Jane Southcott (L) and Karin Greenead (R) at ICDS2 in Vienna
The international dominance of the English language at international conferences and in scientific publications is not without its problems.
On the one hand, it aids communication in many important ways by giving access to knowledge and discussion to the many for whom it is a first or second language. On the other, it has a deleterious effect on many aspects of human relationships and understanding, not least because not everyone speaks two or more languages sufficiently well to follow anything complex.
This issue has sat on my heart for many years now. I know that I both think and express myself differently in the various languages I speak. Sometimes I have been very frustrated by not being able to find good equivalents of words or expressions I want to use in other languages, only to discover that there is no real translation because there is no word for that concept or shade of meaning in a given language.
In Dalcroze classes in Italy we had to invent a verb ‘schippare’ for the English ‘skip’; there is no really good translation of ‘staccato’ in English, which is why we use the Italian word, and I have still not resolved the issue of how best to express the English ‘embodiment’ as it is used in England when speaking German (although in the scientific literature this word has become increasingly problematic).
At the 2012 ISME conference in Thessaloniki, delegates from South America raised the issue of language and culture and the sense of exclusion experienced by those who are not sufficiently fluent in English as well as those for whom the way of thinking that is, or appears to be, imposed by the language affects their ability to communicate: sometimes, the medium is the message. We should not forget, too, that in some places, language is a political issue and not only a cultural one.
There are many reasons why the use of more than one language presents problems. For a start, translation is hugely expensive as is bi-lingual publication and presentations take twice as long where live translation is not simultaneous. Some years ago, a discussion of this issue between Scientific Committee members resulted in a feeling that this was largely an insoluble problem, although one to which we all felt the need to be sensitive.
As a native English-speaker, I always feel both humbled and grateful to those of our committee members who can and do communicate in English. Without their willingness and ability to do this, our work would be far more difficult or even impossible.
The ICDS aims to be as inclusive as possible and, while retaining scientific rigour, has already succeeded in including practitioners by foregrounding their work and by offering training sessions to those new to research. The Keynotes this year include presentations by four Dalcroze practitioners in addition to three academic researchers. The ICDS Conference Charter states that while the language of the conference is English, the language(s) of the host country may be used where possible and on a case by case basis.
So, as the deadline for proposals draws near, I am particularly happy that submissions and presentations will be accepted in both English and the language of the conference hosts. I attended a French conference (JEFREM) some years ago and was fascinated by the differences in the ways in which francophones express themselves and the differences, therefore, in what is expressed. I am looking forward to repeating the experience.
I am used to teaching in French and Italian but I am also hoping to be able to give an academic presentation in one of these languages one day. Being able to present in English makes me feel it is often easy to be a bit lazy.
We need to consider the various ways in which understanding can be addressed. Obviously summaries of presentations can be made in a second language and abstracts are short and may not present too many translation problems. Maybe bi-lingual discussants can be found to assist in post-presentation discussion.
A final thought. I presented at the Emile Jaques-Dalcroze 150 Internationales Rhythmikfestival, Remscheid, Germany (2015). Although it had been my intention to present in German I did not have time to do a good German PowerPoint or to translate my text. I also hesitated because I knew a group of people from Poland would be present as well as others from Northern Europe - so I did everything in English but put a lot of my text on the PowerPoint thinking it might make following easier.
Afterwards many Poles thanked me profusely. They said that it was easier to read it than to follow me speaking.
It occurred to me that there are so many different accents in English that the accent itself might cause a problem. Sometimes I have not understood Americans very easily and I have been to a number of academic presentations by researchers whose English was so fast or so hesitant and so heavily accented that I could not follow them well.
I have always been told that one should put the minimum essential information on a PowerPoint, but I would suggest that, especially in an international situation, presenters use the PowerPoints in the way I did then and have done since - with a view to helping as many non-native speakers as possible to follow. The main thing then is that the text is not too small – that means having rather a large number of slides – and with good contrast between text and background. Lastly, good diagrams and pictures help enormously. Maybe we should have a tutorial on using PowerPoint in international conferences!!