Writing in a Language Other Than Mine
Michel Zink, a specialist in medieval literature, is a professor at the Collège de France and a member of the Institut de France. He is the permanent secretary of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres. His earlier works published by Editions Odile Jacob include Livres anciens, lectures vivantes and Le Moyen Âge de Gaston Paris.
‘Writing in a language that is not your own may mean writing in a dead language or in a foreign one. The feeling of otherness can be rooted in time as well as in space. In any case, writing in another language is an act of profound significance. Writers may choose to write in a language other than their native tongue — and many poets and novelists have done so, from the Middle Ages to the present time. But others have been forced by circumstances to do so.
‘Yet in many civilisations and in various epochs, intellectual life and literature used a foreign or formally acquired language as a matter of course: Greek for the Romans, Chinese for the Japanese, Latin for the Medieval Western world. Writing in another language means tearing yourself away from your own self, but it also means having to face with greater precision issues that every author must confront, particularly if it is true, as Proust wrote, that “good books are all written in a sort of foreign language”.
‘However, no one actually forgets their mother tongue. On the contrary: it is the distance travelled from one’s own language that gives value and flavour to what is written in another language. The strangeness of certain expressions, when properly mastered, can be beautiful,’ writes Michel Zink.
• Language scrutinised: the mother tongue, foreign languages and ‘modified’ languages.
• Contributors: Jean-Paul Allouche, Odile Bombarde, Yves Bonnefoy, Pascale Bourgain, Antoine Compagnon, Michael Edwards, Marc Fumaroli, Claudine Haroche, John E. Jackson, Jacques Le Rider, Jean-Noël Robert, Luciano Rossi, Karheinz Stierle.