Dominant culture speaks English

Yesterday I watched two documentaries, one on Discovery Civilization and another one on History Channel. Both channels are included in one of the bouquets of SKY Italia, the main pay-tv we have in Italy, resulting from the merge of Stream and Telepiù televisions. Just consider that in Italy we practically have no cable TV, since we have a good free broadcasting offering, so all pay-tv are based on satellites. By the way, all channels are dubbed, since most Italians do not like to watch movies with original audio and subtitles.

Most of documentaries of SKY channels are quite good, but when they deal with subjects I know, especially if they refer to Italy or Europe in general, I noticed that they often couch the point of view of Anglo-Saxon culture, mostly the American one. Well, most of those documentaries have been produced in USA or UK, so it is not a surprise and not necessarily a fault, but there is a worrying side effect.

National Geographic, Discovery Channel, History Channel, and most of such specialized channels are broadcasted in many different countries and usually dubbed in many different languages. So millions people in the world watch their documentaries. The result is that such a biased point of view is going to become global culture. All the other points of view are mostly ignored, especially from the new generations who have not the knowledge to verify if such an information is true or false, partial or impartial, complete or incomplete.

I do not want to debate here if the information televised through those documentaries is correct or not. Everybody may have his/her own opinion about. Quality is usually high, but culture is often a matter of opinion, and opinions may differ. In any case, it is a fact that most of documentaries made by Italian, French, German, and many other non-English producers are not distributed in English countries, especially USA. So, there is an asymmetrical situation.

This problem exists for movies too. In fact, cinema is another channel to spread concepts and culture in general. Most of non-English movies is not dubbed and a movie with subtitles cannot compete with an English movie. Furthermore, distributing a non-English movie in USA is a challenge. In fact, there is practically a trust that prevents foreign distributors to operate in the USA marketplace. On the other hand, more than 50% of movies distributed in Europe have been produced in USA, and of course, since they are dubbed, they can easily compete with local productions.

So, the result is that the English point of view is becoming more and more the dominant culture. This is true for movies, songs, books, and many other cultural assets. For example, a significant percentage of English writers are translated in other languages, whereas is extremely difficult that a novel author, who does not write in English language, is published in USA. Very few literary agencies take in consideration non-English writers, and only very famous published writers are translated to English.

Same for songs. Most of European radios broadcast American and British music, but very few songs in languages different from English are broadcasted in USA. Usually Spanish ones, because there are large Spanish communities in USA, but it is extremely rare that you can hear French, Italian, or German songs in USA or UK. Nowadays, more and more Italian singers are singing in English to be able to be distributed on the rich American marketplace.

This situation is affecting the web too. Most of the English blogsphere totally ignores the non-English ones. The opposite is not the same, since many non-English bloggers can read and comment English articles. In the Italian, French, German Wikipedia there are many articles about minor American personalities too, whereas unless a non-USA personality is very famous, it is very difficult he/she is mentioned in the English Wikipedia.

Several web 2.0 cultural related sites simply ignore everything that is not in English language. You cannot add Italian books to Shelfari, for example, and you cannot search images on Google by specifying in which language you are providing your search criteria. Google is not bad: it tries to identify the language according to your setting or the place where you are, but in Europe we are used to switch from a a language to another, so it should be possible to explicitly specify the language.

A similar problem exists in Microsoft Office: language is coupled to the keyboard. This is absolutely crazy. First of all because it make no sense to change the keyboard layout just to write in another language, even because in any case the physical layout of your keyboard cannot change, of course. Second, because it may happen in Europe that a Spanish individual working in Italy, would write in French by using an Italian keyboard and the English version of Word. A lot of European people knows two or more languages, but of course they have a single keyboard layout.

So, English is becoming the dominant culture, and all the other points of view are becoming extinct. Someone said that the history is written by the winners. If that is true, English language is going to be the winner, but… the winner of what? If there is a winner, there is a battle. Are we in war? Are we fighting a cultural war? No, we are not. We are loosing because we are not fighting. Trying to preserve non-English culture, spreading non-English point of view in USA or UK is not only a must for every non-English culture, but a value for English-speaking people too. Cultural diversity is a richness for Humanity, as well as biodiversity is a richness for Nature.

So, spread the word. Not only the English one, but all the words by all languages from Europe, Asia, Africa, Americas, and Oceania. And let us begin from the web!

Comments (6) to «Dominant culture speaks English»

  1. Very good point.

    Opinions get mostly distributed via English as the dominant language. Other speakers are not able to reach such a broad audience.

    This is something to ponder about.

  2. utente anonimo says:

    ..e lor signori hanno appena fatto questa scoperta?

    Hard to believe, but I’ll take your word for i.

  3. Anonimo #2: «…e lor signori hanno appena fatto questa scoperta?»

    No, non l’abbiamo appena fatta, ma il web sta creando un effetto acceleratore che rende il problema ancora più preoccupante.

    Purtroppo la società italiana è sempre stata molto provinciale e autoreferenziale. Questo fa sì che non si renda conto di quanto la cultura italiana stia perdendo di visibilità del mondo. Le affermazioni rassicuranti dei vari politici, come il Presidente della Repubblica, riescono ancora a far presa su alcuni perché tipicamente l’italiano sa poco di come gli altri lo vedano all’estero.

    Ormai la cultura italiana è ignorata. I Paesi emergenti che hanno adottato l’inglese come seconda lingua, stanno influenzando di più l’arte e la letteratura di quanto facciamo noi. Ormai il nostro Paese è legato ai fasti del passato e non riesce più a produrre un contributo alla cultura globale significativo e soprattutto riconosciuto.

  4. è vero che l’inglese è la lingua dominante, sia perché è la lingua della potenza dominante sia perché è una lingua pratica e facile da imparare.

    ma è anche vero che fino a qualche millennio fa la lingua dominante era il latino, e guarda poi che è successo.

    probabilmente quando ci sarà bisogno di raschiare ancor di più il fondo del barile ci si accorgerà che costa meno tradurre una trasmissione piuttosto che regalare a tutti un corso di inglese, a meno che non ci si accontenti del fatto che gli ignoranti guardino solo le figure (ipotesi, peraltro, da non scartare).

    l’inglese lo dovrà sapere per forza chi lavorerà nell’informatica e nella finanza (come chi si occupa di filosofia dovrebbe sapere un po’ di greco classico, chi di teologia un po’ di latino, chi di psicanalisi un po’ di tedesco, chi di opera lirica un po’ di italiano…); sarà più pratico per un italiano, un tedesco e un finlandese imparare tutti e tre l’inglese ed esprimersi tra di loro con quello piuttosto che imparare ciascuno due lingue così diverse (come del resto avvenne nell’India coloniale dove esitevano ed esistono migliaia di dialetti).

  5. utente anonimo says:

    MyNetFaves : Public Faves Tagged Informazione

    [..] Marked your site as informazione at MyNetFaves! [..]

  6. utente anonimo says:

    Whether we like it or not the modern thoughts that are prevalent in the free world today, emanated from the UK and found fertile ground in the USA and subsequent in the rest of the world, that’s were real modern democracy come from not the old Roman Empire. Italy seems to have missed the train ….

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