Thursday 22 July 2010

Euroblogs: Languages and interaction

We see a continuing lively debate on Euroblogs and Twitter (for instance #euroblog #EU #bkaeb #bbs10) regarding blogging about the European Union. has grown to aggregate the posts of 630 EU oriented blogs, and it already forms a community of sorts.

My impression from a long time of blog reading is that there is a deep linguistic divide between the English language and French (Italian, Spanish) blogospheres on Europe.

If the politics of European integration, and the policies and law of the European Union are common European themes, why are there so few readers over the linguistic borders and why is there so little interaction between bloggers?

One concrete example: Grahnlaw has more readers from the United States, where people are not directly concerned by the EU, than from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain combined, long-standing members of the European Union.

Bloggers are usually educated persons, and especially Eurobloggers tend to have at least some foreign language skills.

If European integration is about lowering barriers and erasing borders, why not try to make it easier to interact?

Many of us read a foreign language without being able to write it correctly.

There has never been any requirement that comments on Grahnlaw have to be in English, but I have decided to make the policy explicit, by inviting comments in a number of languages:

Even if the Grahnlaw blog and my replies are in English, feel free to comment in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish.

I suggest that other Euroblogs announce similar open policies in order to increase interaction in the Euroblogosphere.

Machine translation advances rapidly, but the results are still often so crude that meaningful and nuanced discussion is impossible. Therefore, I have decided to experiment with a limited selection of languages I am able to read (Dutch and Portuguese only with a dictionary).

Ralf Grahn


  1. Ralf,
    prima analyse! En ik bijt de spits af met een commentaar in het Nederlands.
    Ik vraag me af (@kattebel?) hoeveel eurobloggers er zijn die in het Nederlands schrijven.

  2. Dick Nieuwehuis,

    Thank you for the first comment on this blog in another language than English.

    Since there are about 20 million Dutch speakers, it is an important linguistic community in the EU, but my impression is that Dutch (and Flemish) Twitter users (partly in English) are more active and visible than as Eurobloggers.

  3. Lieber Ralf,

    ich finde das ein schöne Idee. Wo nimmst du die bloß immer her? :)

    Mir fällt jedoch schon bei Dicks Kommentar auf, dass es vielleicht gut für die Eins-zu-Eins-Kommunikation zwischen Blogger und Leser (Kommentator) ist, aber Probleme bei anderen Lesern auftreten können.

    Niederländisch liegt ja dem Deutschen nun glücklicherweise nicht allzu fern, aber wenn jetzt jemand auf Norwegisch oder Finnisch geantwortet hätte, könnte ich nicht mehr so leicht folgen.

    Sicher, Maschinenübersetzung ist in den letzten Jahren erheblich besser geworden, aber wie du selbst sagst, ist es fern der Perfektion. Das merke ich jedes Mal, wenn ich versuche andere Diskussionen zu verfolgen. Außerdem ist sie auf den meisten Blogs noch sehr umständlich und zeitaufwendig. Ich muss die Blogadresse, bzw. den Kommentar immerhin noch selbst bei Google angeben.

    Was fehlt, ist also vielleicht die Möglichkeit, auch die Kommentar automatisch mit einer Übersetzungshilfe zu versehen. Die technische Umsetzbarkeit ist zumindest bei selbst-gehosteten Blogs gegeben.

    (Übrigens Sorry, Dick, dass ich über dich und nicht mit dir gesprochen habe. ;))

  4. Martin,

    I think it is an important signal that my blog wants to be as open as possible (even if relatively few would take on the offer).

    The point you make about other bloggers not understanding comments in a foreign language is correct, but there are two circumstances mitigating the problem:

    1) more people read and understand a foreign language than dare use it actively;

    2) I try to insert the main arguments into the reply, which offers a bridge to the contents of the comment (a sort of summary).

    Accurate translation in extenso is hard work and time-consuming, so that is not an easy solution (although Le Taurillon and its sister publications use it through the help of groups of volounteers).

    Since machine translation is still OK for tagging purposes, but not for real understanding, it is not yet an adequate means to bridge linguistic gaps.

    In other words: a positive attitude and we make do with what we have.

  5. Hi Martin (and Ralf),
    it was a bit of a test. First because Dutch after all is my mother tongue and there are lots of Dutch on the web. 2nd because the use of Dutch is an issue for the many Flemish in my second home country Belgium! Even if a lot of them use English easily.
    But I am privileged as I learned English, French and German in school and had no problem afterwards to practice it almost every day.
    But this week in Paris at the French Foreign Ministry meeting a lot of people at the highest level expressed their concern that French would be marginalised on the web.
    And I know from my work how important languages are if you "go local".
    It is therefore important to build bridges between the different blogger communities!

  6. Som ovanstående kommentatörer skrivit tycker jag att det är en mycket god idé att öppna upp för kommentarer på andra språk. Med detta drar jag mitt strå till språk-stacken i din blogg.

    Jag vill också passa på att säga att jag verkligen uppskattar dina återkommande ansträngningar för att förbättra EU-bloggosfären (stackars maskinöversättaren på detta ord!), bland annat genom att hänvisa till andra bloggar, kommentera på andras bloggar, analysera WE-rapporten och nu med detta initiativ.

    Det är inte alltid att jag hänger med i dina blogginlägg - i mitt tycke tenderar de att bli lite väl tekniska gör att jag ska förstå - men du är osviktligt en första klassens eurobloggare!

  7. Dick Nieuwenhuis,

    Building bridges between different blogging communities is important, as you say, but if we speak about the constant French fear of marginalisation, my feeling is that at least I have read, linked to and promoted French Euroblogs much more than the other way around.

    This raises the question if a one-way street (or bridge) is the same as interaction.

  8. Kallisti,

    Thank you for your positive reaction to comments in different languages, as well as for your kind words about this blog.

    I agree with your assessment that normal law and policy posts on Grahnlaw tend to be somewhat technical and complicated. Perhaps this follows from the fact that the (imagined) readership is university students on EU affairs, public officials, journalists and businessmen, but I will think about the needs of general readers.

  9. I hear that fear, and it has an old tradition, yet I don't see the point. If people fear losing their language in a certain community then they should huddle up and speak it. That's what French and Italian bloggers are doing. Even if they won't reach out this way.

    Opening our blogs to comments in other languages is therefore a good thing. I agree. (As long as I don't have to comment in French or Dutch .. I'd fail miserably :p)

  10. Martin,

    Thank you for your positive comment. Now we can wait and see if others announce more open comment policies, as well as if the French and other linguistic communities of Eurobloggers are ready to interact more openly and actively.

  11. Just an addition concerning one representative of the French blogosphere:

    The Arte blog moderation team erased a comment of mine, which was a reply to my blog post mentioned in a post. My comment was in English, but the boilerplate refusal misleadingly talked about comments outside the scope of the Arte blog entry.

    Journalistic principles accord the right to reply, and traffic can run in two directions, with good will.

    Does the Arte blog represent a general pattern, or is it only an isolated case of narrow-mindedness?


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