Raelke Grimmer is founder and editor of Tongues, a print and online magazine celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity. She’s also a YA novelist and completing a PhD in creative writing and applied linguistics—in short, she’s a super talented wordsmith and we were excited to hear a bit more about her work and what she’s got on her bookshelf.
Congratulations on launching the inaugural print issue of Tongues! You’ve been publishing the online version of the magazine for about a year. Can you tell us a bit about the kind of writing included in Tongues and the philosophy behind it?
Tongues is a space to publish writing about all cultures and all languages, written in all languages. We publish writing on language learning, linguistics, memoir, travel, arts reviews and wellbeing, but we are open to many different topics as long as the writing fits the theme of language and culture.
What gave you the idea to form the publication?
The more I studied languages and linguistics the more I started to see this disconnect between Australia’s identity as a multicultural country and the complete disregard the country has for languages other than English. Language and culture are so deeply intertwined that they can’t be separated out as being independent of each other. Australia accepts multiculturalism so far as it relates to food, cultural dress and cultural festivals, but when it comes to foreign languages there is real resistance. I wanted to create a publication which celebrates multilingualism as part of multiculturalism and which embraces all cultures and all languages.
Once you had the idea for Tongues, how did you go about making it a reality?
In 2013 I applied for Express Media’s Young Writers’ Innovation Prize and I won third place and a $500 grant to get the online publication off the ground. I started getting in touch with writers and people working with language and linguistics and Tongues launched online in April 2014 with content in four different languages. I always wanted to create a print publication with longer pieces of writing to accompany the online publication and in 2014 I applied for a grant from Carclew Arts to create the first print edition. I was fortunate enough to receive the funding which gave me the means to put the first print issue together. It has been a huge learning curve as I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’ve loved the challenge and have learnt so much along the way. I’ve very grateful for the support I’ve had, not only from the grants but from local arts organisations and readers and writers who believe in my vision for Tongues.
For your Masters you taught yourself Czech by reading children’s stories. Why Czech?
My partner of six years is a native Czech speaker and we’d booked a three and a half month trip to the Czech Republic for after I handed in my Masters dissertation, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to start learning the language and then to have the opportunity to use it while we were away. It is important to me to learn my partner’s language fluently because if we have children together in the future I want the language to be passed down to our kids. I believe it is such a valuable gift to be able to pass the language down to the next generation.
How did reading stories (as opposed to more traditional methods) help form your understanding of the language?
I personally found it liberating to be able to dive headfirst into chunks of the language rather than slowly stepping up from grammar point to grammar point, vocab list by vocab list, as I have previously learnt languages in the past. It is a lot of information to take in at once and at first it was very overwhelming, but little but little it starts to make sense. It became not about understanding the meaning of individual words but of understanding the story as a whole, and that means I was learning the meaning of individual words within the context those words actually get used in and I got a better idea of how the language works as a whole right from the beginning.
This year you’ve started a PhD in creative writing/applied linguistics at Flinders University. Can you tell us a little bit about your research?
I’m analysing language journalism as a genre of writing, which is an emerging subgenre of creative non-fiction which focuses on the human aspect of language. Linguist and writer Michael Erard is the founder and editor of the first dedicated language journalism publication, Schwa Fire, and I’m interested in looking at why it is so important for writing about language and linguistics to have its own genre. For the creative part of my PhD I am writing a book-length work of language journalism exploring monolingualism and multiculturalism in Australia.
You’ve also written several books. How does your background in languages and linguistics inform your writing and your own use of language in your creative work?
I was a writer before I found my other passion in linguistics, so in a sense the fact that I was a writer first has informed my areas of interest within linguistics. But my background in languages and linguistics has definitely refined my writing and the ideas I like to write about. I’ve always loved to experiment with form in my writing and I think this is probably because of my fascination with language as a structure and the way it can be manipulated into different forms to create different meanings.
How did you become interested in languages and linguistics?
It started in high school, when I began learning German, which I loved right from the beginning. I have German heritage on my father’s side but the language didn’t get passed down. Early on in my German classes our teacher told us that if we continued with German all the way to Year 12, we’d have the opportunity to go on an exchange trip to Germany at the end of Year 11. I made up my mind then, as a Year 8 student, that I wanted to go on that exchange trip. I went home that night and told my mum. She just smiled at me. But three years later, I packed my bags for a two and a half month exchange trip to Germany. I also started learning Spanish from Year 11, and at the end of Year 12 I found myself having to choose between languages and creative writing at university. Creative writing won, but after three years of that I missed languages dreadfully, so I enrolled into a Master in Applied Linguistics, with only a vague idea of what linguistics actually was. I soon learned that linguistics is so much more than learning foreign languages and I loved every aspect of my Masters.
Which authors and books have most influenced your work?
Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi had a huge influence on me as a teenager. Marchetta, along with Jaclyn Moriarty and Julia Lawrinson, are the authors who made me want to be a young adult writer. I loved Melina Marchetta and Julia Lawrinson’s books because the characters felt so real, and I admire Jaclyn Moriarty for her experimentation with form and her ability to make a fantasy world seem utterly possible. I especially love her most recent series, The Colours of Madeleine. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is another book which has had a huge influence on me. Again, I love the form and structure of that book and Zusak’s unusual choice of using Death as the narrator.
What are you currently reading?
At the moment I’m reading Lexicon, a novel by Max Barry, which is fantastic. I’ve also just finished reading the non-fiction books Lingo! by Gaston Dorren and Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. I really enjoyed Found in Translation in particular—it is full of stories about translation and how integral translation is to keep the world running.
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