Multicultural Germany Class: Multiple Tongues

This post is part of a series in which students reflect on their discussions in the UC Berkeley undergraduate seminar “Multicultural Germany.” This week’s summary is by Jenelle Mathews

This week in class was a continuation of last week’s topic, Multiple Tongues – Multilingualism, Literature and Translation. As with previous weeks, our readings included articles from Germany in Transit, works posted online, and a new book, The Bridge of the Golden Horn. Discussion revolved around these pieces, particularly in regard to the use of language.

The week started of with a reading by Şenocak, “The Bastardized Language,” “Beyond the Language of the Land” and “Dialogue about the Third Language.” Şenocak’s article struck a cord with the class and the issues the piece raised became a focal point of discussion. “The Bastardized Language”, written in 1994, provided a thought-provoking image of “otherness” which spoke to the problems many Turks faced living in Germany. His use of language, along with the content, made the class question not only why he writes what he does, but also why he writes it the way he writes it. This topic of language use as well as “otherness” brought the class into a long discussion about the question “where are you from?” This seemingly innocent query has the possibility to not only produce many answers, all of which may be “correct,” but also can cause problems with self-identity. How one answers such a question of “fromness” can be a result of catering to another who is attempting to hint at race or ethnicity, or it might also derive from a sense belongingness to a certain place separate from where one grew up or was born, etc. Some students shared their own experiences with this question and the different contexts that shaped their answers.

Subsequently, we continued the week with Kanak Sprak, from Feridun Zaimoğlu, and the debatable manner in which he approached topics of migration. In addition to reading his introduction, we read a few of the stories from his piece and discussed both in terms of the content presented and its influence on the reader.  After looking at certain passages, we discussed the role government and education has on the acquisition of language and the difficulties many students face when submerged in a new language. Without the right tools, Turks, and other non-native German speakers faced an uphill battle to succeed in their classes and overcome misplaced prejudices.

Later, we discussed a portion of the new book we are reading, “The Bridge of the Golden Horn”, by Emine Sevgi Özdamar. It tells the story of a young Turkish girl who leaves Istanbul to become a migrant worker in Germany. Her unique perspective and history with theater produces an intriguing storyline scattered with though-provoking passages. Specifically, we looked at a portion of the text that considered the acquisition of foreign language. The main character humorously describes her interaction and first “words” in the German language, which she used to mime necessary items on her shopping list. Our class discussed how her words of necessity, namely “shak shak, eeeh and clack clack clack” relates back to questions of the purity of the German language, and how to categorize words that may not fit, but yet produce the same effect. The passages from Özdamar’s book inspired new debates and conversation in our Multicultural German class. As we continue delving into “The Bridge of the Golden Horn,” I foresee increased dialogue and conversation as we compare and contrast its form and content to the rest of this semester’s materials.

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