a common reader

many languages on one blog

· 16 February 2010 |  by Janantoon
· Published in: miscellanea · taal

Found on Laura McKenna’s blog:

Everybody knows that if you want to have a successful blog, you should be very consistent and have one unifying theme. You should be disciplined and stick to one topic.

And perhaps stick to one language?
I think I can subscribe to the above statement (although Laura McKenna does not follow it either). And to a certain extent I do focus on one main theme: my books and my reading. And even though my reading is rather diffuse, it may be considered as one theme.

But I try to make a blog in three languages: Dutch, English and Spanish. And what makes it more difficult still for those readers that would like to follow the blog: not all texts are translated in the three languages. I read books in Dutch, English, Spanish, French and German. If at all possible, I like to read an author in the original language. I can’t read Saramago in Portuguese, unfortunately, but I read him the Spanish translations of his wife Pilar del Río. I cannot read Alessandro Baricco in Italian, I try French instead.

It would be easier to make this website only in Dutch (my mother tongue) or in English (the web language). But I receive visits from 154 different countries all over the world. Many from the US and many from Spanish speaking countries.
So, when I’ve read a book in Spanish I’ll write about it in Spanish. The same for English and Dutch. For German my active knowledge is too small to write in a comfortable way, and I’m too lazy to write in French (because the French insisted in creating a very difficult grammatical system).

But why do I think it necessary to use several languages?
A few days ago I heard an interview via The Guardian’s podcast on literature: “Aleksandar Hemon and Anthea Bell discuss European literature and translation and we look at some surprises in a chart that lists the bestselling authors across the continent.”
One thing struck me in the interview: the assertion that the available literature in English — at least in Great Britain — only contains four per cent of translated literature!
Four per cent, can you imagine? I don’t know about the situation in the US, but I have an inkling that it is pretty much the same.

I can’t be sure, but I think — estimating the segmentation of books in our bookshops — that the proportion in the Dutch language is something like 70 or 80 per cent translated literature to native literature. So, Cees Nooteboom does not only have to ‘compete’ with for instance Harry Mulisch, but also with Houellebecq and Saramago and Günter Grass, etc, etc.

I think that readers in the UK are the poorer for it. For if this is the situation now — with all the possibilities of communication — it must have been the situation for ages. I pity the English reader, but also their authors. Authors do not write in a vacuum. They read as well, they read their colleagues, their predecessors. But if all this reading is done within one framework, even though it is the framework of a major language, this will in the end result in a narrow view. Something like massive navel-gazing.
In this context it does not seem amazing that people in the UK are reluctant to anything European, from the continent. They just don’t know us.

If this is the case for translations what will it be for reading in other languages, let alone speaking other languages? This is a huge defficiency. I think it is enriching not only to read in several languages, to discover other cultures (even in translation), but also and even more so to be able to speak several languages. And not having to rely on the odd waiter that speaks English or the paid guide.
People in smaller languages, the Dutch, the Basque, the Frisian, the Luxembourg, have by necessity to study one or more languages. It’s an extra burden on education, but it opens worlds, it opens corridors to other ways of thinking.

So, I’ll stick to my method. I know I make mistakes, I write errors in English and in Spanish, but I also know that I am doing better than the overwhelming majority of English and Spanish educated people.

Anyway, for those who can’t help but know one language I added the possibility to filter on their language and even to get RSS feeds in their language (as you can see in the sidebar).

Enjoy your stay.


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