Calm Before A Storm?

This is an intersting night. Checking news sites and blogs one last time before getting some sleep – reading about Mr Yushenko’s declaration that the “struggle had only just begun” and rumors about a $21,6m bribe to the head of the election commitee, I can’t fight the impression that the quiet winter night the live stream from Kiev is showing me as I am writing these lines is indeed the calm before something even stormier than what we have witnessed by wire since the election’s preliminary results were announced.

Like Nick in his summary below, many people are beginning to try to put the events into perspective ( for example The Economist, PBS), to broaden their historical and political knowledge of Ukraine, to locate similar events that may shed some light on the the driving forces of the orange revolution (working title): what are the underlying interests, what are the fundamental trends, and what are the chaotic elements in this situation – where the rules have run out, and the locus and balance of power can be tipped by any rumor. The Carnegie Endowment’s Michael McFaul stated in an interview today “that somebody has to blink now or there’s going to be war”. Who knows. But what are the chances of a fire when several hundred thousand people are smoking at a gas station?
Continue reading

Visca la difer?ncia

Catalan, Basque, Valencian and Galician as EU official languages? That’s what Spanish foreign minister Moratinos proposes. You’d think the famously proud Catalans would be purring with cultural satisfaction.

You’d be wrong. Last week the Economist observed the astonishing reaction of some Catalans to this suggestion. They’re furious that Valencian might be given status equal with Catalan. One of them, Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, is even willing to cut off Catalunya’s nose to spite Valencia’s face: if Valencian is granted official status, he says, Catalans should refuse it.1 The Economist thought the irate Catalans need to have a nice lie-down, and I agree.

In this week’s issue, though, a letter-writer from Barcelona takes up the cudgels once more. How dare those Valencians imagine they have a language of their own?

Experts unanimously recognise Valencian as a variety of Catalan (as many Valencians call their language).

Well, perhaps; though I daresay there will be some experts in Valencia who disagree.
Continue reading

Networks and Language in Europe (and More)

Many thanks to the good folks at AFOE for the invitation to guest-blog here for a while. To include a non-European and non-European-resident among this crowd is not a little humbling; I hope I do the blog justice. I have no handy bio available, so suffice to say that I’m an academic, I teach political philosophy, once lived in Germany (but not for nearly long enough), now live in Arkansas, and often stay up late trying to get our two-month-old daughter to go to sleep. For more information, feel free to peruse my own blog, W?ldchen vom Philosophenweg.

Recently I ran across a fascinating article by James C. Bennett, he of “Anglosphere” fame. The article, one of the cover features of the most recent issue of The National Interest, is titled “Networking Nation-States” and is heavy-laden with ideas and insights. Bennett is an unapologetic defender of the globalized free market, who sees politics through the prism of contract and transaction, meaning that he understands healthy polities to be those which maximize fluidity, entrepreneurship, reflexivity and innovation, with little distinctions between the political and the economic spheres. Like some others here at AFOE, I find this kind of neoliberal triumphalism wearying. But I forgive Bennett because he has such an intriguing grasp of the related issues of “space” and language in the construction of societies. Those interested in the EU, and the argument over its relationship to traditional understandings of political identity and sovereignty (which I tend to think is a complicated philosophical matter, and not simply an IR debate over terminology), would do well to think hard about what Bennett is saying.
Continue reading

The price of monolingualism

A few months ago on my other blog, I made a point about how the costs of multilingualism have to be set against the costs of monolingualism. It seems certain quarters of the CIA and the American Republican party agree with me, according to today’s New York Times.

C.I.A. Needs to Learn Arabic, House Committee Leader Says

Continue reading

The importance of economic integration (and some investment advice)

In the comments to one of the posts below, I raised the point that America’s prosperity owes a great deal more to its economic integration rather than to any particular shared value system, and that this was part of logic behind the founding of the EU. I want to demonstrate exactly how important a point that can be by using my own line of work as an example.

I work for a medium-sized Belgian translation firm. We have a handful of full-time staff and some 200 freelance translators who take work from us. Our freelancers can and do take work from other sources, what we do is mostly dealing with clients. Like all good middlemen, we make it possible for businesses to negotiate a single price for their translation work and we act as an insurance policy. Avoiding the middleman may sometimes cost less, but if your freelance translator is sick or busy and you have a deadline to deal with, you have to scramble to find a substitute. If you deal with us, we have many translators on tap and someone will always take your work. Few firms – only a few very large ones – still keep in-house translators. Translators generally agree to charge us less than they would charge clients directly because we can bring them a great deal of work, and we take away the cost of billing and accounting. We charge customers a bit more because we simplify billing and guarantee schedules. This is pretty much how modern translation firms operate.
Continue reading

German Is Getting Sexy Again. Again.

The controverse reaction to Edward’s use of a French block quote in a blog that claims to be the place for intelligent English language coverage of European affairs, made me remember my first blogging conversation. It was a discussion about Germans not publishing in English and the stipulation by the Norwegian blogger Bj?rn St?rk that ??nothing beautiful or sensible should ever be written in Norwegian, if it could be written in English.? So after speaking French all evening, and in light of the above mentioned comments as well as my imminent visit to the Frankfurt International Book Fair (link in English) I felt compelled to recycle my defence of linguistic diversity as a virtue of its own right, which was first published in a slightly different version in almost a diary on February 2nd, 2003.

Bj?rn St?rk had a look around the web and was astonished by the fact that he could find relatively few European, particularly German and French, (particularly political) blogs published in English. Contemplating the deeper issue at hand – the relation of national cultures and supra-national languages – in this case English – in an age of global interaction – Bj?rn made an interesting argument concerning cultural imperialism, linguistic protectionism, linguistic economies of scale and scope as well as the advantages of publishing in English instead of one?s native language.

No doubt about it – English has become some sort lingua franca in many respects.

Continue reading

Two years in Europe

Two years ago today, I got off a Lufthansa flight from LAX to Munich and passed through Schengenland customs. I had originally been scheduled to fly on September 12, from San Francisco to Brussels via Frankfurt, but when it became plain that no one was going to be flying on September 12th, I called Lufthansa and changed my flight before the rush. After five hours in LAX getting past security (I had a very scruffy beard and a well-worn passport full of Asian entry stamps, so I got picked for a “special” screening) and ten hours in the air, I passed through customs in Munich, getting nothing but the most cursory glace at my Canadian passport and Belgian student visa from the Bundespolizei, even though it was barely a week after September 11. There was no passport check at all when I landed in Brussels.

My biggest surprise in moving to Flanders was how easy it is to get by here. Language doesn’t constitute a huge barrier either to school or to employment. My landlord doesn’t speak English, but he is old enough that he speaks fluent French, so my lease is actually in that language. I think finding an apartment is the only thing I’ve done here where I couldn’t use English.

There are a lot of non-natives living in Belgium who primarily use English, many of them are also non-native English speakers. There are so many that I’m beginning to think they form a sort of “Euroanglo” culture that merits some study. It is a culture that has adopted largely continental norms, but that still speaks English and has a set of common cultural references taken largely from the anglophone world.
Continue reading