East may finally triumph in linguistic battles
East may finally triump in linguistic battles – Article published in Global Times, June 5th 2012: CAPITALISM forces people to ruthlessly compete for market shares, natural resources and human capital. Less obviously, they also compete for terminologies. This I call lingualism. As German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” “Philosophy,” “religion,” and “science” are ideological concepts that serve the needs of the dominant West, and, in the past, were hardly ever challenged. In this century, however, this could change. Due to the former European conquest of the world, most subject people took in European vocabularies, with the result that the majority of students had no longer any other terminologies available to them, other than “philosophy,” “religion” and “science,” to explain the whole range of human thought. Our students are told that there are “saints” or “philosophers” all over Asia, yet evidently there isn’t a single buddha, bodhisattva, or shengren in Europe or the US. Any linguist who counts knows that the vocabularies of the world’s languages add up, they don’t overlap. Translation is always reduction: One word acknowledged, the other eliminated. Here, like so often, we rely on the power drive of our best and brightest. In the past the conquerors were granted rights to occupied territory; today they are granted contracts with publishers. What greater gift to bestow upon a man of intellect than handing him such sovereignty?
Translation is a form of mental cheating, but its end is always power. The power lies in the taking away from others. Sure, the true names always beat the fake names; that’s precisely why the Chinese want to keep their true names, and the Europeans do everything in our power to take those names away from them, such as the old habit of reversing family name and personal name into the European style. Key foreign concepts have unorthodox meanings, foreign thought is unwanted thought. They obviously exist, but because of their non-European origin, they make Europe feel incomplete and uneducated. Nothing must interfere with our meanings of science, religion, and philosophy. We must never allow foreign key terminology, all those useless shades of Eastern meanings, to influence our public sphere and weaken our lingualism. We call this freedom.