Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Doing everything in English

One issue I struggled with when I first considered making this blog was the English-language issue. If you look at the vast majority of materials from international organizations working Tibetan issues, both humanitarian and political, they're all in English. The websites, the brochures, the press releases, the videos on YouTube, etc. I knew right away this was an issue I wanted to confront, but I also knew this blog itself would be yet another example of the tendency for discussion of Tibetan issues to take place in English.

I took the approach of thinking “OK, this blog is going to be English for now and somewhere down the line I'm going to look for a way to deal with that and make it less exclusionary.” But then I screwed up by trying to express that thought in the commenting guidelines:
4. The primary language of this blog is English, and for the time being, it will be English-only. I realize this is itself problematic and welcome discussion on the issue and what to do about it.
Without realizing it I was saying, albeit in a sugar-coated way, “You Tibetans need to write in English here. Sorry but that's how it is unless you can tell me a better way to do things.” Regardless of my intention, that's not cool.

Beyond acknowledging my mistake, I want to actually do something about it, so I'm going to welcome comments in Tibetan or Chinese as well as English. I'll do my best to follow up such comments with a quick description in English of what I think they're about, but I don't feel qualified or justified trying to actually translate comments myself.

Back to the whole issue, what kind of progress is being made? International Campaign for Tibet has Tibetan and Chinese language versions of their website, among several other languages. Students for a Free Tibet, even SFT India, does not have major written publications in Tibetan online, but instead SFT seems to have focused on audiovisual media and especially online video, translating their 14-minute promotional video into Tibetan and featuring a number of calls to action in Tibetan on the SFTHQ YouTube channel. SFT's executive director Tendor also has a blog, Yarlung Raging, featuring a mix of Tibetan and English posts.

Beyond these examples, I've had a hard time finding organizations (support groups or charities working for Tibet, as opposed to actual Tibetan organizations like TYC, TWA, or the Rangzen Alliance) with Tibetan-language websites or media. This brings up what seems like it might be an unfortunate trend: the cracks in the wall of English-language domination of Tibet activism seem to coincide with organizations where there's already a significant level of Tibetan leadership.

Short of further transition away from white-dominated (or otherwise non-Tibetan) leadership roles in the organizations, it sure would be nice to see more of the present white leaders in organizations making the effort to seek out qualified translators.

1 comment:

  1. I really want this to be a place for discussions and not monologues. I've found a good bit of discussion going on whenever OT posts get posted on Facebook, so I'm going to try reposting some of that (anonymously) here and seeing if it can be a catalyst for discussion...

    Comment 1: What language(s) should they be in? International orgs. need to appeal to the money and the politics.

    Comment 2: Absolutely, and so English or the main target language, is important. But for activist organizations, or anythign where the main target is or should be Tibetans, it should be Tibetan, and that's where the problem lies. It's not so much an issue for fundraising organizations or something like that, its a bigger issue for activist organizations, which recognize that it's a Tibetan issue, but don't offer Tibetan language resources. ICT, for example, has a tri lingual website, which is pretty awesome. SFT, on the other hand, has a really limited set of materials in anythiung other than English, even though one of the stated goals is to move leadership into tibetan hands.


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