[Humanist] 26.707 waiting for, acting with

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jan 23 12:08:43 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 707.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2013 10:59:32 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: waiting, acting

While the problems that Domenico Fiormonte points to are serious, it's 
not as if nothing can be done, and not as if some are failing to do what 
they can. Changing the world so that everyone or more realistically a 
sufficient majority has facility in many languages is a long-term 
project, I won't say an impossible one, but one demanding enough that 
entire careers would have to be dedicated even to make a dent in the 
dominance of our lingua franca -- and note the irony in that term. I, 
for one, while lamenting my limitations in regard to languages, have 
other things to do while I still can do them. When walking through the 
British Museum or into the British Library I reflect on the fact that I 
am enjoying the fruits of empire. The same would be true of a stroll 
into the BNF, the Vatican Library, the New York Public Library, the 
great library in St Petersburg, once the Alexandrian Library and so on. 
I'm moved to reflect that all money is blood money, and without that 
money there would be no such libraries. Thinking further on it I am 
amazed that we have any such libraries at all. Would we if scholarship 
anywhere at any time did not serve empire or could be used for the purpose?

Much worse is the poverty of access in countries, such as Bulgaria, 
where the research tradition is strong, the knowledge of ancient 
languages impressive, to say the least, and the scholars highly 
motivated but in which there is no funding for books or subscriptions to 
online services. Here is something to be done by humane digital 
humanists, no?

As editor of an English-language journal and receiver of dissertation 
proposals and chapters I see a fair bit of English written by highly 
intelligent non-native speakers. Usually, with a fair bit of hard work I 
make sure gets done, the English that is submitted is well worth reading 
if somewhat off in its command of idiom. The networked world makes this 
easier to accomplish. At the same time, of course, the automatic 
translation tools push crudely in the opposite direction.

Long ago a teacher in an English class read to us youngsters some poetry 
written by a Korean lad who had just learned English but hadn't get 
absorbed most idioms and some grammatical conventions. This teacher 
pointed out what amazing and powerful beauty came from this lad's verse 
-- was it in spite of the errors or because of them? Some years later I 
had a Nigerian man in an English composition class whose grammatical 
mistakes would have caused him to fail had his brilliant mind not shone 
through (or by means of?) the terrible grammar. Four decades after the 
fact I can still remember one of his compositions.

It's a rapidly changing world, and we're at the centre of it. It's good 
to have problems raised so that we remain aware of what needs doing with 
our digital tools and methods, don't you think?


Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Humanities and Communication Arts,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist (dhhumanist.org);

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