lunch

I cannot disclose the location, nor can I say under what auspices I came to be here (with a small group having lunch with the CEO of an important multinational corporation). I can say the meal was delectable all the way through, from aperitif to braised scallops to the main dish and dessert.
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The conversation was lively, from a comparison of the Belgian and U.S. educational systems to the creation of market practices in financial services to the role of citizens and businesses in social justice. For instance, which has the better curriculum for today’s world, the U.S. that allows such range of choice, forcing one to decide an academic path (and potential career) at every turn, or the intensive specialization in Belgium, that drives one deeply along a prescribed path until the achievement of a certain level of expertise? And, what of the drive to establish sweeping standardization such that translation between various software platforms becomes moot? And, not to be left out, how far should businesses go in contributing to righting the world’s wrongs?
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I refrained from asking as many questions as I wanted; my mind will muddle along here by metaphorical comparison. Drawing a comparison between computer ‘languages’ (I know I oversimplify) and spoken languages is easy enough. There are times when generating common meaning (i.e., “understanding”) is tricky enough between speakers of the same language, let alone between speakers of different languages. There are also the gems of phrasing and imagination that one language captures that another is ill-or un-equipped to handle. Hence, interpreters always consider context and precedent – but do the people who use interpreters know that this is part of what is going on? Do they value the intelligence and creativity of this attempted mind-reading or perceive only concerns with control and error?
The drive to standardize reduces the chances of a miscommunication by limiting the parameters of operation and fixing (i.e., making permanent, solid, inflexible) the code for representing these parameters. This is valuable, a good, when the information being standardized is itself fixed, inflexible, not subject to interpretation. My U.S. dollar has its value; the Euro has its own. There may be a relative comparison and some complicated system of equations that determine the actual ratio of value from one to the other, but these mathematical formulations adhere to unvarying principles: the structure that determines what qualifies as wealth may change, but the math used to count it probably will not.
Standardization in and of itself is . . . a very mixed bag. Inevitably, the creation of a standard implies its imposition. By definition, a standard establishes the non-standard and makes it “other” = less desirable, penalized… a whole series of consequences – intended and unintended – issue forth, like water seeping through a dam: inexorable, unavoidable, serious.
But we need standardization, this much is obvious. The questions of interest to me are, where do we need it, how extensively do we need it, when do we need it, and how can we ensure we can change it if/when such becomes desirable or even imperative?
The assumption guiding my research at the European Parliament is that language is NOT the place where standardization is desirable. Yes yes, it is one thing to be painstakingly articulate with precise diction for legal documents that institute the sociopolitical and economic structure, but it is another to assume communication occurs best when people speak the same language, and only then. My assumption may be wrong, of course. Or it may be wrong under certain conditions, with particular people seeking specific aims. If so, what are these conditions, who are these people, and what are these aims? Because if we define these parameters, then we can begin to design language policies that are not based in forms of elite cosmopolitanism.
This is what I think, now, before embarking on the research project per se. I am open to being proved wrong. I am open to being shown that it is always better for persons to use a lingua franca (if they have one) no matter what disparities in fluency, unfamiliarity with the social system and/or jargon of the specific situation, similar or different desired aims of interlocutors, or variations in knowledge of the particular content area under discussion. My action research hypothesis is that, in arguing these stances, an articulation of the vital criteria indicating the need to provide simultaneous interpretation will emerge. Likewise, guidelines for the kinds of situations and circumstances which enable interlocutors to be effective via a lingua franca will also be made more clear.
Such knowledge will, I propose, enable more efficient, efficacious, and effective use of simultaneously interpreted language as a creative resource, rather than as a perceived barrier to intercultural, inter-institutional, and interdisciplinary understanding.

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