Why write in English?

Posted by jerry on October 9th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology, Writing

That was the question posed by Slovenian virtual world expert Alja Sulčič. The dilemma is that most readers of commentary on virtual worlds are native English speakers, but with English as a second language, there is always the issue of whether something has been expressed poorly or simplistically due to limitations of vocabulary.

That’s certainly something Alja doesn’t have to worry about as her English is as good as most native speakers – but here she has an advantage insofar as she is able to think in more than one language – potentially increasing the available structural metaphors and moving beyond what ‘goes without saying’.

For that reason I try not to restrict myself purely to English language websites – I have a very little French language and try to extend myself there, but also I use machine language translation tools, like Alta Vista’s Babelfish – imperfect, but then I try to interpret beyond the words into what were the key concepts the writer was seeking to express. And that is an amazingly useful thing to do because the translations make me see my own language in new ways, such as where different root morphemes have led to different terms for things.

An example is the French word for computer – ‘ordinateur’ – think of roots of English words like ‘coordinate’ – and suddenly you have a picture, not of a calculator (from counting stones) but of a bringing together, or juxtaposing – which is a more accurate description from user’s perspective of, for example the results of internet searches.

In short, I recognise the dilemma but urge writers using English as their second language to keep writing in English, but also to write in their own language too – as that serves to extend the expressive power of the internet, cuts across the hegemony of English and demonstrates the remarkable gift that some people have of being able to think in two or more languages – thus extending the thinks you can think!

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