Europe typically seems quite open-minded and accepting of diverse cultures. There are so many reasons why this may be, from the second world war, to the philosophers they’ve had, to the worldly experience of being colonialists (and possibly learning the problems with it and suffering reverse colonisation). But I’m no historian, so I will refrain from speculating on the impact of the second world war and post-modern philosophy, and instead trot out my own uninformed and unsupported theory: there are so many different languages and cultures, teaching them the trickiness of translating from one culture or language to another.
There are so many things wrong with this theory, but if I point them all out now, I’ll be going against my stated purpose of trotting out my theory. So bear with me… keep in mind I’m talking rubbish, and do point out all the problems of my theory in the comments. (Like one person I met this weekend, that argued German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish… are all the same language. *grin*)
In this little world in my head, the effort of translating from one language to another brings people to a greater understanding of how cultural context guides communication. This is especially the case with mind-shifting differences, like word order on the lower impact side of things, or on the higher impact side of things: different words that are related in one language but not in another, guiding realisation that associations can differ tremendously, but that the other associations also do make so much sense. And then there’s the idiomatic expressions… those things that remain ever-elusive to a “non-native speaker”. (Anyone to whom they don’t remain elusive, I’m therefore calling native. 😉 )
South Africa has many languages, and dramatically different ones at that (European and African), but typically not enough communication happens, or happened, between the cultures. At least from a conservative Afrikaans speaking culture perspective. Many Afrikaans people also speak English, but to some degree, it is too easy. They know it too well, it’s a second language, not a foreign language. And it is still much the same culture.
America has the problem that they had the rail road before they settled the content, so it became a single invasion of a single language, and now everyone speaks English. (And I’m discounting the native Americans, on the grounds that the invaders so thoroughly wiped out local culture. I’m talking about the current status quo, rather than the sad history.)
Then there’s Germany. (Hmm, and how about Italy?) What’s wrong with Germany? Well, a few years ago on a ski trip, we decided that the problem is dubbing. We decided that the root of all evil in Europe comes from using the same voice actors to dub all movies and TV programs into the same language. I mean, everyone knows that foreign language films with subtitles are a great source of World Peace, don’t they? Don’t they? How might we cure this dubbing blight?
In any case, moving on… I’m in the position where I struggle to communicate with the local culture. Or with foreign non-English speaking culture as well. It has brought a number of interesting realisations, but more on that on some other day. When it comes to bilingual cultures, having more than one language is the first step. I suggest the second step should be to force people to translate pieces of high-level writing from their “second” language into their “first” — giving them the advantage of greater prowess with the sentences and paragraphs they’re creating, so that that isn’t the hurdle.
Enough nonsense from me for now. This is a light-hearted post, so fire away. The next one to be published will most likely be the translation of a friend’s Afrikaans post (spot one of the sources of inspiration for this post 😉 ), much more serious. Be like fire with light-hearted posts, be like water with the serious.