Date: Tue, 7 Jan 1997 09:38:53 +0100 (MET)
From: Geert Lovink

Two Letters on Language

Geert Lovink

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. [...]

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 doesnít 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 didnít 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 houseó- mainly literatureó- 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."