Of those three languages I live in (a sequel to #dhiha5)

Manifesto, Manifest, manifeste

After publishing the English version of the manifesto for young researchers in DH in July, the German translation went online in August and the French one in September. I was part of the elaboration of all three of them. For my personal linguistic formation, the order in which the versions were conceived was strange, considering that it went from the language I know the less good to the one I know best.

Conceiving the original English version was complicated by the fact that a vast majority of the task force that conceived and wrote it consisted of non-English speakers. Although it was obvious that we had, just had to write the manifesto in Globish, this first step already showed how the institutional vocabulary, and with that also the institutional stakes, were hardly transportable in different cultural areas. We had German and French institutional models in mind, and it necessarily influenced the way we wrote in English. What will British young researchers think of that text, I asked myself. Does it relate in any way to their job and career reality? I am not sure whether there was any feedback on that topic ever since.

The English version was read and commented on in Germany, but the German translation was still the first one to be published, thanks to the technical and personal support from the German Historical Institute in Paris. It turned out to be impossible to maintain style and tone of the original version: the sentences were too short, too dry, to pass for readable German. The syntax was germanized, leaving room for some interpretation. Let’s take for instance the paragraph about publications in English, a part of the text that (obviously) means a lot to me. The English version reads:

“As humanists we value intercultural dialogue and multilingualism. Publications in English should not be exclusive, but encouraged as a complement to publications in other native languages.”

The first draft of the German translation had displaced the syntax far enough to make it say not “English not exclusive, but encouraged”, but rather “maybe some in English, but not too much and certainly not everything”. This draft was rephrased as follows for the final version:

“Als Geisteswissenschaftlerinnen und -wissenschaftler schätzen wir interkulturellen Dialog und Mehrsprachigkeit. Veröffentlichungen sollten nicht ausschließlich in englischer Sprache erfolgen, sondern als Zusatz zu Veröffentlichungen in der eigenen Sprache angeregt werden.”

I suggested an even more radical translation for the French version, moving the syntax around as we had often done in the German version, but my colleagues wisely sticked to the original:

“Praticiens des sciences humaines, nous attachons une grande importance au dialogue et au multilinguisme. La publication en anglais n’a pas à être une norme exclusive, mais sera encouragée en complément de publications dans les autres langues.”


Translation, interpretation?

I suppose that it was the choice of English as a language for the original version that evened some of the corners, and left all the more room for interpretation when we translated it back to our native (or almost native) languages. Many things left under the table in order to be understandable by everyone in the English version got on the table again when it came to transmit the very same message to our native scientific community, beginning with the title itself.




As much as all versions agree on the choice of “manifest” as a text genre and on DH as the general field concerned, it remains a major problem to define the public the manifesto is speaking up for. For me, it was clear that the manifesto was the voice of all the people working in DH, in and out of Academia proper but in connection with it, and without a fixed position and/or a career perspective. But this was my personal interpretation, and bringing even this to a common denominator that would also be valid in all the cultural areas we wanted to embrace was not an easy task. Is everyone we talk about doing research proper? There are also infrastructure developers who don’t work on research questions, but they are just as much concerned. Are all those people young? Of course not. Are their careers even all at their beginnings? Not even.

How come that there is no common vocabulary to designate those that make at least 70% (I don’t know the actual figure, this is just an assessment) of the people that make European research work? Is the system too ashamed of not being able to treat them fairly that they cannot even be named in a straight, clear and acceptable way, as the professors are? To answer in the metaphorical register of the German word for it, “Nachwuchs”: the time where we were only promising seeds is long gone, it is the trees that need be named, and the forest.

(and by the way, there is a Spanish translation as well!)

Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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