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German Language

“A Linguistic Iron Curtain”

Not learning other languages means reducing your intellectual, cultural, and political horizon. A dangerous limitation that, it seems, has started to affect the English-speaking world in important ways. As Edith Grossman, translator and author of the book Why Translation Matters, writes in a recent article in Foreign Policy:

The statistics are shocking in this age of so-called globalization: In the United States and Britain, only 2 to 3 percent of books published each year are translations, compared with almost 35 percent in Latin America and Western Europe. Horace Engdahl, then the secretary of the Swedish Academy, chided the United States in 2008 for its literary parochialism: “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.”

But this is no mere national embarrassment: The dearth of translated literature in the English-speaking world represents a new kind of iron curtain we have constructed around ourselves. We are choosing to block off access to the writing of a large and significant portion of the world, including movements and societies whose potentially dreadful political impact on us is made even more menacing by our general lack of familiarity with them. Our stubborn and willful ignorance could have — and arguably, already has had — dangerous consequences.

You can find the entire article here. Also interesting is the article “Linguistic Apartheid” by South African writer Thomas Dreyer.

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About GG

Gundolf Graml is Associate Prof. and Dir. of German Studies at Agnes Scott College. He has a Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Minnesota and has published articles on German and Austrian film and tourism. He is currently writing a book about tourism and Austrian national identity after 1945. Other research projects include critical whiteness studies and, most recently, investigations into the connection between memory and nature. At ASC, Gundolf Graml teaches courses on a broad range of topics, from German 101 to German and Austrian Cinema and Afro-German History and Culture.

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