Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Homolingualism and the Interaction Taboo: Simultaneous Interpretation in the European Public Sphere

September 10th, 2012

This chapter is forthcoming in The European Public Sphere –  From critical thinking to responsible action.
Edited by Luciano Morganti and Léonce Bekemans in the ”Multiple Europes” series from P.I.E Peter Lang S.A. Editions scientifiques internationales, Brussels.  The book is to be available at this year’s European Communication Research and Education Association conference in Istanbul.


This case study presents conference-style simultaneous interpretation in the European Parliament as a dynamic microcosm for communicating Europe. In the enlarged EP, the regime of controlled multilingualism has been challenged by an emergent pluralingualism in which Members use multiple and mixed languages in addition to the services of simultaneous interpreters. This marks a temporal and paradigmatic shift in the larger game of languages in the European public sphere. First, ritual effects of jockeying for voice through the use of pluralingual communication skills establishes co-identification among the Members while also revealing the power of simultaneous interpretation (SI) to alleviate status inequality by leveling linguistic difference. Second, discourses of and about SI, language policy, and communication policy participate in an interaction taboo by overemphasizing information and technology. This reduces communication to one dimension—the transmission of information in space—by minimizing the relationship and identity effects of communication in the unfolding of time. This artificial separation of information from the social interaction of human beings is also evident in strategic planning about communicating Europe. The findings suggest that institutional inertia in communicating Europe can be altered by making SI a common resource for the pluralingual development of everyone who lives in the European Union.

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