by Terence MacNamee
This newsletter is going to be about the relations between Europe and Asia. It will be mainly a matter of Europe speaking to Asia, at least for the time being, though I hope it will eventually become a dialogue. Note that I say Europe, and not “the West”. Asian elites have learned English, and they tend to think of the West as being the English-speaking world. In particular, they consume English-speaking media, which come either from the US or Britain. They tend to ignore the non-English-speaking world, which is most of Europe. Yet Europe has an intellectual life and ideas of its own – in the different European languages, of course. Who will make these known to the Asian reader?
Urs Schoettli is a Swiss writer (in German) on Asia who has commented in particular on the lopsided view of Europe by Asian elites who consume only Anglo-Saxon media, and the lopsided view of Asia that Anglo-Saxon media provide to the world in general. I agree with him. But I want to do something about it. Hence this newsletter. It will acquaint Asian readers with Europe – not the English-speaking world. Yet it will do it through English, the language the Asian reader knows. It will do it in two ways. First of all, I will give the reader background on Europe and its relationship with Asia, and comment on current events and issues in the unfolding relationship between Europe and Asia. Second, I will reflect the European press and thinking on world issues to Asians in English, by giving summaries and referring to articles published in the different languages I know, and later, hopefully, by providing full English translations of these articles.
I stand at the crossroads of languages here in Switzerland, even though we are a kind of hole in the middle of Europe, since we do not belong to the European Union. My inspiration comes from journalists like Urs Schoettli, whom I mentioned, but also from Swissinfo, which is a news and information website of the Swiss government radio providing articles on Switzerland and Swiss views of the world in 9 different languages. I have been doing some translation into English for them. These translations are aimed not only at the English-speaking world, but also people in many other countries who know English as a second language. This includes Asian readers; there are versions of the Swissinfo site in Chinese and Japanese with a selection of articles, but if the Asian reader wants to get the full value of the site they will want to read the English part.
This newsletter will be made to the requirements of Asian readers, both in original writing and translating. English should not be too local or idiomatic. For one thing, idioms and vocabulary vary around the English-speaking world. And it is possible to write English in a sober style, free of the mannerisms that needlessly distract and irritate the Asian reader. Then again, you cannot get away from the fact that English is a language, and comes with cultural baggage. It is by no means a transparent universal medium. No language ever was. The point is to use it with critical awareness.