On the English tendency to promote only English-language books.


At the start of this year the London Guardian published a double feature called 'Looking Back, Looking Forward', about 'the great writers' who had cashed in their chips over the last decade and those, still breathing, who were expected to excel in 2010. Of the 25 deceased since the year 2000, exactly two did not write in the language of Jamie Oliver (Naguib Mahfuz and WG Sebald). Of the 80 future titles singled out as 'the best' of this new year, just three have been written in funny foreign lingos (Turkish, French and Spanish). There would be nothing too untoward about such bias were it not for the use of the definite article ('The great writers', 'The best...'), a syntax implying that of all the writers in the world who passed away in what the English media has so very cringe-makingly named 'the noughties' – as well as of all the thousands of books due to be published in the year 2010 - people need only pay attention to two writers and three volumes of exotic alien provenance. Such literary presumptuousness – the notion that if a book isn't in English it can never really be the bee's knees, give or take the odd non-native genius - has been around since I was knee-high to my grandfather. According to K. David Harrison, the American author of 'When Languages Die' (2008), it is this kind of attitude that ensured the enforced spread of global languages (English, Spanish, French and so forth) in the colonial era, for which we are still paying the price. A steep one, according to the late linguist Ken Hale, who famously said: 'When you lose a's like dropping a bomb on the Louvre'. In the last decade, the world's global languages have blitzed 548 Louvres – from Ainu in northern Japan to Bororo in the Amazon basin - with another 2,500 or so slated for extinction by the mid-century. All in the name of 'modernisation', 'communication' and other familiar post-colonial excuses. But, hey, who's worrying, as long as 'the great writers' can still be read in the language you're reading this tiny little wail of complaint in?

- Textos i contingut: Matthew Tree - Disseny i programació: Nac -