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nettime: Two Letters on Language
Geert Lovink on Tue, 7 Jan 97 09:53 MET


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nettime: Two Letters on Language


Dear nettime,

yesterday I got two responses from Japan on my piece "Language? No
Problem." The one comes from a Japanese book editor, the other from an
American translator, involved in video activism and documentary film.
Rather different, but significant. With the rise of the Net and other
aspects of globalization, old ways of dealing with the hugh language
problem in Japan are becoming more and more problematic. There is a need
to talk about it and work on practical concepts. This is not a software
problem, that's for sure. I will quote from the e-letters they sent me:

1.

"I was exited with the content and also with the situation which 
push you to think and write about this problem. This situation is 
what Japanese doesn't have.

Japanese are always frustrated by English in Net (reading, writing, 
sending mail)  and this situation divides people.
When I sent mail to my Japanese friend in London, I used English-
Japanese like "konnitiwa, Yano desu...." because his internet server 
didn't accept 2 byte characters.

But Japanese never questions this problem.
There is the situation which push us not to think about that.

Also the authorization of language (English in your case) is 
interesting to me.  The day already came to Japan when one Swiss 
man wrote novel in Japanese and got prize.
I am working in one of the most "authoritative" publishing house---
mainly literature--- in Japan.  It means that sometime I act like a 
police of language (for RIGHT and BEAUTIFUL JAPANESE?) but also I 
know that great literature is always anomalous and heterodoxy."

2.

"I got your piece on the English language problem, and enjoyed reading
it. We have faced with some of the same issues at Yamagata since we
established our WWW site.  As a rule, we put everything in English and
Japanese, but we seriously realize that to fulfill our role as a promoter
of Asian documentary, we have to also start putting out some of the
information in Korean and Chinese (at least).  For that, however, we have
no money.

It was hard enough just producing everything in Japanese and English.  The
people who ran the site insisted we could just have Japanese volunteers
translate material into English because in their own "cyber-visionary"
fashion they insisted that Internet will give birth to a diversified
English no longer controlled by white Anglo-Saxons.  I sympathize with
their goal, but at the same time, their statements can be easily co-opted
within various ideologies about the Japanese language.  The feeling that
Japanese do not need to learn to be fluent in English, to produce it on
their own in a communicative situation, but only be able to read it, has
been central to state education policy and reinforces the construction of
the Japanese nation through the language.  Japanese have been crucially
defined through their language, to the degree that Japanese children raised
abroad who speak fluent Japanese and English are somehow considered
"non-Japanese."  The inability or lack of necessity to produce good English
then provides the insulation through which the discursive "community" of
Japanese can articulate an homogeneous national identity.  I sometimes then
wonder what would happen if more Japanese could speak and write "good"
English."

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