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Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue

University of Ottawa Press | Literary Translation

Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation by Chantal Wright is a hybrid text, innovatively combining literary criticism, experimental translation, and scholarly commentary. This work centres on a German-language prose text by Yoko Tawada entitled ‘Portrait of a Tongue’ [‘Porträt einer Zunge’, 2002]. Yoko Tawada is a native speaker of Japanese who learned German as an adult.

Portrait of a Tongue is a portrait of a German woman—referred to only as P—who has lived in the United States for many years and whose German has become inflected by English. The text is the first-person narrator’s declaration of love for P and for her language, a ‘thinking-out-loud’ about language(s), and a self-reflexive commentary.

Chantal Wright offers a critical response and a new approach to the translation process by interweaving Tawada’s text and the translator’s dialogue, creating a side-by-side reading experience that encourages the reader to move seamlessly between the two parts. Chantal Wright’s technique models what happens when translators read and responds to calls within Translation Studies for translators to claim visibility, to practice “thick translation”, and to develop their own creative voices. This experimental translation addresses a readership within the academic disciplines of Translation Studies, Germanic Studies, and related fields.

- This book is published in English. 


Yoko Tawada (b. 1960) is an exophonic writer: a non-native speaker of German who writes prose, poetry and dramatic texts in her adopted language. She also writes in her mother tongue, Japanese. Tawada has been living in Germany since 1982 and learned the German language as an adult. Her signature short prose texts are part essay, part short story, and blur the boundaries between autobiography and fiction.

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