Les publics multilingues

by Katerina Strani

This post was originally published in the CREM research blog Publics en Question. For a similar (but not identical) English version, please visit this page.

Welcome_multilingual_Guernsey_tourism-672x372

Il a longtemps été prouvé que notre langage a un impact sur la façon dont nous pensons et, finalement, la façon dont nous soutenons nos arguments (Whorf, 1956). Notre langage façonne notre pensée et notre vision du monde. C’est par la langue que nous devenons des êtres politiques. Le philosophe Ludwig Wittgenstein a dit que les « limites de ma langue sont les limites de mon monde ». Dai Vaughan a adapté cette citation célèbre en déclarant que« les limites de ma langue sont les limites de ton monde ».

Qu’est-ce que cela signifie quand nous parlons des langues différentes dans les sphères publiques?

L’argumentation constitue la pierre angulaire de la sphère publique, mais, malgré l’importance du multilinguisme sur la construction sociale des sphères publiques contemporaines, ceci reste relativement sous-exploré. Les sphères publiques ne sont pas statiques, mais dynamiques et en pleine évolution. La citoyenneté post-nationale (comme la citoyenneté de l’UE), les sphères publiques sous-nationales (assemblées, collectivités locales, etc.), les langues minoritaires dans l’administration publique, les publics diasporiques en raison de l’augmentation des migrations ont abouti à la communication publique multilingue augmentée. Si on ajoute à cela les nouveaux médias et des « tiers-espaces » de communication (Bhabha, 1994), on voit que la communication multilingue a modifié la composition de la sphère publique non seulement en termes de structure mais aussi en termes de nature communicative. Les interprètes sont de plus en plus utilisés pour parvenir à la compréhension et favoriser le débat dans un environnement multilingue (voir les sphères publiques de l’UE). La reconnaissance des différences culturelles et la thématisation de l’«altérité» font désormais partie du débat multilingue (Doerr, 2012). Les logiciels de traduction deviennent également populaires dans les forums multilingues en ligne, bien que parfois avec des résultats mitigés.

Cependant, malgré la réalité multilingue évidente, il reste quand même une idéologie monolingualiste (Doerr, 2012 ; Pym, 2013) et une hypothèse erronée de l’homogénéité linguistique des sphères publiques. Et cela est encore plus alarmant quand on sait que le multilinguisme dans la sphère publique n’est pas quelque chose de nouveau. Rappelons-nous de l’Empire des Habsbourg, de l’Empire Ottoman, ou bien de la France du 19e siècle ; et aujourd’hui, des pays comme la Belgique, la Suisse, le Canada, l’Afrique du Sud ou l’Inde sont officiellement bilingues or multilingues.

Le multilinguisme continue à constituer une partie intégrante de la sphère publique contemporaine, dans laquelle l’argumentation politique peut défier les barrières linguistiques. Comme Thomas Risse et Marianne Van de Steeg (2003) l’ont fait valoir, il n’est « pas besoin de parler la même langue pour communiquer d’une manière significative » ; comme Nicole Doerr (2012) l’a démontré dans ses recherches sur le Forum social européen, malgré le pluralisme linguistique et les compétences linguistiques asymétriques des participants, les débats multilingues sont plus inclusifs que les monolingues. D’un bout à l’autre, la communication devient peu à peu détachée du fonds linguistique.

Bien sûr, cela a des implications pratiques ainsi que normatives. La compréhension semble de plus en plus inaccessible. Une autre langue ajoute un niveau supplémentaire à la contingence (et au risque de mécompréhension ). En outre, les différences de pouvoir dans les sphères publiques multilingues peuvent non seulement être enracinées dans le statut, l’éducation ou l’accès, mais aussi dans la langue choisie pour la communication ou enfin dans la façon dont la langue dominante est parlée (Doerr, 2012 ; Fraser 2007). Le manque d’une langue commune dans l’UE, par exemple, n’empêche pas l’hégémonie linguistique; et toute lingua franca ne sera probablement parlée que par les élites où les éduqués (Fraser, 2007).

Mais il faut considérer ceci : quand nous parlons une langue différente, nous devenons essentiellement des personnes différentes. Quand nous pensons dans une langue différente, nous pensons d’une manière différente. Les langues représentent les cultures, les systèmes de croyance, les mondes vécus. Si nous passons à une autre langue, nous passons à une vision du monde différente. Forcer les gens à parler la même langue, en particulier dans le débat politique, revient à les forcer à penser différemment et à avoir des arguments différents. Certaines personnes considèrent cette obligation comme une forme d’oppression.

Pourquoi dire que l’anglais en Grande-Bretagne, le français en France, etc., est la seule langue admise de débat critique rationnel ? Il est arrogant de penser qu’une langue dominante est la langue de la raison et la seule pourvoyeuse de la vérité. Voilà pourquoi nous devons adopter le multilinguisme, nous devons le favoriser et l’encourager, surtout en politique, où il est le plus vital. Il encourage le pluralisme dans la pensée et l’expression, ce qui est au cœur de la démocratie.

Références

Bhabha H., 1994, The Location of Culture, London, New York, Routledge.Doerr N., 2012, « Translating democracy : how activists in the European Social Forum practice multilingual deliberation », European Political Science Review, 4 (3), pp. 361-384.

Fraser N., 2007, « Transnationalizing the Public Sphere : On the Legitimacy and Efficacy of Public Opinion in a Post-Westphalian World », European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, doi : 10.1177/0263276407080090.

Pym A., 2013, « Translation as an instrument for multilingual democracy », Critical Multilingualism Studies, 1(2), pp. 78-95.

Risse T., Van de Steeg M., 2003, « An emerging European public sphere ? Empirical evidence and theoretical clarifications » : Conference on the Europeanisation of Public Spheres, Political Mobilisation, Public Communication and the European Union, Science Center Berlin, 20-21 juin.

Whorf B.L., 1956, « The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language », pp. 134-59, in : Carroll, J. B. et al. (dir.), Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Cambridge, MIT Press.

On Deafhood Space

by Steve Emery

 

[English version]

Last week, I went to Paddy Ladd’s lecture. He was talking about “Deafhood – A Pedagogy”, which was about theories of teaching Deaf children.

It was really interesting, but there was one part of his lecture that really got me thinking,  when he was talking about  “Wounded Space”, which means “damaged space”…Well, what does he actually mean by that? This concept relates to the experiences of Deaf children through their development into adults and how the effects of oppression through oralism. The overwhelming and stifling experience of this has damaged Deaf children emotionally as individuals and subsequently as a community of adults. There’s a need to rebuild the community, to begin again.

During his lecture, Paddy Ladd explained what he meant by “Deafhood – A Pedagogy” and as he was doing this, it gave me a lot of ideas , and I was thinking about the process of change, how do we move forward and go through a transition from a Wounded Space to Deafhood?  To a place where we can become healthy, where we can improve, develop and build? I began to consider what we would need to do to be able to achieve this aim.

Paddy Ladd’s lecture focussed upon how the use of appropriate teaching methods is the way to achieve Deafhood. In my view, that is one part of it, to be able to advance and move forward, however, there are a number of other factors that need to be taken into account for us to attain this.

It’s very important for Deaf people to be a part of a collective group, this is essential. Yes we are all individuals, we have our own lives, but we need to be connected to each other as a collective, this is really important for us all,  it’s been recognised that we need to be a part of society.

The next thing that came to me, concerning the need to rebuild and develop a Deafhood Space, is that we need to have an input and participation from the wider community, not just from academics. Yes, academics are important individuals who have a place, but ordinary members of the community should not be excluded as the wider community of Deaf people need to participate and be involved in this process of development.

The third point I’d like to make is, that hearing people must be thinking, “Where do I fit in, into this Deafhood Space?”  This is really important , to be able to build a new space, Deaf and hearing people have to work together, as allies, to be involved in making and developing this new space.

My fourth and last point is about spirituality. Paddy Ladd talked about this in his lecture. Spirituality can mean many things, it can relate to religious beliefs for example. He gave his perspective that we Deaf people are of the Earth and that we are here for a reason. Our understanding and development of what that spiritual aspect of being Deaf means is a part of the development of Deafhood Space.

His lecture gave me a lot to ponder over especially this concept of Deafhood Space. Its very important for us to reflect and recognise the idea of Damaged Space, in ourselves and in others and how we can change this and make a transition by moving to and developing a positive space.  These are a few of the suggestions that I think are important for us to take into account when we are discussing moving towards Deafhood.

The Language of Reason

by Katerina Strani

1280px-Lesdeuxmagots

A café. Once a dedicated space where people gathered to discuss culture and politics. A space of arguing, debating, learning. A space where public opinion was formed and authority was challenged, contested, or at least influenced. A public sphere: a communicative space where people gathered to talk about public matters – politics.
Their aim – to form public opinion and to influence government.

Today, public spheres have evolved into more complex, more sophisticated spaces but also equally more diffuse and more informal. Think of online platforms such as blogs, twitter, facebook. A public sphere does not have to be a physical space waiting to be used, as these online platforms have proved. Instead, public spheres are spaces of communication that emerge with communication and die out when communication stops, when there is nothing left to debate.

Also, nowadays people are constantly bombarded with information and opinions, they have become more knowledgeable, but also more passionate about certain economic and political issues. Political debates are not a privilege of the elite anymore. Again, think of online platforms such as blogs, twitter, facebook. Think of public squares such as Tahrir square during the Arab spring, Syntagma square during the Greek financial crisis, or Taksim square during the demonstrations in Turkey in 2013. Anyone can join the debate, anyone can make themselves heard, anyone can influence public opinion – right???

Well, not really.

In order to participate in online public spheres, for instance, you need to have access to a computer and an internet connection. With this prerequisite, we’ve already narrowed down participation by about half (and having access to technology doesn’t mean you can use it)… But that has always been the case. In ancient public spheres, for example, such as the Forum in Rome or the Agora in Athens, only a tiny proportion of citizens actually participated in the debate. Only free-born male landowners and citizens of Rome or Athens, so no women, no foreigners, no slaves. Fast-forward to the 18th – 19th centuries and the situation hasn’t really changed. An eminent German philosopher with the name Jürgen Habermas writes that the public spheres of that time, such as coffeehouses and salons were composed of male citizens who had property in their name. These people communicated – allegedly – through the public use of reason.

So there has always been some form of gatekeeping – be it gender, financial status, nationality. Today most of these barriers are not relevant anymore, but there is one that still persists : language. It’s funny, language, be it spoken or signed, is at the heart of communication and yet multilingualism seems to be largely ignored in communication studies. An increasingly globalised world means that public spheres are becoming more multilingual, more multicultural. It means that people can participate in public life by speaking a language different from their ‘native’ one, or if that’s not possible, use the medium of translation or interpreting. If you ask me, this has always been the case but it has been largely bracketed, to use Nancy Fraser‘s term.

So what do we see today? A rise in the use of “minority languages” in citizen debates, such as Polish, Urdu or BSL in Britain, for example. With the exception of BSL, these are sometimes called migrant languages, to distinguish them from so-called heritage languages that are also gaining popularity once again, such as Gaelic in Scotland, Breze in Brittany, Cornish in Cornwall etc. I use the terms minority, migrant and heritage languages with caution, as these eventually overlap and their definitions are a bit fuzzy. The point is, multilingualism in political debate is a hard fact and it is here to stay.

The practical issue here, of course, is that historically, common languages (linguae francae) were used for convenience, so there was always a dominant language used in everyday discussions and in national parliaments. But think of national parliaments in Switzerland, Belgium, Canada. In the EU Parliament, interpreters are used and any cases of miscommunication are similar to ones that occur in monolingual environments anyway.

A lingua franca is not always the most practical solution. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Because if we think of the gatekeeping issue, if we impose a lingua franca we are immediately excluding those citizens and taxpayers who choose to speak their own migrant, minority or heritage language, whatever you want to call it. And there are enough exclusions already, don’t you think?

When we speak a different language, we essentially become different people. When we think in a different language, we think in a different way. Languages represent cultures, belief systems, lifeworlds. If we switch to a different language, we switch to a different worldview. Forcing people to speak the same language especially in political debate is to force them to think differently and to have different arguments. Some people consider it as a form of oppression.

Who is to say that English in Britain, French in France etc. is the only accepted language of critical-rational debate? It is arrogant to think that one dominant language is the language of reason and the sole purveyor of truth. This is why we need to embrace multilingualism, we need to foster and encourage it, especially in politics, where it is most vital. It encourages pluralism in thought and expression, which is at the heart of democracy.

Understanding understanding *

“I want people to understand each other” –

That was the best I could come up with when asked to sum up my research in fewer than 10 words during last year’s Heriot-Watt Crucible. But it did prompt people to ask me questions such as how are you planning to achieve this, why do you want people to understand each other, what is the scope of your research, can you give us a bit more context etc. But nobody asked me what I meant by “understanding”.

Understanding is a hugely complex cognitive process that involves great uncertainty, yet it is fundamental in communication. It is also taken for granted or tends to be assumed too quickly.

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas believes that what is crucial in achieving understanding is intersubjectivity. This places emphasis on a distinct common social world shared by people when they speak. It requires us to overcome our biased, subjective views so that, instead of communicating our own subjectivities, we are communicating intersubjectively. And understanding is reached when people relate to something in “the one objective world” (which I don’t agree with, but that’s another story), something in the common social world that they have created through communication and something in each one’s subjective world.

This model is certainly not without its flaws, but it highlights the fact that understanding is a shared process. Even in the absence of others, when we read a book alone, for example, we try to understand by relating what we read to past shared communications. And that involves great uncertainty. In many cases, people assume they have understood each other even though they have created different images in their head that do not coincide. Understanding in this case is reduced to a “fictional coupling of expectations”, as my former PhD supervisor neatly put it.

And we haven’t talked about different languages yet.

In a recent conference in Cork organised by the University Association of Contemporary European Studies, I presented a paper on “The impact of multilingualism in public sphere communication” (abstract here). I tried to show that multilingualism is an integral part of post-national citizenship but it is frequently ignored in political communication. Because of multiculturalism and multilingualism, we have seen the profusion of new publics – subnational, diasporic publics, for example. And let’s not forget the EU public sphere, where 24 different languages are used! How do people argue when they speak a language different from their language of habitual use? How is debate transformed when interpreters are used? (Nicole Doerr from Mount Holyoke College has written extensively on this, looking at interpreted debate during the European Social Forum). How do we negotiate and establish meaning, understanding and ultimately consensus?

One of the questions I was asked was if language was actually important in communication and understanding. The argument was that, even when we speak different languages, we reach understanding one way or another (through paralinguistic communication, educated guesses (!) or through interpreters). So if understanding is achieved, it doesn’t matter what language you speak. The focus should be on the message and not on the language used to convey it.

IF understanding is achieved. That’s a big IF. Even in monolingual, unicultural environments we get “fictional coupling of expectations” instead of complete understanding. Multilingual environments add another level of complexity because when we speak a different language, we become different people (or do we?). If language is linked to culture, then when we speak a different language do we acquire different cultural traits? I joked once that I would probably be more efficient if I spoke better German.

But bold claims aside, we do change when we speak a different language. We do start to think differently. And if understanding is a shared process, this ultimately influences how we communicate our thoughts, our perceptions of meaning and ultimately the way we argue.

Multilingualism does not impede on our communication, but it adds another dimension to our understanding of meanings and perceptions that we must take into account.  Recognition and awareness is a good start.

Katerina Strani

* The title is borrowed by Heinz von Foerster’s book Understanding understanding: Essays on Cybernetics and Cognition, Springer, 2002.