Insomnia (why I blog in English and how)

I couldn’t find my sleep yesterday. This happens a couple of times in the year, when I am overworked and underbicycled. While not being able to sleep, my thoughts went through my head first in French – that was the part where I cursed myself for working too much. Then, it switched to German in order to try and help me reconcile me with myself. And finally, when I managed to move on to lulling myself to sleep, it switched again – to English. At which point I really couldn’t sleep anymore. Wait a minute, what are the functions the three languages have in my head exactly?

In the past weeks, I had been thinking again about the fact that I blog in English although I clearly don’t master it so well. In a sense, doing so goes against my personal convictions about languages, that they must be spoken – and, more importantly, written – to some degree of perfection for you to legitimately use them. I wrote about these contradictions in an older blog post, in which I also stated the obvious, e.g. that writing in English enables me to reach more people. And not to have to choose between German and French.

English is good for its density, for being able to throw short sentences, a noun a verb another noun and it’s a blast already. The words are so expressive that you almost don’t need any syntax to write in a funny, interesting way, to formulate ideas that sound even better than when you were just vaguely thinking about them. English is witty and for that reason, it is the ideal language to blog, if you consider – like I do – that blogging is not a completely academical way of writing.

It struck me how easy it is to fall prey to a few magical formulas while reading William Clark’s Academic Charisma. I love the book, I even appreciated the way it insists on its big theses and comes back to those again and again. But somehow I got tired of them being reducible to either shiny epithets or a sentence you have the feeling you have read 30 times already.

I know the feeling from writing the blog. Maybe there are objective reasons – maybe my inspiration really has left me and I am just actually repeating myself. But I suspect that this feeling also has to do with the poorness of my vocabulary. Not only would I like to know more words: I would like to have a more sophisticated syntax. Watching the Daily Show every evening certainly doesn’t help my brain fight the love for definitive and witty formulations (I will proceed watching it though, especially since we got a new router to make the streaming better).

Without wanting to write like Salman Rushdie (whom I would be happy if I were able to read it and understand half of the words he uses and/or roughly sort out his sentences), I consider it a legitimate ambition – for your sake, dear reader, and mine – for me to improve my written English. Also because the last thing I remember before actually falling asleep around 3 a.m. was: “I am going to write, I am going to have time to write”. And I could not say in which language I had this one thought.


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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