Sándor Hites

Variations on Mother Tongue. Language and Identity in Twentieth-Century Hungarian Literary Exile

This essay attempts to reveal the variety of ways in which exilic or post-exilic consciousness brings about a diversity in lingual identity and the ways in which this identity is maintained, suspended, lost, expanded, regained, rediscovered, or caught in transition. The author considers how adherence to the mother tongue becomes an ideological shelter against the menace of a metaphysical homelessness for Sándor Márai; how multilingualism turns into a defense of locality for Áron Kibédi Varga; how translation comes to serve as a substitute for an unborn offspring both in the literary and the genetic sense for Endre Karátson; how, in the case of Agota Kristof a second language never fully acquired is felt to ruin one’s mother tongue precisely through a literary achievement of the highest standard; how, in the case of Tibor Fischer, the traces of a remote lingual and cultural heritage show up in a text written in a language other than one’s mother’s tongue.

keywords: literary exile, language, identity, multilingualism