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Je 02:39 ptm 9/7/98 +0000, Zeno skribis:
 
>On Mon, 7 Sep 1998 12:46:41 -0700, Don Harlow wrote:
>>
>>  <snip>
>>
>>The UN spends about 20% of its budget -- the European Parliament more than
>>45% with ten or more languages -- simply in translating and interpreting a
>>given set of words into its equivalent into five other languages.
>>Obviously, this is a foolishness. The reason of this foolishness is not
>>linguistic, or pluralistic, or equal opportunity. It is politics.** There
>>is nothing linguistically correct or superior about the particulary mix of
>>languages in international use today. This mix exists as it is for
>>political and economic reasons only. ...
>
>Is this something that the TRP did not really want released?
>Everything the UN does is politics.  To argue with the UN that
>multiple languages exist there only to further political goals, is to
>state to the UN that it is valuable to them.  If this argument was in
>their presentation, I wonder why the discussion lasted 20 minutes!
>
I doubt whether this argument was in their presentation. Certainly the TRP
had no qualms about having this _general_ opinion made public -- it was
presented in a public forum, and published in a public book that you can
buy, if you wish (off the shelf, if you know where to go for it*). I
suspect it was made more for the purpose of educating those who might
expect too much at first blow from such an initiative.
 
>Even if the TRP has more diplomatically minded people than the person
>quoted in this article, and send those people to present this idea to
>the UN, isn't it doomed to failure anyway?
 
What is "failure"?
 
As I pointed out earlier, no more could have been expected than what
actually did (less, probably; that the discussion lasted 20 minutes was as
surprising to me as it would seem to be to you). But the question is now on
record as having been presented, and will, in a year or so, likely be
presented again. What happens to it in future is to some degree a function
of the international political situation. Maybe there will never be a right
time -- but if one comes, it's necessary to be johnny-on-the-spot for it to
be of any use.
 
In re failure: At UNESCO's General Conference in 1954, a resolution
favoring Esperanto was soundly defeated; even some of those who had
previously promised to support it backwatered when it became obvious who
was opposed to it (I have seen the letter the U.S. State Department wrote
to UNESCO on the subject). But even failure, if played right, can be used.
Between UEA General Secretary Ivo Lapenna and the Uruguayan Esperanto
Association, with some inadvertent help from a Danish delegate named
Blinkenberg and some intentional help from the Montevideo press, the
"failure" was turned into a victory -- literally, when UNESCO, for what
I've been told was the only time in its entire existence, revoted on a
rejected resolution during the same conference and this time passed it.
 
>I cannot remember what
>site I read this on (perhaps it was one of yours, Don), but I remember
>reading that the various countries value their language differences
>highly because it helped them to not be held to the letter of the law
>if the need arose to violate a treaty, trade agreement, etc.  The
>masters of language who write these papers always manage to include a
>few loopholes which do not translate very well, but in their own
>language allow them a little leeway in the agreement.  Is this not
>true?  And does this mean that arguing against a universal language is
>very much in the interests of these politicians?
>
I don't think this is the case for written texts (though language
differences there are sometimes convenient, too; for instance, the U.N.
Charter says different things in some parts of the different
"authoritative" versions). But such language differences _do_ get ironed
out in time.* The real loopholes are in ambiguities (which may be
intentional) in a single authoritative version.
 
Of course, if a treaty is too ironclad to reinterpret, any party may simply
choose to break it, as witness the history of relations between the U.S.
government and the indigenous peoples (Indians) of this part of North
America. "This land is yours to hold while the sun shines and the grass
grows, or until we find it convenient to grab it, whichever comes first..."
 
Beyond written texts, it is nice for politicians to be able to blame their
blunders on interpreters -- as, too often, they are actually justified in
doing. The politician who ventures into the _terra incognita_ of a foreign
language is taking an awful chance (though, like Jack Kennedy, they may
usually be safe in assuming that the crowd knew what they were _trying_ to
say -- "Ich bin ein Berliner", I am a doughnut).** They should, however, be
wise enough to provide their _own_ interpreters to make the blunders, and
not depend on somebody else's -- something the United States is very poor
at doing. (Richard Nixon, Kenry Kissinger and their entourages in China
depended completely on interpreters provided by the Chinese government --
my best friend was, during her professorial days, a colleague of the guy
who interpreted for Alexander Haig during one of his visits to China. After
his historic mid-seventies gaffe in Warsaw, President Carter sent his
State-Department-provided interpreter home and thenceforth relied on those
provided by the Polish government.)
 
---
 
* Some of the real problems come from an inability to agree on what words
mean. In 50+ years of existence, the U.N. has not reached agreement on what
the word "aggression" -- in any of its various linguistic forms -- means.
 
** Some politicians are very ignorant of language in general. However, the
following story about former Vice-President Dan Quayle is most likely
apocryphal -- though even those who claim it is admit that it _sounds_ like
Dan. Sent by President Bush to a state inauguration in Venezuela, Quayle
listened to other representatives from the hemisphere standing around him
and conversing animatedly in Spanish. Finally Quayle shook his head and
said: "I wish I'd studied Latin in school so that I could converse with our
Latin-American neighbors."
 
 
-- Don HARLOW
http://www.webcom.com/~donh/
(English version: http://www.webcom.com/~donh/dona.html)