Central to the translating cultures theme is an awareness that processes of translation occur within cultures and nations as well as across and between them, i.e. intraculturally as well as interculturally. Observations about the global spread of English, often used as justification for the decline of Modern Languages in the Anglophone world, tend to ignore the fact that English-speaking countries are themselves increasingly multilingual, reflecting in their linguistic practices and landscapes the movement of peoples and cultures that characterize contemporary globalization. Yann Matras’s research has recently revealed, through the work of the Multilingual Manchester project, that the population of the city speaks 153 different languages, and possible more, making it one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world. As a recent article in The Guardian has outlined, these include most major European languages as well as a number of rarer ones, including Chitrali from northern Pakistan, Konkani from western India, Dagaare from Ghana, and Uyghur from Xinjiang in north-western China. The recently published UK census data reveals that the population of England and Wales born outside the UK has grown from 4.6 million in 2001 to 7.5 million in 2011, meaning that the presence of ‘audible minorities’ is becoming increasingly apparent — and, with the proposed introduction of linguistic criteria for certain public sector jobs, increasingly politicized.
These shifts in language use and the debates they trigger are equally evident in the U.S.A., as changing voting patterns among the Hispanic population in the 2012 presidential elections made clear. The role of language in the re-election of Obama has recently been explored by Kathleen Parker in an article in The Washington Post. Reflecting on her father’s advice that she should learn Spanish, Parker notes: ‘What was clear to my father even then is that our hemisphere could not long be segregated by language. Nor, apparently, can we be kept apart by borders, no matter how many fences we build or drones we deploy. […] Metaphorically, learning Spanish means learning people. Knowing them as human beings, not as statistics on a game board. Recognizing their humanity and finding new ways to talk about immigration that don’t alienate entire swaths of the population.’ Bringing language and translation to the centre of political debate and developing what Mary Louise Pratt once called a more sophisticated ‘public idea about language’ allow us to analyse and understand contemporary society in ways that permit full engagement with the hypercomplexity of the modern world.