Democracy, Translated

According to this NY Times story, Vietnam is requiring that anyone who wants to launch a Web site get government permission first. Here’s the story. What jumped out at me was this mention of what happened to someone for posting an article on democracy:

In March, police arrested physician Pham Hong Son for translating and posting an article on democracy from a U.S. State Department Web site and posting it on the Internet.

Question: why doesn’t the U.S. government do a little translating to begin with? If we had translated that article into Vietnamese, perhaps – just perhaps – this guy wouldn’t be in jail. Now I’m not saying it’s our government’s fault that he is in jail; I am saying that we need to do a better job of translating democracy into languages the world can understand.

Language is Power; Power is Language

According to a Sept. 28th article in the Economist, tensions between French and Dutch speakers in Belgium has been flaring up. Apparently, in the region around Brussels, French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings live side by side. Dutch has long been the official language of the region despite the fact that most residents now speak French. So if you go to a town meeting, you have to speak Dutch and the officials have to speak Dutch, even if you can’t speak Dutch. Needless to say, translators are doing a nice business and the Walloons aren’t too happy about matters.

This struggle is not unique to Belgium. There are parts of the U.S. where Spanish speakers are the majority and yet the laws mandate the use of English. Language is power and if you don’t speak a certain language, you end up feeling powerless. But I don’t think the either/or solution works for either side.

Vote, vota, bumoto…

“Los Angeles County is urging its citizens to vote, vota, bumoto or hay bo phieu. In fact, residents there will have seven languages to choose from when they cast their ballots on Election Day: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.”

Boy is this a contentious issue these days – whether or not to translate ballots. According to this Newsday article Los Angeles requires translation of ballots into seven languages, although most places don’t make it past two.

A lot of people would rather that there be no translation of ballots, which, the thinking goes, would force non-English speakers to learn the language. But I don’t agree. Even if you desperately want to learn a new language, getting to fluency takes years of hard work, and even then you find yourself missing out on many subtleties. But I’m hopeful that computer-based balloting will provide the solution to this problem – eliminating the need to print translated ballots while providing the ability to present ballots in any number of languages. At least that’s my hope…