The Linguist

The Linguist 57,1 – February/March 2018

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES 8 The Linguist Vol/57 No/1 2018 How Eleanor Marx's incredible work ethic, linguistic talents and political knowledge made her the "proletarian" of international activist communications. By Rachel Holmes B orn in cramped lodgings in Soho in 1855, Eleanor Marx was the youngest and most multilingual of a polyglot immigrant family. Her parents, Karl and Jenny, nicknamed her Tussy to rhyme, they explained, with 'pussy' not 'fussy'. The numerous likely sources for her lifelong soubriquet indicate the fertile linguistic ethos of the Marx ménage. Tussy loved Shakespeare, Ibsen, both Shelleys, Goethe, good poetry and bad puns. Like most Victorians, she adored wordplay, for which her facility with languages gave her great aptitude. The Marxes were poor, perilously insecure and continuously under state surveillance during Eleanor's early years. But the riches of literacy and an equal love of poetry and politics compensated for their lack of capital. The Marx family languages tell the story of the migrations and exiles that were the price of their progressive beliefs. When they escaped to England in 1849, it was their last refuge after successive expulsions resulting from the 1848 European revolutions. From the womb, Eleanor swam in a fluid polyphony of German, French and English, with Dutch phrases and Yiddish tags thrown in. Originating from Rhineland, Germany, both parents were born into multilingualism. Between them, the Marx and Von Westphalen broods spoke five primary tongues. In Karl's childhood home, German, Dutch and Yiddish were spoken, and a little Hebrew read; in Jenny's, German, French and English. Eleanor's immediate paternal family were mostly Dutch and lived in the Netherlands. She inherited familiarity with elements of Hebrew and Yiddish both from her father's Rabbinical ancestry and his mother's adherence to her faith. As an adult, she learned Hebrew and Yiddish – the latter prompted by her work with Jewish trade unions in the East End of London. Eleanor's elder sisters, Jenny and Laura, who were born in Paris and Brussels, spoke French with each other, French and German with their mother, and mainly German with their father, the family housekeeper Helen Demuth and 'Uncle Angel' Friedrich Engels. Labour of love Eleanor was home-schooled by her father and Engels. During her first ten years she sat at her father's knee while he wrote Capital. As a teenager, she started to work as his researcher and secretary. She continued in these roles until his death. By then, aged 28, Eleanor was the sole surviving person able to decipher his illegible handwriting and understand how he organised his manuscripts. Hence Engels appointed her keeper, interpreter and archivist of Marx's literary estate – and editor of many of his key political tracts. Eleanor's first love and sometime fiancé, Hippolyte Lissagaray, authored the seminal History of the Paris Commune. In 1871, the Basque journalist and activist turned street fighter and exile published a pamphlet in French about his experiences. Lissa, as she called him, read early extracts to Tussy and together they expanded the pamphlet. When the book was finished, Tussy translated it into English. An unpaid labour of love, it was her first major translation and brought to English readers the first authentic, personal memoir of the Paris Making Marx POLITICAL LEADER (Main image) 'Eleanor Marx' by Grace Black (pencil drawing, 1881); and (above) Eleanor alone and with the German socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1886

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