presented to the workshop "Translation and Institutions"
at the conference Language Study in Europe at the Turn
of the Millenium, Societas Linguistica Europea, Katholieka
Universiteit Leuven, 28-31 de agosto de 2001.
The diversity paradox may be expressed as an apparent contradiction
between, on the one hand, the rise of an international lingua
franca, which should lead to lesser linguistic diversity,
and on the other, increased use of translation, which should
produce greater linguistic diversity. The paradox is that
both these tendencies are occurring at the same time. It
is suggested that one key to this paradox is to be found
in the institutionalized nature of cross-cultural communication.
Three models are presented of the way translation may operate
within international institutions. One of the models, relying
on a centralized production language and a multiplicity
of target languages, is shown to be compatible with the
more cross-cultural communication is dominated by English
as the dominant international lingua franca, the less one
might expect to find the use of translation for cross-cultural
communication. In theory, if people use the same language,
they do not need to translate. However, what we find in
the past few decades, according to all statistics, is a
constant expansion of the translation market, running in
parallel with the rise of English as the international lingua
franca. This constitutes what we will call the diversity
paradox: the lingua franca would appear to be reducing linguistic
diversity, translation should ideally be increasing linguistic
diversity, and both are happening at the same time.
why this is so, we have to question many hasty presuppositions
about contemporary cross-cultural communication. We cannot
accept, for example, that international English is simply
"the killer language", in a direct causal relationship
with the undoubtedly declining number of live languages
across the globe. Indeed, we must radically question many
such generalisations that fail to account for the specific
dynamics of translation. Nor can we accept, on the other
hand, that the use of translation is directly able to protect
the global stock of languages. There are few statistics
to defend that case in causal terms, and there are many
statistics indicating a highly asymmetric use of translation
into a very restricted group of privileged languages. On
both these fronts, what is needed is a more complex understanding
of the institutionalised nature of cross-cultural communication.
look at international institutions?
communication concerns the spheres of commerce, science,
technology, information services, cultural content and personal
relations. Public non-profit organisations might seem to
form only a small segment of this broad range, even when
they are of the order of the United Nations system or the
European Union institutions. But there are good reasons
for paying special attention to such institutions. By their
very nature, they embody a collective being, complexes of
public ideologies, open to debate and evolution (see Style
in this volume). If we are reluctant to legislate what languages
an individual should speak where, few generally extend the
same freedom of choice to major institutions. Indeed, for
this very reason, public institutions are quite possibly
the only bodies likely to be at all influenced by discussions
between linguists, such as the discussion we are engaged
reason for looking in this direction is that there are many
more institutions of this kind than meet the eye or make
the press. The Yearbook of International Organizations
for 1999-2000 contains entries on 29,495 non-profit organisations
active in 289 countries and territories. These are divided
into 24,325 international non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) and 5,170 intergovernmental organisations (IGOs).
There are thus almost five times as many NGOs as IGOs. This
distinction is of some importance for cross-cultural communication.
The governmental foundations of IGOs tie those institutions
to the nation-states and their corresponding national language
policies. IGOs, from the United Nations system down, typically
privilege multilingual policies for symbolic reasons, although
they then attempt to reduce the high translation costs that
ensue from those policies. NGOs, on the other hand, rarely
have the funding necessary for symbolic translation practices;
their use of translation is closer to what might precariously
be termed "real needs"; they are far less likely
to employ in-house staff translators or interpreters. In
short, there are two quite different kinds of international
institutions, and they sometimes solve their cross-cultural
communication problems in quite different ways.
follows we shall briefly run through some of the communication
and language policies most in evidence in such institutions.
We shall then draw strategies from the anecdotal.
in international non-profit institutions*
differences between IGOs and NGOs are partly historical.
If we look for distant antecedents of contemporary intergovernmental
organisations, we would probably have to consider the structures
of the classical multicultural empires, with their mixes
of imposed lingua francas and respected national languages.
Imperial translation operated as a means of often symbolic
unification. In Europe, the largely cultural Holy Germanic
Empire might be one kind of background for the use of translation
such as we find it in the European Union institutions, where
the central political figure is traditionally weak, much
decision-making power remains with the major nation-states
and with their preferred languages, and translation foregrounds
the symbolic plurality of those languages. Intergovernmental
undertakings in specific fields might nevertheless also
be associated with the various military alliances that have
required rather more efficient communication solutions.
The weak imperial model beneath the many (currently eleven)
official languages of the EU institutions is thus not the
same as the one justifying the more restricted use of translation
in an alliance like NATO (which has English and French as
non-governmental organisations, on the other hand, would
probably have to seek their antecedents in the structures
and practices of the multinational churches, where ideology,
shared interests, and various senses of mission tend to
override the symbolic values of language loyalty. Although
there are obvious and important differences between the
Latin of Catholicism, the Classical Arabic of Islam, the
Hebrew of Judaism, or the American English of various evangelical
groups, the international churches tend to use translation
as a means of radiating out from a main source or central
language (sometimes sacred) toward any number of "branch"
target languages. Since this model combines centralised
power structures and relative efficiency, it tends to be
the general rule of NGOs, and indeed of restricted-domain
IGOs such as the European Free Trade Association (which
had English as its lingua franca). Further, the demands
of efficiency increasingly bring about situations where
language-learning policies (mainly the learning of the central
language or languages) reduce the actual need for translation
within the organisational structure. In such situations,
translation may even be restricted to communication with
external entities only.
spectacular rise in the number of international institutions
of all kinds has been since the Second World War. The foundations
of the UN and EU systems were established by the victors
of that war, with attendant selections of official languages
and correspondingly decentralised translation policies.
Those patterns have largely been followed by the growing
co-ordinated institutions sector, where organisations are
basically limited to arranging contacts and agreements between
national or governmental entities in specific domains such
as health, telecommunications or banking. However, the rapid
growth since the beginning of the 1960s has been in the
number of NGOs. This may be seen as a response to the growing
inadequacy of the nation-state as a unit of economic control,
at the same time as the advent of cheap international communications
has allowed civil society to cross political borders. Institutions
such as Greenpeace or Medecins sans Frontières manifest
ways in which an internationalised civil society seeks to
pressure or complement the work of governments. Further,
they do so on necessarily restricted budgets that often
call for "user-pays" communication policies. In
these cases, the need for efficiency radically reduces the
number of working languages, in effect bolstering the status
of international languages such as English and French, which
also dominate the main IGO systems.
language policies of many IGOs remain officially based on
the Romantic principle of "one nation, one language".
This is despite the fact that the very rise of these institutions
ensues from the decline of the nation state as an effective
decision-making unit. Perhaps the most extreme case is the
European Union institutions, which with 15 members at the
end of the millennium currently have 11 official languages.
Since the possible language combinations are given by the
formula n.(n-1), an EU of 11 languages must allow for 11x10=110
combinations. In practice this nightmare is mostly avoided
by a number of real-need measures, the foremost of which
is a pragmatic restriction of the central working languages
to English and French, although attempts have been made
to enhance the role of German. Coulmas (1991), in a wide-ranging
critique of what was then the European Community of 12,
calculated that even with the reduction of working languages
the multilingual policy accounted for some 40% of the total
administrative budget (which means it was about 2% of the
total budget). In 1999 an alternative calculation put the
total cost of translation and interpreting services at €
685.9 million, which would be only 15% of the administrative
budget (see Wagner 2002). Either way, considerable sums
are involved. More critically, Coulmas saw those costs as
defending national languages against the growth of international
English, concluding that "the European Community has
been used by member states to defend their languages' privileged
position rather than being given the chance to produce a
language policy of its own" (1991: 8). That critique
may now be less justified, as the EU institutions progressively
evolve into a more supra-national system able to impose
a centralised pragmatism on member states (in political
terms, the former agents are becoming principles). A similar
gap between idealist democratic policy and motivated pragmatic
restriction can be seen in the United Nations. The UN's
six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French,
Russian and Spanish) represent different moments of international
expansion rather than nation-states as such, yet few institutions
within the UN system actually use all six languages.
to the pragmatic tendency to reduce the number of working
languages and thus economize translational resources, there
are firm ideological arguments in favour of widening the
number of languages used and thus promoting increased use
of translation. The very function of most IGOs, particularly
within the UN system, is to check the power imbalances that
would predominate in direct relations between nation-states.
Indeed, since many disputes come to IGOs precisely because
of different views and interpretations, the function of
the institution must be to manifest the cultural and linguistic
dimensions of those differences. Such arguments need constantly
to be restated in the face of financial pressures.
above overview has hopefully brought out an underlying conflict
between what should ideally happen (use of many equal languages)
and what various criteria of efficiency mostly cause to
happen (use of just one or two central languages). At the
end of the day, the main difference between IGOs and NGOs
in this area may be that the former have to pay greater
lip-service to multilingual ideals. However, cutting across
those pragmatic tussles, there are several quite distinct
strategies to be extracted.
catalogue of strategic language policies can be as extreme,
subtle and complex as you like. Here we write against the
background of José Lambert's seminal article "La
traduction, les langues et la communication de masse"
(1989), which brings out the basic alternatives we are dealing
with here. Lambert, however, uses highly coloured terms
in his description of the strategies, which range from "genocide"
(as a way of reducing the number of language communities)
to "complete translation" in the name of a "democratisation
of languages" (1989: 223). For as much as Lambert then
immediately claims that "there is nothing that permits
us to assert that one of these solutions is by definition
any better than the others" (1989: 224), few among
us would openly assert the moral equality of genocide and
democracy. Indeed, the terms are weighted heavily in favour
of translation as a defence of democracy, and thus against
the criteria of efficiency that we nevertheless find operative
in institutions of all kinds.
modeling of the available strategies we need a less provocative
term for the opposite of translation. Our choice here is
for "language learning", which must be what happens
sooner or later when one or two central languages are privileged
in some way. This means that the diverse strategies for
overcoming language barriers in cross-cultural communication
may be reduced to three main heads:
learning: An institution may choose one or two official
languages, obliging speakers of other languages to learn
and operate in them. The learning of second or third languages
thus obviates the need for translation of most kinds. Indeed,
if analysed in cost-benefit terms, language learning is
by far the most efficient strategy for long-term relations
between a reduced number of stable partners, if only because
its costs decrease with time whereas those of translation
remain constant (Pym 1995). Language learning is thus dominant
within most scientific and technical organisations and in
institutions with just two official languages (e.g. OECD
or NATO). Yet it is also present to some extent whenever
the number of official languages is reduced, as is the case
of the United Nations or European Union institutions. Further,
within the actual operations of even the most multilingual
institutions, most technicians and experts converse freely
in just one or two languages, often non-native to non-native,
in the interests of efficiency. As a rule of thumb, the
more technical the domain, the more one might expect to
find language learning replacing the need for translation.
translation: The radical alternative to language learning
is to have all languages translated into all other languages,
such that the participants in cross-cultural communication
may all produce texts in their first language. This is the
fundamental idea behind the EU institutional maxim of "equal
rights for all languages", which in practice means
that all laws and outgoing documents of general application
have to be drafted in all official languages (see Wagner
2002). The nightmare combination of transfers to and from
all languages is nevertheless illusory, thanks to the practical
reduction of working languages, as well as the growing use
of pivot languages in translation and interpreting services.
This means that complete multilateral translation is rarely
to be found. In its place, we have a combination of language
learning and translation, which is in fact the basis for
our third strategy.
from a central language: Criteria of efficiency mean that
multilingual ideals are reduced by introducing a division
between what happens within the central agencies of the
institution (within its professional interculture) and what
happens in relations with what might be termed client cultures
(the relative monocultures whose languages are accorded
official status by the institution). This division opens
the way for one or two languages to be used on the inside,
with translation limited to communication between the interculture
and the monocultures. This is what we find in the major
systems that nevertheless claim to have a multilingual policy,
especially those of the European Union (Pym 1999). There
are many sub-strategies involved here, including absolute
language learning (both passive and active) for institutional
officials, and passive language learning for a slightly
wider circle (so that EU parliamentarians, for example,
can speak their own language but understand speeches in
several languages). European intellectuals of the order
of Claude Hagège (1992: 273) and Umberto Eco (1993:
292-293) have viewed passive language competence as the
most viable path to democratic relations in an age of globalising
cultures. Yet what we find happening in most institutions
is a more radical reduction of the lingua francas at work
within the major intercultures, with degrees of centralisation
that have little correspondence with twentieth-century humanist
third strategy is of extreme interest because it would seem
to be the trend not only of international non-profit institutions
such as we find them, but also of most multinational marketing.
The discourses of localization (cf. Sprung 2000) are based
on production in a central language, mostly English, then
translation and adaptation into a wide range of target languages,
with the latter determined according to market criteria.
That is, what we find in the NGOs, and increasingly in the
IGOs as well, is also the way of global capitalism. The
third strategy would appear to be winning on all fronts.
diversity paradox explained
is not the place to predict whether the various combinations
of language learning and translation are leading to the
best of possible worlds. Our more humble purpose is to point
out that the paradox with which we began, the apparent contradiction
between the growth of a lingua franca and the growth of
translation, is handled in a fairly non-problematic way
by our third strategy. The lingua franca is growing within
intercultures, translation is reaching out beyond them.
If you want to produce global software or become a world
leader, you will probably need some command of English.
But then, thanks to translation in its most diverse forms,
the software and the leadership may then reach a very wide
range of cultures and languages. And the latter may indeed
be strengthened by such movements. We thus find that the
growth of a lingua franca is compatible with the expansion
of the global market for translation. QED.
in this section have been drawn from our text "The
Occurrence of Translation in International Organizations",
written for Translation * Traduction * Übersetzung
(Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikations-wissenschaft:
De Gruyter, in press), where a more extensive treatment
may be found.
Florian. 1991. "European integration and the idea of
a national language", Florian Coulmas ed. A Language
Policy for the European Community. Prospects and Quandaries,
Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 1-37.
Eco, Umberto. 1993. La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella
cultura europea, trans. Maria Pons as La búsqueda
de la lengua perfecta, Barcelona: Grijalbo Mondadori.
European Commission. 1999. A multilingual community at work.
The European Commission's Translation Service, Luxembourg.
Hagège, Claude. 1992. Le Souffle de la langue, Paris:
Lambert, José. 1989. "La traduction, les langues
et la communication de masse. Les ambiguïtés
du discours international", Target 1/2. 215-237.
Pym, Anthony. 1995. "Translation as a Transaction Cost",
Meta 40/4, 594-605.
Pym, Anthony. 1999. "The European Union and its Future
Languages. Questions for Language Policies and Translation
Theories", Across Languages and Cultures (Budapest)
Sprung, Robert C., ed. 2000. Translating Into Success. Cutting-edge
strategies for going multilingual in a global age, American
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XI. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Wagner, Emma. 2002. Translating for the Institutions of
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update 4 December 2001