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.

Call for papers! Special issue on Signed Language Interpreting and Translation

Translation and Interpreting Studies

Special Issue

Signed Language Interpreting and Translation

CALL FOR PAPERS

Guest Editors

Laurie Swabey, St. Catherine University

Brenda Nicodemus, Gallaudet University

Translation and Interpreting Studies (John Benjamins) invites proposals for a special thematic issue on signed language interpretation and translation to be published in April of 2018.  The editors aim to bring together papers that address critical issues in the linguistic analysis of interpretations and translations that occur between a signed language and spoken or written language.

We welcome data driven papers on the spectrum between a microanalysis of one specific lexical item to the examination of a full interpreted or translated discourse. Papers may take a descriptive, applied, or theoretical approach to interpreting and translation of a signed language. We encourage a broad range of methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks, including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods.

Suggested Topics (related to interpreting and translation):

  • –       discourse in specialized settings (e.g., legal, healthcare, education, politics, media, video)
  • –       interpreting for emergent signers
  • –       lexical gaps between signed and spoken languages
  • –       discourse structure and signing space
  • –       conversation analysis
  • –       figurative language and metaphor
  • –       message accuracy between source and target
  • –       effects of modality in linguistic production/reception
  • –       metalinguistics, semantics, and pragmatics
  • –       language use in interpreter/translator education
  • –       linguistic issues in trilingual interpreting and translation
  • –       the work of deaf interpreters and translators
  • –       linguistic issues in tactile and close vision interpreting

Timeline for Authors

Abstracts (400-500) words due to guest editors December 1, 2015
Decision on abstracts February 1, 2016
Submission of full manuscripts September 1, 2016
Decisions to authors February 1, 2017
Final versions of papers due August 1, 2017
Publication of special issue Spring 2018

Contact Information

Abstracts should be sent to both guest editors. If you have any questions, please contact Laurie Swabey (laswabey@stkate.edu) and Brenda Nicodemus (brenda.nicodemus@gallaudet.edu).

 

Ethnology Crossroads

Reporting back from Ethnology Crossroads Conference

by Prof. Máiread Nic Craith, Anna Koryczan and Cristina Clopot

Ethnology Crossroads was a two-day conference organized by the European Ethnological Research Centre in collaboration with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, held on December 5-6th in Edinburgh. The aim was to assess the current state of ethnology in Scotland but also discuss its possible future. This discussion was rounded over the publication of the 14th and last book from the Scottish Life and Society – A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology series and was dedicated to the memory of Alexander Fenton. The list of speakers of the day included two LINCS professors, Máiréad Nic Craith and Ullrich Kockel, and a couple of LINCS students in the audience.

Ethnology as seen and practiced by young academics

The second panel of the conference featured young ethnologists, who are either working on a PhD thesis or are aiming to start one in the future. Fascinating projects were presented by three speakers in connection to the umbrella theme of the panel ‘Ethnologists in the Community’.

The first speaker, Ella Leith, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, reasoned for recognition of Deafness as a cultural rather than a medical issue. In this context, she tried to raise awareness of Deaf disempowerment in higher education as well as to make a clear distinction with regard to ways the society engages with deaf communities, that is, through either taking a stance of ‘deaf wage’ or ‘deaf heart’. Concluding her talk, Ella urged ethnologists to take social responsibility towards minorities they study.

The second speaker, Alistair Mackie, an MSc student at the University of Iceland, spoke of his undergraduate project on the question of European identity in the context of multi-cultural Balfolk events. Alistair’s findings revealed that participants’ perceptions and attitudes towards such cultural encounters vary significantly, thus mirroring the diverse standpoints on European identity.

The third speaker, Carley Williams, a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, gave an overview of her research project, which deals with the practice of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in Scotland, in the context of UNESCO 2003 Convention. In her research, Carley aims to develop recommendations that will help to empower and support practitioner communities, ensuring at the same time viability and sustainability of their ICH as a living tradition.

Ethnology of the 21st century – an engaged science reaching high

Ethnology_1

The young scholar session was followed by a discussion between Dr. Gary West and LINCS Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith, designed as a freeform talk. Moving the discussion from ethnology in Scotland towards the broader European setting, the conversation assessed the current state of ethnology. Building up on the conclusions of the previous panel, the two academics discussed about the type of ethnology a researcher might strive for today, when the discipline is at a ‘crossroads’ moment. Far from being parochial, this ethnology is a lively area that includes both rural and urban areas, labelled as ‘engaged ethnology’. It is also led by daring objectives, as marked by the leitmotif of the day, ‘why not’, urging researchers to go further than the journal article to support change.

Other subjects were brought in as well, related to the topics of ethnological research. The ‘power of culture’ to divide but also to bring people together was among these topics, as well as heritage. Taking an example from material culture of a built environment, a suggestion was made to consider narratives of people, the stories and emotions they invest in these structures. Prof. Nic Craith argued for an inclusive consideration of the tangible and intangible aspects of heritage in a research projects, and together with Dr. Gary West highlighted the fact that U.K. has managed to build on its intangible heritage (ICH) better than other countries and that it might benefit from exposing this experience in the larger setting of international discussions around ICH. Ethnology’s role, in this case, is to help safeguard traditions.

Ethnology_2

The final session looked at the issue of ethnology tomorrow and was chaired by Professor Edward Cowan. The panel included Prof. Andrew Blaikie, Prof. Ullrich Kockel, Dr. Mairi McFadyen and Prof. Stana Nenadic. The two ethnologists (Kockel and McFadyen) were passionate about the potential of ethnology to address issues in the 21st century and set the subject in the context of Patrick Geddes‘ approach to ecological, social and cultural development. While not ethnologists themselves, the other two speakers highlighted the relevance of ethnology for historians and drew many parallels between history and ethnology.

Pushing ethnology further

In line with one of the aims to reach further, the lively discussions of the day were not accessible only in the closed setting of the conference, but were opened to a larger audience through live tweeting. All resulting tweets are now available in this Storify feed.

With so many avenues opened and encouraged by the state of enthusiasm felt by participants, it was suggested that these ideas might actually be starting points for a longer discussion to be carried further in a series of meetings/potential events.

Russian Old Believers in Romania – Heritage Highlights

by Cristina Clopot

‘What is the future of the past?’ asked Christina Cameron, a prominent researcher within heritage studies, and she was not the only researcher to ponder on this question. An increased awareness of the richness of past inheritance is not directly linked with recipes to take these forward to be enjoyed by the next generation and to counteract globalisation backlash. Moving the discussion beyond internationally recognised ‘items’, with the trademark of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, towards smaller communities, the question becomes even more intricate. It is in this precise small area dealing with the heritage of small-scale, minority communities that Cristina Clopot’s research fits in. And the question mentioned at the beginning of the article is central to Cristina’s PhD project centred on Russian Old Believers in Romania.

Old Believers have migrated from Russia in the XVIIth century to escape religious persecutions. They opposed the religious transformations of the Russian Orthodox Church insisting on keeping their centuries-old belief. Old Believers communities exist throughout the world (in places such as Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), however, Cristina’s research is focused on Romania. A small community of about 23,000 people, the Old Believers (Lipovans as they are called in Romania and Moldova) represent one of the 18 officially recognized ethnic groups within the country.

In a country marked by increased globalisation and rapid transformations in the post-socialist period this community has managed to preserve its rich cultural heritage.

Cristina’s research thus engages with Lipovan heritage, both tangible and intangible. The two types of heritage are in a ‘symbiotic relationship’, as an UNESCO representative pointed out.  Themes such as continuity and innovation, authenticity or sustainability will be explored within this project through ethnographic methods. The research project is supervised by Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith, Chair of European Culture and Heritage and Prof. Ullrich Kockel, Professor of Culture and Economy, and fieldwork is carried with the help of Estella Cranziani Post-Graduate Bursary for Research.

Cristina1

Old Believers Church (image taken by the author)

Part of Old Believers’ tangible heritage, churches, with arched domes and 8 cornered crosses exist in different areas of Romania, predominating however, in the eastern side of the country, where large communities of Lipovans reside.  Old Belief is a form of Orthodoxy, close to the Greek form of Orthodoxy, yet with essential differences: e.g. different way of crossing, or the use of Slavonic. Religion is still important for the community today as reflected by the numerous icons encountered in diverse houses and locations I have visited in Romania.

Clothing is another distinct element of their heritage. Once worn every day, traditional dressing is now mostly seen in religious services. The shirt (‘rubashka’) tied with a braid (‘pois’) or the colourful long skirts worn by women are part of the specific landscape in an Old Believer community.

Cristina2

Borsch festival within a community of Old Believers in Romania (Source: Jurilovca village Facebook page)

Apart from crafts related to clothing, boats or house building, iconography is another axial craft within the community. Icons play a central role for the practice of Orthodoxy, acting as messengers between believers and the ‘divine prototype’ they represent. Lipovans have carried this craft from Russia with them and have passed it on from generation to generation.

Cristina3

Image from an Old Believers Church (taken by the author)

‘What is the future of the past?’ remains thus an open question for this community and an interesting challenge to answer within this research project.

Introducing our new PhD students

Our vibrant PhD cohort is growing!

Yanmei Wu has joined LINCS as a PhD student in Heritage and Performance. Her study will look into Chinese Kunqu Opera as intangible heritage, as well as its recent revival in 21st century China. Her supervisors are Dr Chris Tinker and Dr Kerstin Pfeiffer.

Yanmei studied ethnomusicology at SOAS, visual anthropology at Goldsmith’s and teaching Chinese as a foreign language at Sheffield. She taught Chinese at Manchester Metropolitan University for three years before deciding to pursue her PhD studies in Heriot-Watt.

In addition to her teaching career and study, Yanmei has worked extensively as a performing artist. Originally from Jiangsu province in China, she was trained in traditional Chinese dance and music from an early age. She performs different styles of trasitinoal Chinese dance as well as zheng, the Chinese zither.

Heather Mole has also joined us this year to embark on her PhD research on sign language interpreting. Her supervisors are Prof Jemina Napier and Dr Katerina Strani.

Heather’s background includes BSL/English interpreting (a degree in Deaf Studies from Bristol University) and a Masters in Disability Studies from Leeds University.

She has worked as an adviser to disabled students in a university setting for 8 years. In that time, Heather reflected on the power dynamics of service provision and interpreting. She has also been fascinated by the concept of “white privilege” and the transposition of this onto “hearing privilege”. Heather hopes to research these two dimensions to see what impact they may or may not have on the interpreter.

For more information on our PhD programmes in LINCS, you can visit this page for research on Translation and Interpreting and this page for intercultural research.