philippe, L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l'Ancien Régime, Paris, Plon, 1960, p. 161-198.

AUSONI, Alain, Mémoires d’outre-langue. L’écriture translingue de soi, Genève, Editions Slatkine, 2018.

BARRILLA VILLANUEVA, Rebeca, « Oralidad y escritura. Una encrucijada para las lenguas indígenas », Cahiers du monde hispanique et luso-brésilien, n°76-77, Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, Toulouse, 2001, p. 611-621.

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DOLLE, Marie, L’imaginaire des langues, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2002.

ENGEL, Susan, « Looking Backward: Representations of Childhood in Literary Work », Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 33, n°1, University of Illinois Press, 1999, p. 50–55. [www.jstor.org/stable/3333736.]

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GRUTMAN, Rainier, Des langues qui résonnent. L’hétérolinguisme au XIXe siècle québécois, Québec, Fides-CÉTUQ, 1997.

KELLEY, Joyce E., Children’s Play in Literature. Investigating the Strengths and the Subversions of the Playing Child, Routledge, Londres, 2020.

KHAN, Ummni, SALTMARSH, Sue, « Childhood in Literature, Media and Popular Culture », Global Studies of Childhood, vol. 1, n°4, 2011, p. 267-270 [10.2304/gsch.2011.1.4.267].

LAFONT, Suzanne, Récits et dispositifs d’enfance (XIXe - XXIe siècles), Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, Montpellier, 2012.

PAVLENKO, Aneta, Emotions and Multilingualism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

SUCHET, Myriam, L’Imaginaire hétérolingue. Ce que nous apprennent les textes à la croisée des langues, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2014.

VOGHERA, Miriam, « Il plurilinguismo in Italia », in CALABRÒ, Giovanna (dir.), Le lingue dello straniero. Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi, Liguori, Naples, 2003, p. 36-75.


  • Esplanade de la Paix
    Caen, France (14)


  • Saturday, May 14, 2022

Attached files


  • plurilinguisme, enfance, littérature


  • Marie Gourgues
    courriel : marie [dot] gourgues [at] univ-lille [dot] fr

Information source

  • Marie Gourgues
    courriel : marie [dot] gourgues [at] univ-lille [dot] fr


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

To cite this announcement

« The Figure of the Multilingual Child in Literature », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, March 25, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/18k5

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