Views of China in the West have grown increasingly negative, with tensions heating up over the crushing of human rights in Hong Kong, the Uighur genocide and the activities of technology companies like Huawei. Violent attacks on Asian Americans have gone up since the start of the pandemic a year ago. Public officials representing the United States and China squabbled openly at official talks held this month in Alaska.
“Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction
In short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.
There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.