Converting lingualism into linguality (langagification des langues) in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister novels

Robert Stockhammer


In light of recent insights into the near-omnipresence of multilingual features in literature, it seems promising to focus on texts from the core of national canons with the aim of detecting traces of multilingualism within apparently monolingual textures. The present article started out as a test of this hypothesis, focusing on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister novels (Lehr- and Wanderjahre; Apprenticeship and Journeyman’s Years). Even as some traces of other languages can indeed be identified in these novels, quite another tendency turns out to be dominant: a neutralization or immunization of langues (French for tongues, i.e., idioms in the sense of geographically diverse languages), and their conversion into a langage (French for a linguistic system ostensibly independent of languages in their diversity). I propose to describe this tendency as a langagification des langues, a conversion of Sprachigkeit (here: lingualism) into Sprachlichkeit (here: linguality), arguing that this might be a crucial operation within the construction of national literatures. Note that this text is a translation of the German-language original, which also appears in this issue of CMS.


lingualism, Sprachigkeit, linguality, Sprachlichkeit, poetic language, Goethe, Wilhelm Meister

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