Symposium on Migration, Language and Literature in Europe,
23.-26.04.2008, Amsterdam (paper in translators' workshop)
of language preference in Turkish-German migration literature
by Sabine Adatepe
a professor of German philology at the University of Hamburg,
gives his father Ali, who represents the first generation
of migrant workers in Germany, a book as a present: "Demirci'nin
Kizi" – The Blacksmith's Daughter. Expelled by the German
authorities after having lived and worked in Germany for decades,
Ali reads the last pages of the book in Turkey and is overwhelmed
In these sequences of his film "The Edge of Heaven"
Fatih Akin, film director and producer from Hamburg, calls
attention to the latest novel by Selim Özdogan. Özdogan
understands himself as a German writer. In Akin's originally
multilingual film the originally German novel "The Blacksmith's
Daughter" occurs in Turkish translation only.
Film director and writer stand for the arrival of the majority
of the people with Turkish migration background in the middle
of the German society, which actually is, against all croaking,
a multilingual reality of multiple cultures.
literatures, if this conception still maintains validity,
are defined by languages. In a world of multiple cultures
and multiple languages, with mobility, including migration,
becoming more and more normalcy, becoming even an essential
condition for living, monolingualism turns out to be an exception,
a disadvantage in competition. So more and more writers are
challenged to make a choice, to opt between two or even more
languages, to use several languages at the same time, whether
in one book or in several parts of their opus, or even to
create a new thing, a kind of hybrid language.
preferred language tells us a lot about the writer: Which
culture did his socialisation take place in? Which culture
does he gains his main impulses from? Which surroundings does
he locate himself in? Which target group(s) does he write
for? Where in his literary self-determination does fractions,
changes and transitions occur? Discourses, the writer is participating
in, can give clues on his themes.
writers preferring Turkish show tendency towards one of three
main groups of perspective: a) oriented by the discourse in
Turkey, b) facing both, the discourses in Turkey and in Germany
and c) mainly oriented by the discourse in Germany.
first generation of Turkish migrant writers in Germany, as
to time in parallel to the first generation of Turkish workers'
migration, in the beginning preferred Turkish exclusively
as the language of their educational socialisation. At first
they wrote for Turkish readers only. There is a spacious early
"Gastarbeiterliteratur" (1), also may be referred
to as "Deutschlandliteratur" (2), with roots going
back to the early 1960s, the beginning of the recruitment
of workers from Turkey in 1961. Up from 1965, first books
of migration literature were published in Istanbul in Turkish
who stayed only short termed in Germany and focussed on Germany
centred themes for Turkish readers naturally opted for Turkish.
Writers with centre of life in Germany but mostly writing
for their own community prefer Turkish, too. Writers who live
in Germany but, because of their educational biographies,
feel themselves at home in the Turkish language, try to get
their manuscripts translated into German, sometimes even before
having published them in Turkish (4). For them, reception
in the target society is most important. Others focussed on
readers in their country of origin, so they concentrated on
Turkish only. Writers who stayed in Germany for a longer time
only due to a journey or for studying purposes, are to be
mentioned here, too (5). Although they are not migrant writers
in a classical sense, they considerably contributed to the
image of Turkish migrants in Germany. Between the writers
of the first hour there were – despite a few exceptions like
Fethi Savasçi – almost no "writing workers",
but primarily intellectuals, who brought along with them some
literary experiences from Turkey and installed themselves
as mouthpieces of their working class compatriots. These writers
got their topics less from Turkey, but increasingly from migration
experiences, which can be shown at the example of Fakir Baykurt.
In the course of his move to Duisburg in 1979 he stopped writing
about the village life in Turkey and started writing exclusively
and extensively about the life of migrant workers, aiming
to build up an awareness to improve their situation. In contrast
to his early Turkish novels, his novel-trilogy about workers'
families in Duisburg has never been translated. Most of his
translated stories on migration did not find large-scale reception.
1980, with a wave of political refugees a new "first
generation" from Turkey with new themes arrived in Germany.
There were a lot of intellectuals settled as writers in Turkey
between the newcomers. Mostly they had to leave Turkey because
of their journalistic and/or literary activities (6). Besides,
there came a lot of young people with high commitment, who
found their way to literature in exile only. In those years,
the Turkish written literature in diaspora received a fresh
impetus in general. Translations were strongly initiated and
with the foundation of journals, magazines and publishing
houses as publication platforms, the infra-structure of Turkish-German
literary production improved considerably.
interesting phenomenon is the emergence of young, highly educated,
highly motivated authors, coming to Germany in different constellations,
staying here temporarily or establishing one foot in both
countries, writing Turkish, but compounding parts of both
cultures in their literature to a new mosaic. Menekse Toprak
and Esmahan Aykol, both residing in Berlin, are representing
this new elite. Aykol was successful with her series about
a female German crime bookseller in Istanbul especially in
the German translation in the German-speaking countries.
literature in Turkish language", i.e. the preference
of Turkish by writers living in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s
was sometimes related to a linguistic-political consciousness
corresponding with the conception of "cultural synthesis":
The "literature of foreign culture in Germany" faces
the German majority culture in the manner of a "counterpublic"
(7). In this perspective, preferring Turkish was a political
statement at the same time. Meanwhile this pretension faded,
but there was a sort of revival with "Kanak Sprak",
the language reality of young migrants, recorded by Feridun
Zaimoglu, opposing the majority culture even though in a different
manner. Well, a few weeks ago the Turkish prime minister Erdogan
made an appeal to his compatriots in Germany, not to neglect
the Turkish language and culture. After decades of more or
less successful native language classes for children of Turkish
origin, some secondary schools are teaching Turkish as a foreign
language right now and some German-Turkish bilingual public
schools besides some Turkish private schools are existing
too. A literary competition (8) is asking "the Turks
of Europe" these days for prose and poetry in Turkish
language, aiming to promote written and verbal Turkish (9).
Whether these efforts will lead to a revival of the Turkish
language in Germany remains to be seen.
from Turkish to German
young ones, the flexible ones between those staying longer
termed in Germany tended towards using more and more German,
some started to publish in German only. Others remained being
deeply rooted in their original language being unable to disengage
from it in literary esthetical respect, although they used
German in other activities (like literary workshops, education
etc.). Very few writers succeeded in getting established in
both countries and both languages (10).
the second generation themes and language preference changed
sustainably. Born in Turkey or already in Germany, most young
writers grew up Turkish speaking at home, listening to parents
and grandparents talking about Turkey as well as about the
problems of migration, political exile and the difficulties
in gaining a foothold in the new environment, but because
of going to school in Germany getting used to the German language
as well, so that German became more and more familiar, in
many cases even more familiar than Turkish.
writing mainly or exclusively in German seem to have different
perspectives: Some apply their bicultural background consciously,
some use their bilingualism as literary instrument playing
with interferences. Whereas some – with Zafer Senocak as outstanding
representative – act expressively as intercultural bridges,
others refuse a role of cultural mediatorship.
trend of considerable importance for the development of modern
German literature is represented by those writers whose literary
self-determination does not recur to their own or their parents'
migration background, but instead feel as originally German
writers like Akif Pirinççi or Selim Özdogan.
language as a third way
Zaimoglu with his début "Kanak Sprak" and
Emine Sevgi Özdamar, above all with her early strongly
autobiographically books "Mutterzunge" and "Das
Leben ist eine Karawanserai", are outstanding and in
regard to publicity most successful examples for a hybridity
of languages, who act in both language areas and applied a
new method for their literature – as instrument and subject
in the same way. They juggle with syntax and semantics of
both languages. Zaimoglu, who gave up experiments of this
kind in the meantime, took up a sort of pidgin-German, a slang,
being used in certain circles of young migrants and meanwhile
being partly settled as a language of Rap or Hiphop. Özdamar
represents the tendency to aesthetically pretentious new creations
in literary language by using interferences consciously. A
characteristic of this third way, with regard to its public
reception at the same time its biggest disadvantage, is the
fact that this kind of language experiments can only fully
be enjoyed by readers knowing both languages. Translation
is almost impossible.
of themes and genres in parallel to language preference
out of own migration experience was basis especially for the
first generation of Turkish-German writers. Primarily they
wrote short prose or poetry, being published in papers or
magazines of their own community or in some anthologies. The
workers concerned expressed themselves or, at least, the texts
emerged in direct dialogue with them on themes like homesickness,
coldness, misunderstanding and being misunderstood, conflicts
of identities and cultures as well as lack of solidarity by
the German working class (11). Grown-up migrants' first manuscripts
deal mostly with themes from Turkey. The essence of a novel
or a story was handled like a jewel, being polished and brought
to its final form only in diaspora. These manuscripts are
published exclusively in Turkey, sometimes in German translation
later on in Germany too. As time went by, most writers got
more and more adapted to the new environment and picked up
themes of migration or varied between Turkey-focussed and
migration-focussed topics. Only some exceptional writers tended
to non-Turkey, non-Turkish or even non-migration themes. Even
many of them return from time to time to the common themes
in case of younger migrants of Turkish origin a surplus of
poetry can be observed. A lot of young poets do not yet have
an independent publication in German language, but one or
even several poetry books, primarily printed in Turkey. This
may be explained by the fact that poetry reaches higher ratings
in Turkish culture than in Germany.
to the second wave of migration in the 1980s the range of
themes spread (13). Playful elements, irony and satire entered
the Turkish-German literature. End of the 1990s the tendency
towards novels increased. With topical and formal change from
"facing a foreign world" towards "facing onceself
in the foreign world" (14), the migration literature
arrived amidst contemporary German literature. Limitation
to migrational themes were dropped. Moments of strangeness
became aesthetic elements. "The uncramped and natural
treatment of German-Turkish themes as a self-confident contribution
to contemporary German literature" turns out to be one
of the "signs of the newest German literature" (15).
contemporary migration literature is by no way to be seen
as a total; biographies, themes, genres and language preferences
differ extremely. Nevertheless, the majority of the writers
even preferring German are still rooted in their well-known
world using total- or semi-biographical motivated complexes,
or recur – maybe because of a good market for exotics (16)
– to their country and culture of origin, even if their own
socialisation is no longer connected with it. Here, some literary
doubtful products are to be mentioned too: detective stories
with local colour from "home" or from the community
as well as women's literature like reality soaps on "the
oppressed woman" but also "the emancipated exceptional
girl", "the Turkish macho" etc.
reception of Turkish-German migration literature still opposites
the self-determination and self-perception of its writers:
A Turkish sounding name seems to guarantee Turkish literature,
which most readers only have a vague imagination of. Almost
all German writers of Turkish origin can tell a thing or two
about being asked again and again, pretendedly friendly, why
they are not writing about their migration experiences (17).
Feridun Zaimoglu pointed out: "die besonderen umstände
meiner herkunft fielen mir nur ein wenn ich darauf angesprochen
wurde" (18). Like Zaimoglu the majority of the German
writing Turkish-German writers see themselves as a "logical
part of the mosaic" (19) of the contemporary German literature.
Attributions to any kind of migration literature they regard
as affront, stigmatization or in the best case as misunderstanding
(20). According to many of them migration literature does
no longer exist (21).
© Sabine Adatepe 2008
(1) (Foreign worker's literature.) A short discussion of the
terms "Deutsche Literatur von Autoren nichtdeutscher
"Literatur der Betroffenheit", "Migranten-/Migrationsliteratur",
"interkulturelle Literatur" give Klaus Schenk, Almut
Totorow, Milan Turdík (Ed.): Migrationsliteratur. Schreibweisen
einer interkulturellen Moderne. Tübingen and Basel 2004.
Kuruyazici (Manfred Durzak, Nilüfer Kuruyazici (Ed.):
Die andere Deutsche Literatur. Istanbuler Vorträge, Würzburg
2004, p. 7) uses "deutschsprachige Literatur fremdkultureller
Schriftsteller", Esselborn (pp. 11) and Mecklenburg (pp.
23) in the same book prefer "Minderheitenliteratur",
Jim Jordan (p. 118) "Diasporaliteratur" and Irmgard
Ackermann (p. 47) "Autoren mit anderskulturellem Hintergrund".
Grünefeld gives reasons for "Migrationsliteratur"
(Hans-Dieter Grünefeld: "Literatur und Arbeitsmigration.
Probleme literaturwissenschaftlicher Gegenstands- und Begriffsbestimmung."
In: Evangelische Akademie Iserlohn, Tagungsprotokolle, Nr.
26 (1985)), which the author of this papers agrees to.
(2) In parallel to the usage of "Almanya edebiati"
by Turkish writers for literature written by Turks on subjects
in and about Germany, the German Turkologist and translator
Wolfgang Riemann coined this term in his basic study Das Deutschlandbild
der modernen türkischen Literatur (Wiesbaden 1983), pp.
(3) Nevzat Üstün, Bekir Yildiz and Yüksel Pazarkaya
were the first great names. Sölçün sets the
beginning of "literary expression on the subject of Turkish
migration in Germany" on Yüksel Pazarkaya's 1960-68
dispersedly published poems (Sargut Sölçün:
"Literatur der türkischen Minderheit". In:
Carmine Chiellino (Ed.): Interkulturelle Literatur in Deutschland.
Ein Handbuch. Stuttgart, Weimar 2000, p. 137).
(4) E.g. Aras Ören, Sakir Bilgin, Güney Dal, Haydar
(5) E.g. Haldun Taner, Sevgi Soysal, Füruzan Selçuk.
Most famous examples of earlier times are Ahmet Hasim and
(6) E.g. Nihat Behram, Dursun Akçam, Aydin Engin.
(7) Tanzer (Harald Tanzer: "Deutsche Literatur türkischer
Autoren" in Schenk op.cit.), p. 301.
(8) Promoted by the Turkish Teachers Association ATÖF,
the daily newspaper Hürriyet and the TV-channel Türkshow.
(9) Promotion of "written and verbal Turkish", development
of awareness and sympathy for Turkish language (paragraphs
1-5), "building up and enriching a migration literature"
(paragraph 6) as well as "enriching the Turkish and German
literature, encourging intercultural interaction, ensuring
social harmony by getting known to each other better"
(10) E.g. Yüksel Pazarkaya and Gültekin Emre.
(11) Tanzer op.cit., p. 305.
(12) Zaimoglu's thesis, the field of migration literature
is "grazed" and finished (Feridun Zaimoglu, Julia
Abel: "Migrationsliteratur ist ein toter Kadaver. Ein
Gespräch." In: Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Ed.): Literatur
und Migration. TEXT+KRITIK – Zeitschrift für Literatur.
Sonderband. München 2006, p. 165), does not at all count
for all Turkish-German writers.
(13) Sölçün sees topical priorities on "loss
of identity, homelessness, inner strife and hesitancy"
and observes first signs of a change in writing about workers
and labour towards personal reflection, which settled definitely
in the 1990s. (Sölçün op.cit., p. 140).
(14) Sölçün op.cit., p. 142.
(15) Tanzer op.cit., p. 315.
(16) Zafer Senocak got excited as early as 1990 on great publishing
houses permantly asking for the market, he named as criterions
for the realization of an agreement "confirmation of
the predominating images about the foreigner and his culture"
as well as simpleness (Zafer Senocak: "Wann ist der Fremde
zu Hause? Betrachtungen zur Kunst und Kultur von Minderheiten
in Deutschland", in Senocak: Atlas des tropischen Deutschland,
Berlin 1992, p. 64-75).
(17) For many others reports Zafer Senocak (Gefährliche
Verwandtschaft, Berlin 1998), p. 207.
(18) "The special circumstances of my origin only got
into my mind when I was asked for them." Feridun Zaimoglu
in Jamal Tuschick (Ed.): MorgenLand. Neueste deutsche Literatur.
Frankfurt a. Main 2000, p. 10.
(19) Tanzer op.cit., p. 309.
(20) Selim Özdogan is said to having hesitated several
days before accepting the Adelbert-von-Chamisso-Förderpreis
(Yüksel Pazarkaya: "Generationswechsel – Themenwandel",
in Durzak/Kuruyazici op.cit., p. 151). In this connection
has to be asked if promotions like the Adelbert-von-Chamisso-prize
for migrants' literature in German language may regarded as
a sort of "positive discrimination".
(21) "The migration literature does not play a role since
a long time" said Zaimoglu representing many others (Zaimoglu/Abel
op.cit., p. 162).