Monday, 12 October 2009

Language and justice

Canon John Gibaut made a plea from the podium on Monday morning asking English mother tongue speakers to "slow down" and try to avoid using colloquialisms. Nevertheless we have still had only two feisty francophones who have spoken from the floor and only two papers in a language other than English (Spanish) from the podium. I would say that 80% of those speaking from the floor were English mother tongue. They feel more at ease making short and longer comments and even in the group work I am occasionally surprised by how difficult it is for those of another language to break in to the conversations.
At the excellent Africa regional meeting over the weekend, the issue of language was also raised.
It is of course usual for international conferences of all kinds to be in English and yet I feel that there is a need to be rather more proactive in terms of saying things like non-anglophones will be given priority at the microphones.
The real contrast to the use of language in the plenary sessions came at evening prayer where several Asian languages were used for extemporary prayers and readings, a glimpse not of Babel but of Pentecost.


Ling Uist said...

Exactly (and I speak as an offender!) If communication is going to take place more and more in English at international meetings, then firstly the anglophones need to hold back, and secondly there needs to be a more international facilitating of discussions, because one of the issues when people are speaking their second, third or fourth language is that they sometimes cannot be as precise as they like, and that also misunderstandings can sometimes happen more.

Jane said...

thanks Ling
I'm going to write some more about this in some reflections from this meeting because more was said about language issues in the closing sessions as well.
English mother tonguers are over represented in nearly all international organisaitons - not just churches. We also tend to get given reports to write and minutes again putting more power into the hands of the anglophone group.
Lots to think about in terms of what listening to others means in terms of theological reception.
One day as with Latin mother tongue English will be a different language from internaitonal English I suspect - but that will take a few hundred years yet!

Aimee said...

Loved the contrast of the Asian worship. It was also kind of a relief to me to be able to speak with someone in Spanish - or at least allow her to speak in Spanish where she could more fully express herself. I also appreciated when English mother-tongue folks spoke up for those of other languages...not just asking people to slow down, but voicing the concerns of people who might not feel comfortable speaking them publicly themselves.