Transcript 26 / 27:

Forbidden / Forbidding Words

Mária Chilf
Chantal Wright
Welcome to this special double issue of Transcript dedicated to the topic of forbidden and forbidding words.

A few words of introduction are necessary to place this project in context, particularly for our French and English-speaking readers. 'Verbotene Worte' (literally: Forbidden Words) is an informal literary network which was initiated in Germany by the Bulgarian-German poet Tzveta Sofronieva. In her introductory essay to the topic, '(m)other words', which is featured in this issue, Tzveta Sofronieva explains how her interest in the cultural burden borne by certain words was first sparked by a 1995-96 discussion with her German translator about one of her poems: 'Rodina' (homeland). A literal translation of the Bulgarian title into German proved problematic: the word 'Heimat', after all, had implications unique to the German historical context. The poem eventually received the title 'Gefangen im Licht' ('Caught in Light'); the light in question is that cast by language, in which the poet feels herself trapped. 'Verbotene Worte' grew out of this discussion. Over the past twelve years it has brought together writers, visual artists and academics from the length and breadth of Europe and beyond, resulting in numerous readings and discussions, and in the publication of a German language anthology entitled Verbotene Worte (Biblion: 2005), which looked at issues of linguistic memory and the misunderstandings that can occur during communication between different cultures.

Today, in 2007, the German word 'Heimat' may be undergoing a process of rehabilitation as Germany shows signs of developing a 'positive patriotism' in the aftermath of its 2006 hosting of the World Cup. The English word 'homeland', on the other hand, is weighed down as never before by the connotations of its contemporary usage in the USA. For this reason we feature two American writers in this issue (in the English edition only). This is a break with tradition for Transcript, but an appropriate inclusion given the nature of this special issue.

'Forbidden / Forbidding Words' is not confined to an exploration of linguistic memory and taboo, however, but also investigates the insights into language offered by bi- and multi-lingualism. A Transcript reading and discussion held at the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Berlin on March 30, 2007, examined the relationship between multilingualism and the act of reflecting upon the burdens carried by language. One of the positions put forward was that knowledge of another language or languages makes one more aware of what can and cannot be said, of the gaps within a language and the gaps between different languages. Both Odile Kennel's novella Wimpernflug / Mon nom dans les nuages (French and German editions only), the story of a nine year old girl growing up in a French-German bilingual household, and Yoko Tawada's tale of programming the lexis of a robo-poet in Ein Brief an Olympia / Lettre à Olympia (currently French and German editions only) are excellent examples of how the dual focal points of the project feed into one another.

Transcript would like to thank the following people and institutions for making this issue possible: its guest editor, Tzveta Sofronieva; the Bulgarian and Romanian Cultural Institutes in Berlin for hosting our March reading; the writers Magda Cârneci, Odile Kennel, Michail Nedelchev and the interpreters Nevena Dragostinova and Irene Rudolf for participating in this reading; all of the authors and translators featured in this issue; the artist Mária Chilf for 'lending' us her paintings and photographs; and finally Leïla Pellissier and Audrey Langlassé for their generous help with the French edition.

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