Olaf Brugman writes an interesting article on languagebarriers in the flow of knowledge. Taking two examples as mini-cases, the language zones at KnowledgeBoard and the huge translation effort at the EU to accomodate for now 12 and soon 24 languages.
In my comment to his posting I try to point out that centralized solutions to the language divide in my view won’t work. Not adopting one language, and not going for the huge amount of work of having one centralized hub doing all the translation. Mechanical translation might offer a solution in the future, but not at the moment. I’d go for a decentralized way of looking at it.
So it’s up to individuals to create a solution. To connect networks you need connectors, networkstraddlers. Through them knowledge and information can flow between two otherwise seperated networks. So would it be possible to identify and reinforce those Connectors? They would not need to be omniglot or even polyglot, just one or perhaps two foreign language skills would suffice.
These connectors would be able to mesh the different language-networks, and we can even work out mathematically how much meshing would be needed to make it robust.
Of course this would not result in immediate translation of texts into all languages. It would however result in ideas being transmitted throughout the whole system. When enough interest is generated within a certain circle (tipping point like) this subset of people will arrange for translation, on the basis of perceived needs. Once translated a document has become a more ‘spreadable meme’ and will travel through the system once more.
As I blog in three different languages I can use myself to reflect upon.
I did not start my multilingual blog to cross barriers. I started it to build three geographically different networks. That means that I only sporadically write the same entries in two or three of my blogs. Of course, ideas do get crossfertilized. When writing about the development of the knowledge economy in the Netherlands I do take into account what I know from english sources, and when I write about blogging in the workplace in German I do use previous articles in English and Dutch. So translation is not a goal in itself, and that is how it should be. The perceived need to communicate is the driving force here, and maybe we could deliberately boost that by working on the connectors between language networks.
Also see Blogalization where an active attempt is made to lower language thresholds for bloggers.
(UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis reflects some more on connections between different language blogs.)

6 reactions on “Language barriers

  1. For indymedia, a network which opperates in abotu 25 langauges, we have setup our own website to facilitate translation. It allows people request translations and then take on the work of doing it. Perhaps something like this is needed for other groups and the blogging community.
    http://translation.indymedia.org

  2. Sprachbarrieren �berwinden

    Ton Zijlstra denkt nach einem Artikel von Olaf Brugman �ber Sprachbarrieren und wie man sie �berkommen kann nach. Olaf f�hrt in seinem Artikel am Beispiel vom Knowledgeboard aus, wie sich…

  3. Hi, Ton. Followed Dave Pollard’s link to you. Wanted to ask you more about your experience with LETS, could you write a blog about that?
    About language and translation, I followed your link to Olaf Brugman’s site, and commented there as well. (Thanks for the link.) I am trying to explore how I can blog in English and Thai, just trying to solve the problem about script is a headache, since I am no computer expert, and OS X so far is not supporting Thai script. I recently discovered the still small world of Thai bloggers and it is an amazing cultural eye opener for me. First, I think I will have to spend some time convincing the 2,000-6,000 bloggers that there is a serious world of blogging outside of their new small network, and I’m not so sure I am going to get a very warm welcome within the community of the very young group of people who dominate that scene simply by translating what I think and dumping it onto them. I would have to spend considerable time ‘listening’ on them a lot, and then researching their interest and see from what angle I can approach them if I want my communication link to be successful.
    There are many other topics you have raised here in your blog that I would like to respond to, but I am not sure how to do it. If I comment on a topic that is already archived, how does it reach you?

  4. Passion and Profession

    Anjo Anjewierden comes with three postings aptly titled Passion and Profession Passion and Profession I Passion and Profession II Passion and Profession III (which is a nice encore about language being a barrier or not.) He and Lilia and Stephanie…

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