Bases Les Miserables on some facts


1Like all scientific disciplines, the social sciences and humanities are about universality, and in the eyes of those who deal with it, universality is achieved through the use of definitions and conceptualizations, the determination of regularities, rules or laws, the elaboration of theories and methods achieved, which, at least within certain, properly defined limits (other things being equal), can be ascribed a general meaning. In practice, however, the majority of researchers seem to be turning away from this claim. In fact, they mostly work and publish in the language of the specific scientific community in which they live and pursue their careers (which does not always mean in the language of the culture or society they are researching, any more than in that of the culture or society that they come from). And in order to overcome the boundaries of their language and scientific community, they play in two fields in parallel. The first is the field of translation: the success of a work is defined just as much, perhaps even more so by the number of languages ​​in which it was published than by the number of copies in the original. The second area that affects journals more than monographs (because few researchers are able to write a book in another language themselves) is the publication in foreign journals of articles that are either translated or written directly by the author into the language the journal was written (but in this case mostly proofread and corrected by third parties beforehand); In these cases, preference is given to the major international journals in the respective discipline, which today mainly, but not exclusively, publish in English, which is justified by the specifications of the editing or editing committees. The scientific colloquia reproduce the same procedure: at the national level, they take place in the scientific language of the respective country; internationally they either leave it to the participants to choose their usual language or a language suggested by the organizers, or, on the contrary, oblige them to use a single language that has been determined by the organizers as the conference language.

The fact that this language became English - as was the case with magazines, and also with the first translation of works originally published in another language - is now an irreversible fact that is presumably irreversible - if not in the long term, at least in the foreseeable future : The use of a common language that is understood, read and spoken by researchers from increasingly different countries (as is well known, more or less well), whereas they could otherwise only communicate with one another through the intermediary of an interpreter, corresponds in the context of the one that has increased since the 1970s Internationalization of scientific life to meet the requirements of communication. It has prevailed above all in oral speech or in the exchange of ideas and information that has been driven (for a little more than a decade) by the development of the Internet, and is finally almost a matter of course at meetings, workshops, discussion groups, seminars and other working meetings, which are always increasing. There is no doubt that fluency in spoken and, at least to some extent, written English is essential for a humanities and social sciences researcher in these circumstances. Unless he was referring to the bibliography published in English, the exchange with colleagues from all over the world, who often speak English as the only foreign language, and the debates about the method, interpretation, presentation and discussion of scientific information that has become one internationally innovative work, article or a fundamental discovery can be safely disconnected.

3Of course, there are organizational forms in scientific life that prefer to use another language or at least give it a certain place: some are institutionally founded, such as the French-speaking sociologists or psychologists, others are based on factual facts, such as knowledge of Italian with historians on art and culture of the Renaissance or the experts of Roman antiquity or knowledge of Spanish with Latin America researchers. Today, however, these positions are fragile and, sooner or later, threatened with marginalization - one can regret this, get excited about it and in response to it try to reverse the tendency. But the facts are incontrovertible, and it is questionable whether any efforts to counter this have the slightest chance of success. Especially since at international encounters, where the discussion about a certain culture and literature is held in the language concerned, one ultimately stops at the communication and discussion level and it is not a question of scientific production in the true sense of the word. And even if they are completely bilingual and can produce more or less numerous publications in the language of their specialty, sinologists, Arabists, Americanists, Japaneseologists or Russianists from Western countries write and publish most of their research work initially in the Language of their culture, and they teach predominantly in the language of their respective university.

4This situation undoubtedly creates numerous unfortunate imbalances that continue to intensify before our very eyes. In the United States in particular, the general practice in numerous disciplines is increasingly that from the very first student work on, works and articles published only in English are cited and translated works are not given either the original title or the original date of publication. Thus, all indices based on the number of citations from a researcher's work in primary or secondary literature give a skewed picture right from the start - due to the numerically large number of scientific communities that see themselves entitled to research published in other languages ​​for the most part or in whole to be able to ignore and thus actively or passively initiate an unequal distribution and evaluation of scientific information and an equally unequal reputation of the authors. In order to counteract this, the non-English-speaking countries have increasingly started to finance the translation of the works and articles of their researchers into English, mostly with public funds - as they do with translations into other languages. However, this does not release them from fully financing translations from English into their respective national language with public or private funds.

5This, however, is not the most important point to concern us today. Rather, the question is to what extent these growing imbalances in the publication, dissemination of scientific information and communication between researchers, in return for possible benefits, can also have negative effects on the development of research in the humanities and social sciences. What needs to be discussed is what relationships these have with language, or rather with languages, namely with scientific languages ​​on the one hand and natural languages ​​on the other. And of course, appropriate differences must be made between these disciplines: Not all of them can be subjected to the same analysis with the same standards.

6 At this point, two distinctions are appropriate. The first is classic, but has changed in content and relevance as a result of developments in the major disciplines over the past few decades, namely those that separate or supposedly separate the humanities and social sciences. The second distinction is to classify the humanities and social sciences as a whole according to how much they themselves changed as a result of their nomothetic demands and developed towards a formalization that ultimately brought them closer to mathematics than to the natural sciences.

7The partly artificial, partly well-founded distinction that prevailed between the humanities and the social sciences in the definition of specialist disciplines and the codification of knowledge about man and society has reserved research on cultural productions and productions of mankind: his languages, his literatures , its history, its law, its philosophy, its religions and its ideas of the world, whereby the humanities could draw on the rich knowledge of previous centuries. The social sciences, or sciences of the social, have gradually differentiated from it in order to define an intermediate and autonomous field of research between humanity and the individual. It is about the functioning of the different human societies and about the life of people in society. And so a number of new disciplines have emerged without a prior plan: economics, political science, sociology, ethnology and anthropology, psychology and social psychology, semiology and others ... For a long time, they were more interested than the former in the concrete observation on site, which was considered a substitute for experiments, for measurement and quantification, for comparisons in time and space or for the development of models based on the interactions between a limited but always defined number of factors or variables. And the influence of their methods has had an impact on the humanities, helping to discard the idea of ​​a rigid boundary between the two groups of disciplines, define areas of encounter and dialogue between them, and encourage convergences. However, very few of these disciplines have taken the next step and attempted to attain a different scientific status, pursuing two major avenues: on the one hand, mathematical formalization, as in the case of economics, and, on the other, the structuralist method used by linguistics and was in turn adopted by anthropology, especially kinship anthropology.

As a result of such a change, this small group of disciplines was able to adopt a strict system of a priori concepts and definitions; This made it easier to use a common scientific language, which all specialists in this discipline can use and whose basic feature is that the terms have one and only one meaning that is accepted and understood by everyone - in contrast to natural languages, wherever Polysemy is the rule, which is why they are so difficult to translate. If this common, now international scientific language is English, one should not forget that it has clearly moved away from the natural language that bears the same name and only occasionally borrows images, linguistic abbreviations or metaphors from it: it is especially the language in which researchers think of their discipline and the problems that arise, which leads them to propose equivalent terms in publications or speeches in their own language, which are often nothing more than Anglicisms or Americanisms.

The vast majority of the other disciplines, both in the humanities and in the social sciences, have maintained a fundamentally different relationship with natural languages. Certainly they tried to create their own scientific vocabulary, but this is limited to a limited number of terms and can never cover all the utterances of scientific discourse, which is why it is not sufficient to constitute a language. Therefore, the personal way of formulating and the style, which have a value in themselves in academic culture and which should make that scientific dimension and ambition forgotten and push into the background, continue to play an important role. We shouldn't see it as just a sign of a conservative attitude or a concession to tradition. In France between 1930 and 1970, for example, history was able to assert itself as a strict social science that made extensive use of quantifying and statistical methods, and yet maintained its claim to being a good writer. This relationship with natural languages, which has been preserved and constantly renewed, can in turn be explained by a variety of reasons. The most important is the fact that the humanities and social sciences draw very strongly from the experiences, values, ideas of themselves and the cultural traditions of those societies whose "realities" and social practices they explore as well as their cultural productions and their concepts In view of the variety of possible uses and meanings, they can never be permanently detached from their context. Translating from one language to another, as well as from one culture or society to another, is always a difficult exercise, the boundaries of which precisely mark the peculiarities of a society and an epoch: even words borrowed from another language are used when crossing the border other meanings. And these inevitable differences were reinforced by the history of the origins of the disciplines between the 19th and 20th centuries in the countries concerned and thus the languages ​​concerned. At that time, each country's own issues, problems and methods had priority. Developing and adopting a common language would mean doing without a whole system of differences and peculiarities that need to be recognized and brought to light in order to relativize and overcome them. From this perspective there is no other solution than multilingualism.

It is all the more necessary since the social sciences and humanities today are not experiencing a crisis that heralded some kind of decline, but rather are experiencing a profound change that forces them to question themselves. They have evolved over the past two centuries on the basis of a Eurocentrism that related other civilizations, cultures and societies to the model of industrial societies in Europe and North America. In the 1950s to 1960s they could believe in the ultimate convergence of societies predicted by modernization theories, and interpret the present world in terms of advances and delays along a common path. The crisis that began in the 1970s destroyed this simplistic optimism. The advancing use of English as the international language of scientific communication, which became inevitable due to the increasing circulation of information, ideas and people, rubs against the divergent development paths that are taking place in the various regions of the world, with the powerful upswing of the great cultures of Asia and the The consolidation of the differences in culture and religion can be seen. From the perspective of the social sciences and humanities, we are only at the beginning of the process of what Wolf Lepenies called the »de-Europeanization of the world«. However, the fact that an increasing number of Chinese sociologists or sociologists of Chinese origin are able to speak or write in English and address us in a language we understand or think we understand should not lead us to believe that the Chinese society of the 21st century can be described and analyzed in the same concepts and terms that our sociologists use for European and American societies. The first victims of this Europeanization could be those disciplines which, instead of initiating the "internal epistemological revolution" described above for economics and linguistics, were satisfied with, in the name of an implicit or explicit reference to a supposedly universal "human nature" problem, Conceptualizations and methods that are derived solely from the European experience can generally be transferred to the entire world.

The practice of multilingualism, which Europe re-recognized as a necessity after the fall of the Iron Curtain - a practice which will oblige us to give a place to the Slavic languages ​​in the international scholarly discussion - corresponds to questioning the situations proposed by inherited from European colonization or dominance. Even if they are used to expressing themselves in English, French or Portuguese, researchers from sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly wondering what place they are giving the major languages ​​of this part of the continent, such as Swahili and Fulani, in their work should rediscover their suitability for scientific utterance.As “good” Europeans, however, we still consider it normal that they express themselves exclusively in the languages ​​inherited from colonization.

The debate that brings us together today is anything but backward-looking and does not pose a question whose answer is known in advance. Rather, it is set in a completely open present in which the die is far from being cast. English can gain the upper hand under pressure from the demands of communication and exchange of ideas. But if this happens, it will be at the expense of the social sciences and humanities, the progress of which, today and for a few decades to come, will depend on the practice of differentiation and thus on linguistic pluralism: a pluralism which, incidentally, is an indispensable prerequisite for the various societies Knowledge that they have developed from their own experience and can acquire over and over again.

13 Such linguistic pluralism is not a monopoly of that specific area of ​​the intellectual elite to which we like to feel a part. In the course of the last half century it was required of all “European workers”, those migrants who until the mid-1970s came mainly from southern Europe and whose recruiting area has since been expanded to the rest of the world. Their language skills extended to their own dialect, sometimes, but not always, to the official language of their country of origin and gradually, in the course of their everyday life, to the locally acquired language of the "host country" to which they came to sell their labor . This linguistic pluralism is required of us, on our level, as a responsibility that we cannot reject. It certainly enables us to teach and publish in our languages, but not defensively by disconnecting ourselves from the rest of the world. The disciplines to which we feel we belong do not lead an isolated life. They have to absorb and adapt terms and concepts from outside by looking for equivalences, and at the same time read, understand, receive, cite and review publications from as many other languages ​​as possible. More than ever, the comparison of local conditions and methods developed elsewhere is key to the dynamism of research in the humanities and social sciences. As much as we try, our knowledge will always fall short of the requirements that are limitless. But beyond the active command of four or five major European or non-European languages, which is now a minimum requirement for a researcher in the humanities and social sciences (a minimum that is common among young doctoral students today, but before that many of their teachers still do We can play with all levels of passive knowledge in order to expand our reading possibilities: it is not a superhuman task, based on knowledge of French and Latin at school, to read works and articles of one's own discipline that were written in another Romance language ! The important thing is that you consider this to be essential. Because we cannot be satisfied with translations alone: ​​as numerous as they may be, for reasons of cost they will only ever affect a limited number of works that are intended for a larger audience such as students or the general public that goes beyond the mere specialist scientists . However, I am of the opinion that a high-quality translation of a chapter from a book or an article that is suitable for publication should be recognized as evidence of performance in a master's or doctoral degree, and why not also at the bachelor's level. Another, equally effective test in oral exams or written work could be the breadth of the publications read and cited. Here, too, it is up to us older people to make decisions for the younger ones and to make them aware of this need.

14In this context, a central role is played by those who work on the 'other' - another society or another culture - because they possibly do the most important basic work for cultural mediation. They are able to find equivalence systems between the languages ​​in a certain discipline and bring them up to date, as well as conveying ideas, works and people and making them known. For several decades to come, and hopefully beyond, this mediating activity will remain irreplaceable when it comes to gradually enabling, through contagion, so to speak, the redesign of the humanities and social sciences on a broader level that goes beyond our current states, namely on the level of a continent such as Europe, but also at the level of a world whose poles of equilibrium and internal hierarchies are changing.

15 Communicate in one language - whether in English or another? But yes! Whenever it is the most direct, fastest, and majority-dominated instrument for intellectual exchange, clearly yes, without a doubt or reservation. But on one condition: that no single language is ever prescribed as a compulsory means of communication. And above all, that one never thinks that communicating in one language also means thinking in that language. The humanities and social sciences have turned what could appear to be the limit of their scientific ambition into a potentially inexhaustible repository of treasures: All languages ​​correspond to their own way of thinking about the world, people and society and therefore cannot interact be reduced. Even the best translator can never completely remove the gaps that separate languages ​​and thus societies and cultures from one another. But his mission is precisely to show us the limits of his endeavor and the results he has achieved. As a counterbalance to this, it is always a crucial experience to overcome the barriers of one's own language in order to look around at the other, which forces us to think differently and see ourselves in a different light. Even if it does not apply to individuals, but only to larger groups, intelligence is directly proportional to the number of languages ​​that we are able to understand, even if they are imperfect.

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