Languages, lipstick and some more

I received a tweet and an email about an article which appeared in the Language and Linguistics section of fifteeneightyfour, the blog of Cambridge University Press. Below, my views.

Carmen Pérez-Llantada appreciates the richness and the power of the words that scholars use in their communication of science. They do so to present the facts they study, to share their observations and educate their readership. Of course, Pérez-Llantada doesn’t use such a strong word as educate. She skilfully softens it to “align their readers’ views to their own”. Which is, to my mind, exactly what science communication should be doing. And she aptly characterizes the professional use of language as skilful and crafty. A wonderful choice of words for more than one reason.

Pérez-Llantada rightfully starts from the power of languages to shape new knowledge in the respective fields of use which has become more visible than ever through the use of the Internet for the professional communication of science. And then she correctly moves on to the necessity to spur the “multilingualization of new and existing knowledge available only in English”. Why does she, along with other experts, consider the use of more languages besides English so important? A conceptually simple, but pragmatically somehow difficult to grasp answer: how else than in their own languages can field practitioners and policy makers use such knowledge for addressing problems at a local scale (she quotes Amano et al., 2016).

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

I greatly appreciate that such an acknowledged and respected expert in applied linguistics as Carmen Pérez-Llantada deals with such a complex issue. Particularly when her own first language is Spanish and English is her professional/academic means of communication. And yet, though coming from one of the widely used languages in the world, Pérez-Llantada is well aware of the many nuances of a science communication linguistic monopoly. Opening up science communication to the larger public is a must today in a world divided not only by understanding languages, but by various types of fake news and the difficulty to address “gloCal”, global and local, audiences.  


Pérez-Llantada insists in a polite academic way on the necessity to preserve the rich linguistic ecology in the public communication of science.  And she thinks that we, multilingual scientists, may improve the situation by taking advantage of the resources that the Internet offers. She invites us, and through us I imagine that she targets local practitioners and decision makers, to learn how to go beyond the lipstick on the pigs, and get trained and effective in the use of the many, versatile means of web 2.0 communication.

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

I mostly agree with her points. Where I see things, not necessarily differently, but wearing my local, Romanian linguistic lenses, which makes me see the world in Romanian colours and hues, is where I strongly believe that beyond the scientists, researchers, scholars, experts, professionals there is a place for decision and policy makers to have a vision of what scientific production really means, of the collaboration it entails and, above all, of the profound need and possibly right to be allowed to think and work in one’s own language as well. And acknowledge that need somehow in the many and constantly changing admin criteria that govern the lives of the above-mentioned categories.

A welcome and worthy post.



My daughter bought a map the other day. I thought it was for our grandchildren visiting for Easter. They have difficulties reading a paper map which is still required, for good reason I’d say, in school. No, she said, it’s not for them. It’s for me and Redmund, her partner, to signal the places we visited. Separately or together. It’s fun, mum, don’t you think!?

It absolutely is. Plus, it brings back my old concern about digital maps. I love digital maps, I’m often, though not always, grateful to Waze or Google Maps (in that order) for their existence. But, I can’t “think” without a paper map. I discover, however, that I’m not the only one.

In this article in USA Today you can find lots of reasons why people still prefer paper maps and why the industry is actually thriving. I resonate with a lot of them, but my favourite is “Paper maps for planning and GPS in transit”.

And today, a slow day even if it’s a Monday, the second day of Orthodox Easter, I can indulge in doing “useless” things, such as looking at maps. So, here’s a look at some fascinating maps. They are all amazing. However, I particularly like the following: 9. The Roman Empire vs. the Mongol Empire at their peak (ha, ha); 10. The most popular last names in Europe, and 14. The oldest universities in Europe that are still open.

As it often happens, from this article I was lured to the next one “Maps with Unusual Information”. I’ll leave you to discover what alphabets are used around the world or how welcoming a country is to strangers.

A great way to start a day – for me. Have fun.


On plagues and other … hopes

This is a long, but rewarding story. It can be also listened to. While you do your walking around your flat, or do something else than watch some kind of … screen.

Every story of an epidemic is a story of illiteracy, language made powerless, man made brute. A plague, says Jill Lepore, the author, is like a lobotomy. It cuts away the higher realms, the loftiest capacities of humanity, and leaves only the animal.

Every plague novel is a parable of the human condition. Albert Camus defined the novel as the place where humans are abandoned to other humans. Lepore goes on saying that in plague novels all human beings abandon all other human beings. She quotes some wise words from Camus, particularly doctor Rieux’ thoughts at the end: “He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good . . . and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

The conclusion is that men will always become, again, rats. If you think that is bleak, think again. I just cut out the parts I wanted from this story so I might be wrong. Plus, there’s always hope in the wisdom of books. And we do change the world as we do our best to survive. Even though Riux “knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”

Listen or read – there’s no better time as now. And even read “The Plague” by Camus.