Why I blog

I’ve only been blogging at Glossographia for six weeks, but I’ve been blogging at my non-professional blog, The Growlery, for six years, which must correspond to a century or more in Internet time.    And over those past six years, but particularly over the past six weeks, I’ve been thinking a bit about the different reasons I blog.

I blog because I like to think someone out there is reading and thinking about an issue differently than they did before.   I have never been accused of being unopinionated, and the sharp immediacy of the blogging environment gives me a thrill I rarely find outside the classroom – with the added benefit that my words are there on the screen to mull over.  Want to know what I think about something?  You can be pretty sure I’ve written about it somewhere, and if not, you know where to ask.

I blog because the community of interesting and thoughtful people that I know through blogging.  Livejournal is not primarily the refuge of fourteen-year-old emo kids.  Fully one-third of my friends list has at least one graduate degree, and there are (at last count) a dozen people with doctorates and another half-dozen who are pursuing the doctorate. I know doctors, lawyers, and architects – most of whom I have never met in real life – and people from virtually any other field of endeavour you might think of.  Not to mention the reams of bright, fascinating people whose paths have not yet led them to further education, or never will.

I blog because of my colleagues.  Anthropology seems to be underrepresented in the academic blogosphere, in comparison to, say, history or linguistics (two other fields in which I have some specialized training and interest), which is a shame.  I find it to be absolutely essential not only as a tool for social networking, but also as a tool for playing around with ideas that may not yet be quite ready for peer review, but which need a collective of thinkers.   Is academic blogging playful, even trivial sometimes?  Sure, but so is 95% of what academics do on any given day.  Is it going to give me tenure?  Not likely, but I don’t sit up nights panicking about that.  Is it worthwhile, socially and intellectually?  Damn right it is.

I blog because I see the potential for blogging to change the way we think about academic mentorship also.  One of the real joys I had while working at McGill was to observe the level of student participation in presenting ongoing research, as in the NOCUSO field school blog from Finland, or the zooarchaeology field school blog from Parc Safari in southern Quebec, both spearheaded by my friend Andre Costopoulos, but written and run by the junior scholars there who I am happy to call my friends and colleagues also.  In these efforts, as well as in the web-published projects I run, I see a grand opportunity for extremely bright and thoughtful young scholars to develop their ideas and find their voice – as well as to stay in touch.   Next term I am looking forward to having my graduate students at Wayne do similar sorts of work.

I blog because I believe in the democratization of knowledge.   That may sound all highfalutin and whatnot, but what it comes down to is a feeling of obligation to share things that I know, without any expectation of reward.  I’ve been doing that for over a decade now at the Phrontistery, and my motivation is still much the same as it was back in 1996 in the Middle Paleo-Internet.  Sure, my day job involves me getting paid to share my knowledge, but that doesn’t mean I think I should get paid for everything I write.  I am privileged enough to enjoy a career that allows me the freedom to do this service.

I blog because of my friends (academic and otherwise).  I recently moved to a city of 300,000 where I know virtually no one who is not a blood relation – and let me tell you, I don’t do well in isolation.  Most of my closest friends are nine hours’ drive away in Montreal, and most of the rest are even more distant.  But over the past little while I’ve come to realize that I’m not really alone, and that, while I really do need to get out more, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to discount what I have here.   There are people I’ve never met in person with whom I feel  a strong personal connection.  There are also people I once knew as well as family who have faded from my life through their absence, which I regret, and hope to avoid in the future.

I blog because of my family.  I don’t know what Arthur will think of the various things I have written about his young life, when he’s older and jaded and thinks his dad is a big dork.    I’d like to think though that there is value in having this record of funny moments and strange episodes, the sort of minutiae that most people never know about.  And I blog because Julia blogs – she was the one who sucked me into this life, after all – and not a day goes by that we don’t spend some time looking over one another’s shoulder at some funny thing, or talking about something we’ve encountered in our mutual journey.

Lastly, I blog for me.  I’m not sure what kind of person I would be without this outlet, but I can’t imagine that I would be better off.   Like a lot of people, I can be anxious, I can be overanalytical, and I can be wracked with doubt.   But having the ability to express these thoughts in a relatively neutral medium can be (and is) a great source of personal strength.  And having the ability to look back on things I wrote long ago, to rethink an issue, or just to remember a good day warmly, is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Translation follies

This BBC News story has been making the rounds on various blogs, but in case you haven’t seen it:

Officials in Swansea, Wales, UK, emailed a translator, requesting a Welsh translation for a bilingual road sign that in English reads:

No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only.

Unfortunately, the emailed response they got was:

Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu.

which apparently translates to ‘I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.’

Oops. (see also this example from Language Log)

The linguistic situation in Wales is fascinating due to a strong linguistic resurgence related to Welsh national identity.  Although Welsh has never been an endangered language (certain parts of it have a majority of Welsh speakers), it is spoken to widely different degrees in different regions.  But by regulation, all road signs in Wales are supposed to be bilingual, creating a huge market for translation. (This stands in direct contrast to my former home province of Quebec, where bilingual public signs are forbidden – they must be in French only).   While Swansea is relatively anglophone (only 13% of the city’s inhabitants are fluent in Welsh, according to 2001 census data), the rule applies nonetheless.  Whether bilingual public signage actually provides support for language retention is an open and very interesting question, but at the very least it reflects a changing language ideology in the region in favour of Welsh.

Another set of interesting issue around this mistranslation is raised in the comments on the Language Log post.   Bob Moore wonders, “I am left wondering who this automated reply could possibly be intended for. Since virtually all Welsh speakers also speak English, surely this person’s clients are mainly English speakers who do not speak Welsh. But those are exactly the folks who would not understand the message.”  Bill Poser suggests that it is possible that a Welsh linguistic nationalist would have a monolingual Welsh auto-reply as an expression of identity (a situation that would be quite familiar to anyone who has spent any time in Montreal).   However, a couple of other respondents point out that perhaps the auto-reply was bilingual, but that the hapless recipient took the English to be the auto-reply part of the message, and then understood the Welsh part to be the actual translation.