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October 30, 2005

EP abstract

Well. I have two different full-length papers in mind, a couple of short "journalistic" pieces, and somehow I imagine the four of these will come together at some point in the future. In the meantime, this is my best attempt at encapsulating what the discursive data from my 100 hours (!) of interview data with interpreters at Parliament will enable me to say:

The European Union has wagered the future of democracy on linguistic diversity. Codified in the Rules of Parliament regarding the rights of Members of Parliament to rely upon simultaneous interpretation (Rule 138), economic pressures, monolinguist assumptions, and service reductions now threaten Parliament’s capacity to instantiate the dream of a multilingual community. Can a pan-European identity be constructed in alternity to the essentialized/izing monolingualism of the United States? A critical discourse analysis of spoken language interpreters’ reports of working for the European Parliament exposes linguistic inequalities and minimizations of voice that undermine the precise distinction posed as the measure of a better kind of democracy – the freedom to speak one’s mother tongue. A deconstructionist lens supports the argument that spoken language interpretation is the only institutional site where plurivocality is genuinely practiced and hence is the most vital and precious asset of any democratic EU political imaginary.

Posted by Steph at October 30, 2005 12:01 AM


I received three emails in support:

"Very interesting although i needed reading it at least twice to understand. I agree and subscribe." 10 November 2005

"I agree with your conclusions." 10 November 2005

"I agree with your conclusions." (EXACT same wording!) 14 November 2005

No email in disagreement. Is it out there or no? :-)

Posted by: 3 interps at November 28, 2005 11:03 AM

"I wish it were true what you write. They pay lip service to the fact that democracy needs the full range of languages. I think it will evolve into the legal texts all being translated into all languages. They assume and will reinforce the assumption with each following enlargement that everybody speaks English. I think a lot of misunderstandings arise from this kind of thinking and that Europe is a weak construction because of these wrongly understood or filled in assumptions... The situation at council and commission is very different, there many languages are used a lot less. I love the last sentence, I think for a lot of fields and issues a new imaginary and language has to be developed."

I wrote to clarify: what part of what i wrote do you feel is not true? i'm worried it doesn't read clearly, or maybe you're applying a particular (pessimistic) filter? the situation IS grim; I know that. is it beyond hope? i dunno. i tried to frame this as a way of exposing the lip service and convincing people that it isn't enough....does that not come through or are you just anticipating its ultimate failure? i gotta know!

Response: "The European Union has wagered democracy... That sentence is so beautiful that it hurts, yet it was true in the beginning and the mutual respect and the high ideal... Now, I feel maybe a bit dark about the ideals being lost and just economics writing the music to which the bands are marching, not even playing in harmony... That is all."

Posted by: a wisher at November 28, 2005 11:10 AM

Hi Steph!
Sorry for giving no life sign so far, I just read your abstract. I have to say I agree, sad but true. Here a great number of MEPs and others does not regard speaking their mother tongue as a right, an advantage and a way to remain accountable to their voters (who don´t necessarily speak any foreign language). At least that´s the impression I get meeting after meeting. Some seem to forget that ordinary people who voted for them could be listening, I wouldn´t be pleased to hear my representatives speak a language I don´t understand. I don´t know if this really helps you =)
take care

Posted by: Ivan at December 5, 2005 10:52 AM

Ivan, you rock. :-) Yes, your comments help. Thanks!

Posted by: steph at December 6, 2005 12:17 AM

Dear Steph,
Awfully sorry that I'm only getting round now to comment on your attempt at encapsulating your Brussels and Strasbourg experience. It's the "festive season" to use the going politically correct expression, no work for interpreters, thus time to clear up computer and other backlogs.

The real reason for not having reacted immediately, I suppose, is different though. I tend to agree with your first email quote, except that I needed to read it not twice but several times and even now I am not certain I really caught the gist of what you are trying to say.

Even at the risk of offending you, let me try and give you my feelings after having re-read the text once again:

1. wagered the future of democracy on linguistic diversity That I think is a vastly exaggerated statement. At best, I think, some in the EU might consider linguistic diversity to be part of its democratic credentials; at worst, the majority of the decision makers, the powers that count do probably think it a nuisance, a waste of time, money and energy to which no more than lip service needs to be given.
Personnally I'd add that if the future of democracy depended on linguistic diversity alone, it would not be worth having. Surely a future to democracy must be possible even if that particular wager is lost?

2. Can a pan-European identity be constructed in alternity to the essentialized/izing monolingualism of the United States Again I think that is a bit of an one-sided view. Cannot the pan-European identity express itself in other ways than purely as an alternative to monolingualism? But maybe I misunderstand the term alternity.

3. the measure of a better kind of democracy – the freedom to speak one’s mother tongue To my knowledge no-one is forbidden to speak his or her mother tongue, the fact that sometimes in certain meetings an integral interpretation system is not provided cannot be equated with having one's freedom curtailed and thus make this a worse kind of democracy. Anyway, if that equation were true, the multitude of regional European languages, leave alone dialects, would have to be given the same status (because they are speakers' mother tongues). A sure recipe for chaos. As often in real life, the better may well be the ennemy of the good.

4. As to your last sentence, I am baffled. I frankly don't understand what you mean by a "democratic political imaginary seen through a deconstructionist lens". I remain convinced that there are more vital and precious assets to democracy than plurivocality, althoug I do admit I don't see, what precisely is your meaning of this last term. Is it the same as multilingualism or linguistic diversity?. I have not been able to find a definition.

After all that, happy New Year and all the best to you, nevertheless. We hope to see you around again one of these days.


(reposted after accidental deletion; lost color-coding I bet. wah!)

Posted by: Burckhard at January 4, 2006 7:42 AM

Burckhard - you ROCK! Thanks so much for this feedback and even debate. :-) I am not in the least offended. I hope to have more of this kind of thoughtful consideration of the perspectives involved, because some of them are baffling to me - it could be where my idealism meets with others' pragmatism (a basic difference) or it could signal a rich source of discursive data that helps tease out the notions I've posed (tentatively, mind you!) and need to continue to clarify. Your feedback is extremely useful in pointing out where I need to add more explanation - especially in terms of definition but also through examples.

Happy New Year to you and the family too. :-)

Originally Posted by: steph at January 3, 2006 11:30 AM

Posted by: steph at January 4, 2006 7:43 AM

Ah...it makes sense for me to include the revised abstract. It doesn't answer Burckhard's specific questions but perhaps it anticipated the difficulty of some of my earliest claims. :-)

The European Union has wagered the future of democracy on linguistic diversity. Codified in the Rules of Parliament is the right to rely upon simultaneous interpretation of spoken languages (Rule 138). This rule poses a different mode of democracy through the conscious and deliberate honoring of multilingualism. Currently, economic values and monolingualist assumptions threaten the EU’s capacity to instantiate a heterogeneous, multilingual community in the most prominent and meaningful site of the European Parliament. Initial investigation of the working conditions at Parliament, as reported by simultaneous interpreters, exposes linguistic inequalities and minimizations of voice (power) that undermine the model of multilingual citizenship posed as the measure of a better kind of democracy – the freedom to speak one’s mother tongue. Critical discourse analysis of interpreters' collective critique furthers the argument that simultaneous spoken language interpretation is a vital material and temporal site for the practice of democracy. Failure to preserve this democratic resource will weaken attempts at social justice and cultural equality.

Posted by: Steph [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 12:33 PM

I like the revised version a lot better. To me it makes more sense and the statements it contains are factually correct. Apart from the very first sentence, which I still feel is an exaggerated view I would be happy to agree with it all it says.

Posted by: Burckhard at January 5, 2006 3:13 PM

Although I, too, prefer the revised version, I have some doubts about "to instantiate a heterogeneous, multilingual community in the
most prominent and meaningful site of the European Parliament". Since there are two legislators in the EU, Council and Parliament, I am not sure I feel any better about the fact that the other legislator hardly practises multilingual diversity in its day-to-day work at all and nowadays mostly works on the basis of English texts only, which gives native English speakers an edge since they can and do use this privilege to further their own national and cultural interests and preferences, being the only ones capable of actually formulating often very legal and technical texts correctly. You never get a language without the culture it is embedded in, as we know.

In other words, the formulation "most prominent and meaningful site" might be true since in the sense that the EP is at least more visible to the public than Council, but although this has not been the subject of your research, the lack of multilinguism in Council has IMVHO reached disquieting proportions.
I don't really know how I'd work this into your sentence, but it would particularly be good for outsiders (i.e. 99.9% of the world population)not to get the impression that the EP is the only place where things happen in the EU and that others ought to play their role in furthering mutlicultural and thus multilingual diversity in the EU as well. Or something like that....

Hey, this running tape format is horrible! Can I change that? I can't easily check what I've written so far

Posted by: Brigitte at January 6, 2006 10:53 AM

Good points, Brigitte. I've written as I have so far because I had to put some kind of boundaries around the study. My hope is to return for another round of research and include some observation of the Council too, but there are many factors that must all come together for that to occur. Even if I'm not able to do that, I probably can include something very cursory about the Council's language regime and that of the Commission as well. I do have a brief description of the larger EU governance structure in the 34-pager... :-)

As for the rolling tape format; I don't know about changing it. You don't have a menu bar to the immediate right that allows scrolling? One thing you can do is write in a word processing program (Word, or some such) and then copy and paste into this comment box. It would take a bit more effort but the benefit is you don't lose something you've worked hard on if the internet connection goes down. Other than that.... :-/ Imperfect technology, what can I say?

Posted by: Steph [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 6, 2006 7:24 PM

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