Bitter Tongue: Yehuda Amichai's Poetic Monolanguage

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This article explores Yehuda Amichai's reflection on the meaning of language and demonstrates how his early poetry navigates between different views on the concept of 'mother tongue.' Building on Jacques Derrida's seminal essay Monolingualism of the Other, it proposes a new hermeneutic frame for interpreting Amichai's early poetry-particularly the poems collected in Shirim 1948-1962-through the prism of monolingualism. In order to examine Amichai's version of Derridean monolingualism, the article offers close readings of his paradigmatic poems, such as "Be-yalduti" ("When I Was a child") and "Va-hagirat horai lo nirg'eah bi" ("And the Migration of My Parents Has Not Subsided in Me"), that address, both directly and indirectly, the question of language. Furthermore, this article traces the influence of the experience of immigration on the development of Amichai's poetic thinking on language. The various lyrical manifestations of this experience, such as a mediation on the meaning of the language of the mother, or the possibility to write with an accent, reveal Amichai's growing ethical understanding of language as something that belongs to the other. Thus, I argue that Amichai's unique monolingualism should be understood as a poetic site of negotiation between owning and dispossessing a language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-230
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - 7 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.


  • Yehuda Amichai
  • accented writing
  • migration
  • monolingualism
  • mother tongue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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