Call for Papers for a Special Issue: Exploring Translingual Poetics and Multilingualism in South African Literature


Introduction: Trans- and Multilingual Poetics

Those who leave the familiar language environment – the first language – find themselves outside a linguistic comfort zone and may become more language-aware and even language-sensitive in that other language context than in the first-language community. In a globalised and multicultural world of linguistic commitments, intercultural exchange, and frequent contact between languages, cultural identity is defined differently than in a mono-linguistic or cultural-hegemonic environment. In Translingual Poetics. In Writing Personhood Under Settler Colonialism (2018), Canadian researcher Sarah Dowling speaks of “translingual poetics”, and no longer of “multilingual poetics”. In a review of Dowling’s publication, the concept of “translingual poetics” is explained: “While modernist poets offered multilingual displays of literary refinement, contemporary translingual poetries speak to and are informed by feminist, anti-racist, immigrant rights, and Indigenous sovereignty movements.” ( Not in one language, but in a continuous conversation of languages or a trans-movement between languages, a (cultural) personality is formed and/or expressed. In contrast, what has been referred to as “multilingual poetries” is a juxtaposition of languages that presupposes a specific hierarchical relationship (a power structure) and particular dominance in a mono-linguistic environment.


Focus: Multilingualism in South Africa

In South Africa’s multilingual and ethnically-culturally diverse literature, there are examples of texts that could be read from the perspective of “translingual poetics”. The very interweaving of the long-standing normative Standard Afrikaans and other varieties of Afrikaans is an example of cultural-linguistic mixing, which makes visible stories or frames that generally remain out of sight in a standardised, unified language. In a South African context, it is crucial to pay greater attention to such linguistic-cultural integrations and interactions. Interactions between Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi and other languages are widespread in a multilingual and multicultural South Africa, a polis where languages are in constant contact with each other. Literature is an artistic medium that activates and/or thematises linguistic contacts and forms of trans- and/or interculturality. Focusing on literary products and cultural traditions in various languages opens perspectives on diverse linguistic and cultural communities. Transfers between and knowledge of literature in divergent forms of expression play a role in the linguistic and therefore cultural rapprochement between ethno-cultural communities.


Call for Papers

For this special issue of Journal of Literary Studies, we invite submissions from academic researchers focusing on existing and/or desired forms of “multilingual poetics” and “transpoetics” in a South African literary context. Researchers from diverse cultural traditions and language communities in South Africa are invited to present research findings in the context of multilingualism and intercultural conversation. On the discussion platform Iincoko (isiXhosa) | Same(n)spraak (Afrikaans-Dutch) | Conversations (English), recordings of a series of online seminars engaging with this topic in the first semester of 2024 can be consulted:


Abstracts for contributions (approx. 300 words) can be submitted until 31/08/2024. Upon acceptance, authors will receive a style sheet with more editorial details for contributing to Journal of Literary Studies. Contributions are scheduled for publication on the JLS website in 2025. Proposals can be sent to and