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only possible languages for real philosophical expression. While it is true that philosophy was born in Greece, and therefore in Greek, and that Germany has produced many great philosophers, I am not convinced of the so-called “genius” of languages. The purpose of our dictionary is not to establish a hierarchy among languages, but rather to say, “this is how it works in this language; this is how it works in this text,” and to build bridges between these different worlds. How would you properly define an “untranslatable?” B.C.: An “untranslatable” is a symptom of the difference between languages. It can be semantic—“mind” is not quite the same thing as Geist or esprit—or syntactical and grammatical, like the gender of nouns and order of words. As I like to say, it is a word that never ceases (not) to be translated: one that is constantly translated, but badly, and needs to be retranslated. The Russian term pravda, which is usually rendered as “truth” in French, primarily means “justice” in Russian. Conversely, the French word for truth, vérité, evokes conformity and accuracy for which SCIENCE AT WORK Linguistics. Should there be a single language for the human sciences? In her Dictionary of Untranslatables, first published ten years ago, philosopher and CNRS senior researcher Barbara Cassin1 explains how eliminating language diversity would reduce the scope and powers of human thought. INTERVIEW BY LAURE CAILLOCE The European Philosophical Lexicon, known as the Dictionary of Untranslatables 2 was first published in France ten years ago. What was its objective? Barbara Cassin: When I launched this project in the late 1990s, we were in the early phases of a unified intellectual Europe. Although “United in diversity” was always the motto of the European Union, our national languages seemed threatened at the time by the sole universal lingua franca: “Globish,” or the “global English” now spoken everywhere on the planet. To even be considered for EU funding, researchers in the social sciences had to—and still do—submit their applications in this form of Newspeak. Even the research institutions were pressuring us to publish our articles in English. But language is not only a means of communication; it also conveys a culture and a particular worldview. A language is not just a different way of designating the same things; it offers a unique perspective on these things. Take a simple, basic greeting like bonjour, which literally means “good day.” It is not exactly the same thing as khaire (rejoice, enjoy) in Greek, vale (be well) in Latin, shalom in Hebrew or salaam in Arabic (peace)… Understanding this diversity contributes to preserving the complexity of human thought. Some say that certain languages lend themselves more easily to philosophy… B.C.: This is a misconception that the book tries to dispel. In France— the Heideggerian France of my teachers—Greek and German (thought to be “more Greek than Greek!”) were considered to be the 1. Centre Léon Robin de recherche sur la pensée antique (CNRS / Université Paris-IV / ENS Paris). 2. Barbara Cassin, Vocabulaire Européen des Philosophies: Dictionnaire des Intraduisibles (Paris: Seuil, 2004). 3. A collection of the forewords from all versions accompanied by new articles specific to each translation-adaptation has just been released in France: Barbara Cassin (Ed.), Philosopher en Langues. Les Intraduisibles en Traduction, (Paris: Editions rue d’Ulm, 2014). 4. Barbara Cassin and Danièle Wozny (Eds.), Les Intraduisibles du Patrimoine en Afrique Subsaharienne (Paris: Editions Démopolis, 2014). 5. Les Intraduisibles des Trois Monothéismes. © J. FOLEY/AGENCE OPALE Linguistic Diversity: Food for Thought 14 CNRS INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE


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