A Good Tongue BloggingIn Fear and Trembling (the film adaptation of Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb's autobiographical novel), the young Amélie is verbally excoriated by the vice-president for deigning to speak Japanese, piercing the inner secrecy of the Japanese firm whereat she works. Later he berates her for pretending that she could write a better report than her superiors, even though the report was on a Belgian firm that worked in her native tongue. Instead he keeps her at arms length, barking simple, demeaning commands at her in English. It is through language that her superiors say that she is where she does not belong.
Blogging resists isolation. It is a medium of mass communication outside the norms of publication and media. Yet language is a seldom surmounted obstacle. Francis Pisani at Transnet, a French media blog at Le Monde, received some lip forleaving quotes untranslated from English sources (as he does here). And with good reason: it takes time to translate something properly and accurately. A summary and an untranslate passage is much better than a translation that has lost the flavor of the original -- or worse, the translation transports the passage from a foreign context to a domestic one.
I sympathize with Francis. I agonize over the meaning of phrases, using 'secularism' in place of 'separation of Church and state' when writing about French politics of religion. Often I assume that readers can get by with a few phrases, or that a summary can carry the meaning of the article or literature I am discussing.
But Francis raises a larger issue: should blogging strive to be multilingual? There are many fine academic blogs to sample from. Zid's life in Medieval Studies gives the experience of French academia. Nuno's Rua da Judiaria is but the best example of the profusion of Lusophonic bloggers, putting a Portuguese accent back on Jewish Studies. Even fair Claire haexperimenteded with posts in Italian and drops in quotes that she admits she cannot fully translate. I read quite a few blogs written in Portuguese, a language that I can only read through French, to discover numerous items of interests, some of which link back to the English-only blogosphere.
If blogging strives to circumvent conventional barriers of communication, should it not do so with language? It's a bit arrogant to think that English-only should prevail. How funny that bloggers should wait to have information translated for them, waiting until the interpreter puts his/her spin on the topic.