Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

official multilingualism

November 28th, 2005

Europa is the “official portal to the European Union”. It’s section on languages asserts:
“Our policy of official multilingualism as a deliberate tool of government is unique in the world. The EU sees the use of its citizens’ languages as one of the factors which make it more transparent, more legitimate and more efficient.”
Meanwhile, the “first ever Communication” on multilingualism was just released on 22 November 2005.

The Europa section on “interpreting” (under the languages portal) explains: “to some the extra work it creates for its institutions may seem, at first sight, to outweigh the advantages. But there are special reasons for it. The Union passes laws directly binding on its citizens and companies, and as a matter of simple natural justice, they and their courts must have a version of the laws they have to comply with or enforce in a language they can understand. Everyone in the Union is also entitled and encouraged to play a part in building it, and must be able to do it in his/her own language.”
This passage emphasizes the textual element (translation) as “a matter of simple natural justice”. The reference to the necessity of simultaneous interpreting is obscure: “Everyone … is … entitled … to play a part in building [the Union? or the Unions’s laws?], and must be able to do it in his/her own language” (emphasis added).
Being able to create laws using one’s own language with others who are also using their own language requires interpreters, who “are there to help the meeting proceed as if everyone was speaking the same language,” according to the official Directorate General for Interpretation’s website. “It is the interpreters’ job to make communication possible between delegates who do not share a language.”
Ironically, the link above details how meeting participants can facilitate the communication process through their own attentiveness to the process of multilingual communication. Such advice is at odds, however, with the “as if” mandate of interpreters to create the illusion of monolingualism.
Now, maybe it doesn’t strike you as odd, but it does me that the EU emphasizes the primacy of speech: “Speaking at meetings and at negotiations is at the core of Community decision-making“; and of linguistic diverstiy: “Multilingual communication when people speak…is at the core of [European] Community decision-making”; but speaks of interpreting in a kind of code, as if even the presence or necessity of the service must be kept in a liminal zone of dis-acknowledgement.

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