5 Conclusions

The linguistic aspect is just the surface of a much deeper phenomenon: cultural and scientific interest for other regions. Do we really wish to share knowledge? How can we surpass the present fragmentation if we do not take the language problem more seriously? We communicate and travel more than ever. But we are educated in a certain culture and become familiar with a language-dependent scientific literature. French speakers will cite mainly French sources while an English-speaking researcher will select references in English. Many other scientific publications are black-boxes for foreign readers because of the language. If you meet references to Romanian archaeological literature, you have either to believe or ignore them. Usually, you will choose to ignore.

The European Association of Archaeologists (EEA), while promoting English as the unique official language of the organisation since its creation in 1994, for declared reasons of cost-cutting with translation, and facing resistance from many countries for this reason, opposes this old habit of archaeologists to gather in monolingual circles during conferences. The organisers do not allow conference sessions with representatives from just one country. Still, people tend to group based on affinities of language as much as interest in research topics: you will see sessions dominated by Russian or German-speaking archaeologists.

Look at handbooks and syntheses claiming state-of-the-art global coverage: the bibliography is often restricted to the language of the author. The same is true for students in universities: they receive references following the same language pattern. A couple of years ago, the Faculty of History at the University of Bucharest introduced a foreign language competence test prior to the admission examination. They had to give up after one or two years because of concerns over a diminishing number of students. There is now a minimal bibliography in Romanian (which is considered mandatory) for each exam during the studies. An optional bibliography can include titles in foreign languages. I am confident that similar rules, implicitly or explicitly, are applied in many universities around the world.

To break the boundaries of languages without loosing cultural originality is no easy task. Action is needed in both directions: to translate more in international languages and to learn more languages in order to be able to read scientific literature. Multilingualism should be promoted not only in official statements and international conventions but also at the level of each cultural heritage organisation and educational body. European organisations have to spend more on language learning. The more people are exposed to a variety of languages, the more misconception and ignorance will diminish.

We have to translate in widely spread languages to facilitate access to knowledge written in less well-known languages as a concerted action. At present, less developed countries and communities alone often carry the burden of spending for translation into and from their language. More solidarity from developed countries is called for. The web is a good medium to disseminate information in digital format. European organisations should allocate more money for that. Language may be a barrier but can become a bridge.

But language is not enough. Understanding depends on common theoretical approaches in interpretation, on common standards and procedures in excavation, research and documentation. Interest in one work or another depends on the quality of the research, the importance of the topic and the originality of the conclusions. The degree to which one can explore scientific interpretations is related to confidence in one's data. Data recording is the easiest to standardise. The more common standards, the less language will impede understanding.

To facilitate communication across languages, we should revise the conservative way we publish archaeological research. A conservatism that persists despite developments in information and communications technologies. Franois Djindjian (2004, 51) proposes a new way to publish archaeological research, with several variants of the text and full data sources in digital format on CD-ROM: academic text in natural language, text in logically formalised language, text for education and text for non-specialist, list of objects, data tables, drawings, maps, photos, analogies, experiments, ethnographic reports, historical sources, restitutions etc.

Cultural heritage and humanities in general are research areas with a strong public impact. Multilingualism is even more important for the multiple public groups with whom we want to share our cultural heritage. The web is again a good medium to address language communities which are no longer located in one country. Large museums offer multilingual audio and published guides. Small museums and archaeological sites must provide at least labels and introductory texts in several languages.

Multilingual - multicultural - multidisciplinary: the first addresses understanding, the second cultural specificity, and the third other fields of knowledge. They all mean open-mindedness, tolerance, curiosity and respect, key factors to progress and a healthy social environment.

Globalisation and the Information Society seem to pull us in different directions: accepting English as a lingua franca while reserving cultural and linguistic diversity. But these do not need to be in opposition to one another. As difficult to reconcile as it seems, these trends are complementary. We must openly discuss and identify the necessary actions. This article is a step in this direction.


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