Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Euroblogs facing Babel: Inclusive and exclusive approaches

If the European Union is the common theme, even our shared destiny, should discussions be confined to separate national or linguistic forums?

A short while ago I decided to experiment with a multilingual comment policy on Grahnlaw. After a few days, comments in four languages and minor adjustments it reads like this:

In order to facilitate interaction in the Euroblogosphere, I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.

Inclusive approaches

Babel is a fact of life in Europe. The European Union has 23 official languages, as well as a host of regional and minority languages. Wider Europe offers even more linguistic diversity.

Each blog has to make a basic choice: the language it is written in.

Further, every Euroblogger among the 635 aggregated on multilingual (and beyond) can reflect on how inclusive or exclusive it wants to be in relation to other languages and public spheres.

Mathew Lowry has blogged about building bridges to create a European online public space.

Inspired by Mathew Lowry and Grahnlaw, The European Citizen decided to open up his Euroblogging and to try to reach out a bit more across the blogosphere(s). He is opening up his blog to comments in different languages, and he will use machine translation to help with responding. He will also reach out by commenting [in English] on blogs in other languages, although he is not sure how this will be received.

In fact, reception for comments in other languages can vary. I experimented by posting a comment in English on an Arte blog (French), but the moderation team quickly banished it on boilerplate grounds that the comment was outside the subject of the blog entry or against editorial policy. As we see, exclusionary policies are still de rigeur in some places.

I have tried to run separate, but related blogs in Finnish and Swedish, such as Eurooppaoikeus and Grahnblawg. However, they have offered little in the way of informed readers and interaction. At the same time, it is hard work to present even a fraction of EU politics and events in a few policy areas in a single language, English, the closest thing we have to a lingua franca.

I respect the valiant individual Eurobloggers who run bilingual blogs. Here are a few examples:

Vihar Georgiev writes the European Union Law blog in English and in Bulgarian, with frequent short updates in parallel.

Another parallel blogger is Europasionaria, in English and in French. She has also added a Google Translate gadget to her pages in order to facilitate communication.

Greg Henning’s EU Weekly contains blog entries in both English and/or French.

Martin on Europaeum alternates between entries in German and English.

Pirate MEP Christian Engström blogs mainly in Swedish, but occasionally in English.

Spanish is the main language of Eva Peña’s Eva en Europa, but she has posted in Catalan as well, and her latest entry was in English.

Including nationals - excluding others

Cédric Puisney aka Un Européen jamais content offers a contrary view to the inclusionary efforts, at least if English is used as a bridging language. He deplores bloggers abandoning their mother tongue to blog in English. He sees linguistic poverty, the threat of impoverished debate and the abandonment of the average EU citizen (citoyen lambda européen).

According to Wikipedia, 51 per cent of the EU population speaks English, followed by German (32%) and French (26%). English is more widely spoken and understood worldwide than the other European languages. (About 20 per cent of Grahnlaw’s readers come from North America.)

We have seen a few examples of bridging policies of inclusion, as well as exclusionary reactions and arguments (Blogs Arte, Cédric Puisney).

Should we confine our Euroblogs and blog discussions to separate national or linguistic forums for Citizen Lambda, or should we do our best to lower barriers between Eurobloggers and to promote pan-European interaction?

Ralf Grahn