Balkan Babel: Translation Zones, Military Zones

Emily Apter


s the field of translation studies begins to respond to new directions in transnational literary studies, there has been a foregrounding of topics such as the “dependency” of minoritarian languages on dominant, vehicular ones; the links among linguistic standardization, nation-building, and the colonial export of European languages; the ways in which a global economy reinforces the imperium of English; the emergence of an international canon of books that are translation-friendly (in a market sense); and the definition of a “translational transnationalism” in terms of diversal relations among minoritarian languages.1 This last conceptual area is clearly indebted to the pioneering study of Franz Kafka by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.2 In a seminal chapter entitled “What Is Minor Literature?” Deleuze and Guattari analyzed Kafka’s German as a pastiche of the “vehicular” tongue — meaning, in this case, the impoverished bureaucratese, the hollow state language imposed on Czechoslovakia by the Prussian state. According to their reading, Kafka subverted the vehicular by freighting it with unwelcome baggage, from Yiddish inflections to scraps of Czech vernacular. Now, even if the newly edited and translated Malcolm Pasley and Mark Harman editions of Kafka reveal a very differently textured use of the German language from the one characterized by

1. I discuss the term translational transnationalism in more detail in my essay “On Translation in a Global Market” (in this issue of Public Culture). 2. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
Public Culture 13(1): 65–80 Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press


born in Montreal of Scottish parents.Public Culture Deleuze and Guattari. the translation of Irvine Welsh’s Scottish argot in Trainspotting into Quebecois Joual. William Findlay and Martin Bowman (Toronto: Exile Editions. we already have the example of Michel Tremblay’s Les belles-soeurs. Michel Tremblay. Irvine Welsh. The Castle: A New Translation Based on the Restored Text. the translation process is now conceptualized as occurring within a field of the minor. 1987).literarytranslation. the parenthetical numbers refer to the translators’ explanatory footnotes: “J’ai envie d’me battre (1) tabarnak (2)! J’veux dire (3)! Tu m’connais tsé. Nationalism and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism (Berkeley: University of California Press. Trainspotting (London: Minerva. For an example of the new translation.3 In the field of transnational translation studies. Bowman and Mouawad explain: The translation attempts to reflect the rhythm of the original sentence. trans. In the following excerpt from the Joual translation. points to a future space-time of translation between. a theater director born in Beirut and brought up in Montreal. 66 . 1994). 5. more recently still. but to do so within its own sound system. the carryover of sedimented layers of linguistic history and “lost” inflection — become particularly acute when the transference is between socalled minor or highly idiomatic languages. 1988). for example. 4. say. trans. available as recently as June 2000. And if these exchanges still seem far off. see Franz Kafka. 1998). as it moves beyond Deleuze and Guattari. the rendering of sound values and rhythm. their idea of minor literature has been crucial to defining the “trans” unit in literary transnationalism. in which they arrived at a particular orthography and transposed demotic to capture the language of Welsh’s Scots speakers in Joual. Translational transnationalism. the pioneering work of Joual theater that was put on at the Edinburgh Festival several years ago as The Guid-Sisters in Scots translation. and Wajdi Mouawad.html. Tagalog and Ogoni or Wolof and Spanglish. The Guid-Sisters. mais j’étais le gars avec le câlisse de bat de billard din’s (5) mains et c’te grosse plotte là à face d’étron (6) pouvait bien se r’trouver a’c (7) le câlisse du bout gras du bat dans sa câlisse de grosse yeule. j’sus pas l’genre de grosse plotte tabarnak à charcher (4) des hostis d’problèmes. For broader applications see. David Lloyd.4 The British Council translation Web site refers us to the collaboration between Martin Bowman.” in “Trainspotting” at http://www. “The Text in Joual. certain literal elements had to be Mark Harman (New York: Schocken Books. or. si y’avait envie (8) J’suis prète à l’faire (9) tabarnak!”5 The notes reveal how the problems typically attending standard language translation — compensation for nonequivalency. the ramifications are clear: rather than a major language acting as the general equivalent between two or more minor languages.

i. We liked the repetition of the hard ‘c’ in tabarnaké.dropped. of course. fuckin. corps. i. and it is where these edges meet—the volatile zones of translation. Maria Todorova in discussion of her book. In the Scots the violent effect is reflected not only in the consonants but in the use of monosyllabic plurals.” Balkanism is a term wielded by Maria Todorova in her book Imagining the Balkans as a self-conscious counterpoint to Saidian Orientalism. câlisses. fuckin. Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press.e. 25 May 2000. in representative literary works from 6. and colloquial speech define the abrasive edges of translation studies. underscores the vitality of the vernacular for all the poverty of imagination of the speaker. ken. This creative use of the vocabulary of religious words. 1997). replaces ‘ah mind’. (eg. together. They also serve inadvertently to question the grounds of aesthetic judgment by drawing attention to the difficulty of distinguishing between vernacular deviations and poetic warpings of standard language.”8 There is nonetheless. bits. no writer has brought this ambiguity more pointedly into focus than James Joyce. or from minority to minority tongue. Like the “trans to trans” of transnational affiliations. tabarnaké. In other words.7 Todorova and other scholars of Balkanism caution judiciously against regional stereotyping that equates “Balkan” with ethnic cleansing. 2. bloodletting. University of California at Los Angeles. cunt. câlisse as the sound functions to underscore the violence in the action being described and is captured in such words in the original as smashin. the zones of linguistic warfare— that I would situate my own discussion of what I call “Balkan Babel.” n. “semi-developed. criss. the translators here are trying for an effect based as much in sound as in meaning. Balkan Babel 67 . and. turning what are usually nouns into verbs and adverbs. lends substance to theoretical speculations about translation’s relationship to transnationalism: it is precisely a meeting between argots over the bodies of the official tongues from which they depart.e. These tensions among vehicular. a perpetual underground and mongrel regionalism. literary.e. One reader’s “bad English” or “bad French” will be another’s high poetry. crabs. 8. Maria Todorova. “an incomplete self of the West. crabes. bypassing (while certainly acknowledging) standard usage. I remember) The main phenomenon to observe here is the use of the expletive language to create the rhythm and to observe the use of one of these words as a verb. 7. i. ‘ensemble’. “The Text in Joual. semi-colonial” Europe. the bonds forged between ethnic and proletarian vernaculars in different cultures defy the gold standard of vehicular languages such as English and French. stanes.6 This translation from dialect to dialect.

” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts.” in Destabilizing Theory: Contemporary Feminist Debates. From the market in pocket translators to the onslaught of universal standards of technological literacy and the rise of comprador computer dialects that aggressively squeeze out weak competitors. off-kilter semantic missiles are beached or disabled. see Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. John Hodgson (New York: Vintage International. or marginalized world languages. “‘Untranslatable’ Algeria. where linguistic separatism is enforced by high surveillance a pronounced thematic focus on border wars and fractious linguistic copopulation. ed. fortification. or where misfired. For a discussion of the marketing of translations of non-Western literature and the historic difficulties these works have in breaking into the global literary canon. ed. 68 . an area of border trouble where the lines dividing discrete languages are muddy and disputatious. bombardment. It is from these works that I take my cue in treating “Balkan” as a synonym of a particular kind of translational transnationalism. barrage. a language war of the information age is taking shape with a distinctly bellicose rhetoric.” parallax 7 (April–June 1998): 47–60. Buy. Penn. Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier (Pittsburgh. and the loss of public safety. “The Politics of Translation. the paradigm of a translation zone at war may be applied beyond the Balkans to the way in which monolingual nations police their internal linguistic borders and to revolts against the computer as a machinic labor force in the economy of global translation. on the question of what occurs semiotically and socially when dialects. trans. [1978] 1997). The Three-Arched Bridge. Recent reports of attacks on Internet sites (Yahoo. in which emphasis is placed not so much on market determinations of the flow of minor languages and literatures but. siege. it makes more sense to define it as a translation no-fly zone. are in a war of maneuver unmediated by a major language of position.Public Culture southeastern Europe. 1995).: University of Pittsburgh Press. Edward Said. Wilhelm von Humboldt. eBay) consistently rely on the language of ballistics: assault. “Embargoed Literature. In this context. with particular agendas and strategic interests. and Jürgen Habermas). But when war is at issue. 1982). 10. and Emily Apter. Hereafter cited as TB. Michèle Barrett and Anne Phillips (London: Polity Press. 71. rather. Ismail Kadare. language politics defines its theater of war in the space where a military zone may be superimposed on a linguistic hot spot or translation zone.9 ✦ ✦ ✦ A subset of politics at large. the declaration that “wars between languages are as fateful as wars between men”10 is 9. Construed in terms of border patrols and military operations. The expression translation zone could well refer to the demarcation of a community of speakers who achieve an ideal threshold of communication (the utopia of GottfriedWilhelm Leibniz.

11 Set in 1377. Broken April. Kadare’s novel uncannily anticipates the most recent Balkan conflagrations. Kadare’s searing portrayal of mountain country vendettas in Broken April (1978) is equally prescient. multilingualism asserts its importance at the bargaining table. Balkan Babel 69 . made the question of partition and permanent secession the order of the day. Bernard Lewis has identified this translator as a dragoman or turgeman. In the tense negotiations around the erection of the bridge. The Three-Arched Bridge traces how language wars fit into the larger picture of political misalliance. specifically the way in which the Mitrovica bridge on the Ibar River in northern Kosovo. an interpretermiddleman specialized in relaying information between the Holy Roman and Ottoman empires. In the Albanian author Ismail Kadare’s 1978 novel The Three-Arched Bridge. 1990). blood feuds. I noticed that their numbers were Latin and their verbs generally Greek or Slav. and NATO peacekeeping forces.12 the erasure of Tito’s Yugoslavia and the collapse of Soviet hegemony have introduced a wild card politics of East-West realignment that enables ancient ethnic. trans. See Lewis. indeed. a professional translator in the employ of an impoverished Albanian count. while they used Albanian for the names of things. as when the narrator. 18). Ismail Kadare. “From Babel to Dragoman: The Tortuous History of the Interpreter in the Middle East. religious. John Hodgson (New York: New Amsterdam Books. flanked by self-appointed Serbian “bridge keepers. the politics of laying claim to linguistic superiority is paramount. Times Literary Supplement. Slowly I began to untangle the sounds. 12. For example. My ears had never heard such a babble. raising stakes in what is already a lethal game of diplomatic and cultural one-upmanship. take place without computer-assisted violence and defense strategy. Balkan babble — a condition of failed semantic transmission — obtains an isomorphic fit with Balkan Babel.” British Academy Elie Kedourie Memorial Lecture for 1998.truly premonitory and indicative of a present condition in which la guerre de Troyes will not. And in another instance: “The new arrivals did indeed speak the most horrible tongue. this statement is made by a European monk on his return from a diplomatic visit to Byzantium. heaps contempt on the “foreigners” (Turks) by derogating their speech (it is “easier to interpret for woodpeckers”) (TB. and cultural feuds to reignite in the guise of modern mafia warfare. It is spoken to the novel’s main character. 5012 (23 April 1999): 12–14. and border trauma. no.” Albanian militants. 11. a Tower of Babel turned on its side to form a hapless bridge intended to ford the unbridgeable gulf between Europe and the so-called East. a translator who is negotiating the terms of the construction of a bridge that would span rivalrous Balkan and Ottoman territories.

he. 70). This confusion issuing from strangers’ mouths is transliterated as broken English: “This road bad because non maintain. emphasis in original). he. sto dhjavolos. take. the narrator makes the familiar argument that the Albanian language “is contemporary with if not older than Greek.Public Culture and now and then a word of German. has instruct. was proved by the words that Greek had borrowed from our tongue”— and. Water different. The translation implies a corrupt original language — Slavo-Germanic pidgin—whose broken grammar and encrypted allusions to bad roads. we fast money. but vdrug many drown. with roots in the region “since time immemorial” and with a tradition that has embittered the “newcomers” (the Slavs). 70). Water smooth itself. Funebrum. the term passes from the Turkish language virtually unnoticed into the vocabulary of the Albanians after the count sells the Turks a stretch of highway: “More than by the desire of the Ottomans to 70 . road sehr guten but need gut repair” (TB. and that this. “I told him. we has no tales. they are “not just any words. he then adds. 69). After informing his listener that Albanians. “that we are the descendants of the Illyrians and that the Latins call our country Arbanum or Albanum or Regnum Albaniae” (TB. To the narrator’s amazement. when it comes to the word Balkan itself.” and “nobody understands the danger” (TB. What’s in a name? The insidious beginning of an embattled condition is the answer. Kadare’s novel poses the proverbial question. together with the ancient Greeks. the monks say. language is a dialect protected by an army. like a black cloud”) (TB. routen need work. Here this situation relates specifically to the Albanian claim to “first language” status. a claim that remains active even today in the politics of regional chauvinism. They used no adjectives” (TB. give. boat move itself graciosus.” says the narrator. vengeful waters. mess complete. This linguistic patrimony is now under threat from the Ottoman language (“casting its shadow over both our languages. and drowning men foretells the contested construction of the bridge and the ensuing cycle of violent retribution that culminates in the encasement of a living man in the bridge’s rampart. 70). 13. Greek and Albanian. as some have said. bye-bye. If. are the oldest people in the Balkans. road no. It is in the context of these observations that the sympathetic interlocutor makes the remark about wars between languages and wars between men. The -luk suffix. he laments. road non. but the names of gods and heroes” (TB. 10–11). then The Three-Arched Bridge may be read as a study of what happens when the security forces protecting the reigning tongue start to lose their strategic advantage and become vulnerable to the invading force of multilingual language users whose polyglot idiolect has yet to select a dominant dialect for standardization. is pounding the originary tongue like “some dreadful hammer blow.

First published as Kadare. 1991). the “Ottoman hordes” advance upon them. Balkan Babel 71 . I was amazed by our readiness to accept the new name. According to our old men.’ . As the Albanian locals lose their ability to distinguish legend from fact. this anxiety is aggravated by East-West 13. Here one must caution against a neutral reading of this decidedly negative portrayal of linguistic Ottomanization in the light of Kadare’s political orientation. 27). 1994). in delirium. Emile Capouya (London: Saqi Books. A dissident exile living in Paris since 1990. But it is also in their denunciation of the East that these texts function effectively as symptoms of what they diagnose — a condition of Balkan Babel defined by the acute anxieties that surround possession of a discrete language in territories of intense linguistic variegation and border conflict. 183). Printemps albanais (Paris: Librairie Fayard. as evinced in a polemical pamphlet on “the anatomy of tyranny” in which he refers derisively to the “baggage of the Ottoman overlords” while longingly prognosticating “a great rectification of [Albania’s] history that will hasten its union with the mother continent—Europe. Smuggled across the border in the guise of a commercially motivated translation operation. Albanian Spring: The Anatomy of Tyranny. impossible to contain.cover under one name the countries and peoples of the peninsula. subjecting their “majestic language” to the “terrible ‘luk’ ” that strikes their native tongue like “a reptile’s tail” (TB. or land of jerm” (TB. . which means the place where people gabble in delirium. “it was the ‘Jermans’ who were coming. these people have even begun to call their own country Jermani. the Turkish language behaves like germ warfare.” the narrator says. trans. Ismail Kadare. and now I am convinced that it is worse than that” (TB. 34. Though not unique to the Balkans. if one is committed to warding off the latest iterations of Orientalism. anti-Turkish. they were described as ‘people who talk as if in jerm. I always thought that this was a bad sign. yet capable of spreading linguistic chaos once released into the atmosphere. The seeding of conflict in the very name “Balkan” repeats a prior history of Germanic self-appellation: “A century previously. and anti-Islamic stance. 25). . he is known for his pronounced pro-Europe. as if subsequently to devour them more easily. Polyglot chatter breaks out at the bridge — Europe’s symbolic weak link and the physical site of blood sacrifice — spreading confusion and narrative disorientation. This embedding of a story of Babel within ethnic and regional nomination acts as a secret weapon—a Trojan horse conceit — deployed by Albania’s invaders. or beginnings from endings.”13 Kadare’s professed commitment to removing the traces of Turkish language and cultural influence on a future Albania surely render his texts problematic as exemplars of language politics.

if not as the occasion of rewriting. thought to be a dervish. who destroy by night what has been built by day. as in The Three-Arched Bridge. erupts on the occasion of a diplomatic translation: an old man from the Turkish side. Conn. As the novel moves forward to the end of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of civil war. The fateful construction of a bridge excites the wrath of the boatmen.” Intentionally performing a shoddy job. decades before the Berlin Wall would come down. by the historic failure of nationalist linguistic policy to eliminate discrepancies. If at times border wars are fueled by the lack of official recognition accorded small linguistic differences. the translator puts “the worst possible construction on the old man’s exalted phrases” such that they seem to “smell of politics and 14. 72 . The Bridge on the Drina spans several centuries and replays the smoldering tensions between Orthodox Serbs and Islamic converts. with local militias doubling as military troops. in the syntax of his politics and feelings. The Nobel prize –winning Serbian author Ivo Andri´ . by the physical proximity of differential language groups (with a language shift occurring at virtually every train stop). despite their overriding grammatical homologies.” Steiner. the vindication of a language. and by the proliferation of hybrid dialects that fall short of qualifying as standard languages.: Yale University Press. The political motivations of linguistic separatism are no more clearly in evidence than in the post-Bosnia decision to break Serbian and Croatian into separately classified tongues. and vice versa. may be a lethal affair. [1958] 1998). than in Cologne. In the Balkans. and the Inhuman (New Haven. language divisionism could be most acute where homonymy was greatest. by the term Balkanization. and many writers have fastened on this problematic as key to understanding not only regional factionalism but also the symptomatology carried. in Peking or Albania. but have contrary definitions.” Steiner concludes: “The words may continue to sound alike. the politics of blood tribute evolve seamlessly into the politics of occupation. Language and Silence: Essays on Language. or even a word. A young East German might come to be more at home. in other instances it is the threat of sameness that sparks discord.Public Culture barriers of untranslatability. must forfeit the life of one of their own as punishment. for better or for worse. whose 1945 novel The c Bridge on the Drina clearly served as inspiration for. 348–49. Violence. As George Steiner noted in 1963. Observing the way in which “The East German language is developing its own jargon and dialect. gives special focus to the responsibility language bears for making Balkanization a synonym of profound regional dysfunction.14 by the sameness between languages (such as Serbian and Croatian) that have been declared separate by official decree. wanders unsuspectingly into the Serbian camp and is subjected to interrogation through the intermediary of a translator with “poor knowledge of the Turkish language. The Three-Arched Bridge. Literature. and who. Set in Bosnia. as in the Kadare novel.

Evidence of how this fatal heritage gets passed on to future generations crops up in The Palace of Dreams. the adversaries had taken from each other not only women. the Balkans become a microcosm of a state of civil society driven by what Manuel de Landa calls “intelligent machines. propelling themselves through maneuvers independent of individual agents. The curse activates a code of honor that exacts blood payment for the redemption of good name and commits future generations to unrequited warfare. Ivo Andri´ . Edwards (Chicago: University of c Chicago Press. The commination has the power of first strike. In the fictional worlds of Andri´ and Kadare. trans. Many a verse passed from one to the other as the most precious of booty” (BD. embodying the terrible seriousness of cursing in Balkan lands. Turkish soldiers find their opportunity for retribution when they happen upon a mill attendant in a remote forest area as he is giving full throat to a ballad of ancient Serbia normally reserved for “closed houses” (BD. 86. which had been waged in Bosnia for centuries between two faiths. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (New York: Zone Books. proceed full tilt into battle. From this perspective. The narrator explains: “In that great and strange struggle. In Kadare’s novels. setting in motion the tit-for-tat engine of a language war. horses and arms but also songs. the anodyne practice of linguistic border-crossing c —from the adoption of loan words to the appropriation of a rival country’s verse — becomes enmeshed in a paranoid psychology of transferential identification with the other’s words in which each side hears the theft of its patrimony in the other’s language.”16 Only here. built according to strict rules and safety measures culled from archival manuals. 1991). 87).seditious intent. Lovett F. The verse that speaks of a maiden whose lover hopes to carry a standard for her into battle is particularly offensive to the Turks. Tracked like illegal transients. 16. convinced that the words maiden and standard have been subversively purloined from their language. in 15. Manuel de Landa. Formally launched by the Turks against Europe. the commination resembles a machinic technology. Christendom and Islam. words become subject to military patrol. Balkan Babel 73 . As East and West.”15 And so the old man is marked for execution. [1945] 1977). to threaten punishment or vengeance). de Landa’s vision of smart bombs and robotic channelers of human will are replaced in the Balkan context by age-old linguistic technologies.” a gestural speech-act or ritual curse (from the Latin comminari. for land and power and their own conception of life and order. The Bridge on the Drina. 87–88). consider specific moments in The Three-Arched Bridge. Hereafter cited as BD. their border infractions punishable by death. the war machine is set in motion by a “commination. a sequel novel to The Three-Arched Bridge.

of Carl 17. George Steiner. 1979). Literature. 19. Le collège de sociologie: 1937–1939 (Paris: Gallimard. 1998). This “dead” language — something on the order of what George Steiner would identify as the “post-linguistic” condition of inhumanism20 — describes language as pure linguistic technology geared up for militaristic use. Archeology of Violence. 13–14. the commination reveals how war is structured like a language. perhaps Kadare’s most harrowing novel. Each infraction of the laws of hospitality triggers ritual killing. 1980). though reduced to local scale. . trans. survive in a state of permanent war that recalls Pierre Clastres’s theory of “the archeology of war. Pierre Clastres. 255–67. translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by Barbara Bray (New York: Arcade Publishing. or the right to “own a death” redeemed by taking X number of family hits. economized in the currency of truce periods and funeral tithes. this structuralist vision of tribal peoples bound together in community by a common language of perpetual war is exemplified to the extreme.Public Culture which the protagonist discovers that his family name is a cursed patronymic because an ancestor had adopted the name of the “bridge with three arches in central Albania. 1994). Conn. his descendants to an association with the “stigma of murder. in Denis Hollier. The inhabitants of a remote Albanian mountain village. Cited passage italicized in the original text. with its power to transform humans into a caste of fabricated beings called “men at war.”18 Operating according to strict rules of linguistic and social contract. This description is reminiscent. 55.”17 With its grammar of threats and punishments. vengeful cycles and blood sacrifice. charting wins and losses without affect. Translation of Clastres.’ since they remained in a permanent state of war.”19 Over and over. debt wound paid off by human life. “Structure et fonction de l’armée” (1938). Kadare depicts war as language — that is. Jeanine Herman (New York: Semiotext(e). Georges Bataille. 18. The Palace of Dreams. . 74 . 20. certainly. Language and Silence: Essays on Language. as a transparent accounting of death’s score. nonetheless exhibits the key structural functions attributed by Georges Bataille to military subcultures in his notes on “The Structure and Function of the Army”: the psychic economy of the sacrificial victim. locked into the rules of the besa (code of honor). built with a man walled up in its foundations. or with the precision and dryness of mathematical notation. who he claims “participated in the same cultural model without ever constituting a ‘nation. for ever after. Ismail Kadare.” thus dooming. Recherches d’anthropologie politique (Paris: Seuil. fealty to the autonomous engine of destruction. there is zero-sum ambiguity in the moves each side makes. and the Inhuman (New Haven. . mystical corporatism. 1993).” specifically the case of the Tupi-Guarani Indians.: Yale University Press. vii. The war machine. In Broken April.

” in Selected Essays of Wilson Harris: The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination.” leading inexorably to “an institutional self-division of humanity. J. N. following the French theorist Paul Virilio. When extrapolated to the battlefield of language wars. On War. “mafia” becomes virtually synonymous with Balkanization in its most recognizable contemporary dress. “Creoleness. the way in which a recent essay bemoaning the decline of French as a global language warns against the auxiliary evil of pidginization: “If the fate of French is to become the ancient Greek of the twenty-first century. the second. ed. and border patrol. The Three-Arched Bridge and Broken April offer. 87.: Princeton University Press.22 Harris makes careful use of the term mafia. Carl von Clausewitz. following the Guyanese writer Wilson Harris. characterizable as Total War. 1999). a hidden authoritarianism that cements its vested interest in the preservation of ruling convention. referring not to the “Family” Italo-American style or. trans. Mark Polizotti (New York: Semiotext(e). Consider. 1983). that is.” but to a “perverse commitment to a privileged frame or family. Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer. trans. Broken April constructs its paradigm around a technocratic language of almost digital simplicity: strokes and naughts.J. hits and misses. 23.” 238–39. In this paradigm. characterizable as mafia war. for that matter. pitching Ottoman polyglotism against European monolingualism in a fight that can only end in Balkan Babel. we can discern a fanned out version of the “mafia-effect” in the “English Only” movement in the United States.” “Mafia. suggests a logic of “divorced or separated or closed orders and worlds.’ ” of war that would “drive policy out of office and rule by the laws of its own nature.”23 In Harris’s ascription. two distinct models of language war that eventually join up with each other: the first. M.” thus abstracted. Wilson Harris. A. ethnic cleansing. Bundy (London: Routledge. “Creoleness. respectively. “mafia” represents the fortification of linguistic essentialism and the patrolling of creolization. in this regard. Harris. vigilante or guerilla force of organized crime. an arms-trafficking.” an “invariant code or fate. Balkan Babel 75 . or more pointedly still. In this sense. 22. politically invested in social apartheid. to “any other aspect of a hegemonic underworld. the situation of English is even less enviable — that of kitchen Latin — broken English as the vehicular language is no more favorable to culture as we 21. in groups that attempt to safeguard the purity of a national standard language. minimal margins of error. dialects and standard languages alike are flattened into the Esperanto of intelligent machines. Pure War.von Clausewitz’s intimation of “combat no longer guided by the ‘will of a guiding intelligence.”21 Unlike the messy border wars that prevail in The ThreeArched Bridge. 1976). Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton.

”24 According to this argument. Mottling.Public Culture understand it. Calif. and accessed through the aptly named Web site http://mediafilter.: Chusma House Publications. José Montoya. 1992). March–April 1999: 103 (my translation).” le débat. Typical Web pages are rife with anticapitalist. The (frequently censored) satirical journal Feral Tribune. In another poem “Until They Leave us A Loan. published in Split. In the poem “Gabby Took the 99. anti-U. Croatia. mixes Croatian and English in its texts and graphic designs.S.” the homophonic play between a financial loan and the angry message “leave us alone” underscores the jarring collision between English and Spanish within hybrid speech.feral-tribune.” “wetback” Spanish or Calo may be read as mottled language. or El highway 99 blend in with a landscape that is itself a quintessential translation zone between Mexico and the United and http://www. high camp caricatures deployed in a war against repression at home and indifference abroad. If mafia war. by contrast. Phrases such as el troque for truck. 25. applied to language. we see that mottling appears in the Internet activism of opposition groups. sentiment: while Mickey and Minnie Mouse cavort with corrupt politicians. the preservation of “culture as we understand it” would chase hybrid tongues underground. vitriolic. This idea of camouflage could be applied to writers like Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi who may be seen as ushering in Indian “corruptions” of standard English under the auspices of vernacular literateneness. Virilio’s notion of Total War (referring to the universal language of bunker architecture and antiaircraft shelters that function as “reference points or landmarks to the totalitarian nature of war in space and myth”) might be keyed to 24. “Pourquoi le français devient une langue comme les autres. Antoine Compagnon. coincides with what Virilio calls an “intestinal” localism. no. a hybrid language media pamphlet accessible to readers beyond the Balkans. the familiar army recruitment shot of Uncle Sam mobilizes insulting language as activist invective: i want you to explain me what a fuck is going on here! Feral Tribune’s Slav-inflected English and Anglo-Slavic puns belong to an arsenal of vulgar. 76 . whose poems frequently take on the territorial contests between Anglos and Latinos raging over the freeways. in effect. the caption reads “Welcome to Daytonland. vacant lots. and swimming holes of California. forcing them to assume such tactics of self-defense as camouflage or mottling. Information: 20 Years of Joda (San Jose. creating what is.25 Moving back to the Balkans. 104.” In another image. could be used with reference to the bilingual code-switching of the Chicano writer José

ed. in his words.Nuclear English. by the same token. Since it is not (but is merely related to) a natural language. and the Jesuit linguist Louis-Jean Calvet have traced how. it would not be in competition for educational resources with foreign languages proper but rather with that other fundamental interdisciplinary subject. advertises itself politically as a force of democracy.” Culture-free as calculus. Taylorized literacy in which signs do not misfire but. hit their mark with mathematical precision. Balkan Babel 77 . 1982).27 Nuclear English. 19. reducing the incidence of polysemy wherever possible. The relations of Nuclear English are less with the ivory tower than with public convenience. could its teachers be accused of wasting resources (as sometimes happens. But the obvious humanist rebuttal may be all too easy. constraining unconventional or pidgin grammar. Nuclear English seems to promote a denationalized. that would be as “culture-free as calculus. it seems to boil down to “restricting modalities. 2–3. Brumfit (Oxford: Pergamon Institute of English. is that it updates the old dream of a perfectly standardized. In execution. J. Nor. Randolph Quirk. and maximizing semantic intentionality. Ogden’s Basic English (BASIC) — that is. universal language for an age of intelligent machines. in Quirk’s ascription. “International Communication and the Concept of Nuclear English.26 The linguist Randolph Quirk invented the term Nuclear English to designate a language akin to C. Nuclear English is tantamount to a prescription for Total War on linguistic diversity and cultural inflection—nothing short of a nuclear attack on the language of humans. 26. a language. it would seem. Carried to its logical end. the latter to the explosion of lingua francas at the turn of the twentieth century? As regards the revolutionary heritage. C.” in English for International Communication. but a democracy aimed at the boardrooms of multinationals. aesthetic or emotional aspirations. with foreign languages and literatures) on an elitist disciplinary ornament for the few. with no literary. Renée Balibar. mathematics. Virilio and Lotringer. distressingly. Clastres. it is correspondingly more free than the “national Englishes” of any suspicion that it smacks of linguistic imperialism or even (since native speakers of English would have to be trained to use it) that it puts some countries at an advantage over others in international communication. rather. For what is Nuclear English if not the culmination of intertwining strands of imperial politics and utopian language philosophy — the former going back to revolutionary and colonial histories.” that is. Pure War. 27. K. What makes the idea of Nuclear English rather interesting.

155–56. Archeology of Violence. culturally homogenous reality: language. Calvet. Calvet interprets the rise of Esperanto as a response to the growing divisionism of Europe on the eve of World War I. The doctrine of “one tsar. Provinces were replaced by abstract division into departments. 28. he documents the application of French language policies outre mer and the consequent consolidation of a dominant French culture in territories outside the Hexagon. Renée Balibar. due to the institution of free and obligatory secular schools and obligatory military service. 29. L’institution du français: Essai sur le colinguisme des Carolingiens à la République (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. trans. 1985). Francification had been accomplished. language squadrons were billeted to rural areas in a campaign to bring dialect into line with newly established codifications of French standard language. one language.28 Clastres writes: The Revolution of 1789. The provinces.Public Culture particularly during the Terror. Whatever remained of autonomous existence in the provincial and rural world succumbed. one religion. LouisJean Calvet. Clastres.” is transformed by the Soviet regime into the mandate of a society without frontiers or nations. as territorial units. etc. brought the political ascendancy of Parisian administrations to an end. to sblizheniye (their coming together). Archeology of Violence. Michel Petheram (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1998). and thus facilitate the penetration of state authority everywhere. 1987).29 Calvet shows how this French linguistic colonization of itself was extended to the colonies. 78 .30 In addition to spelling out causal connections between the rise of universal language ideology and imperialism. Clastres. La guerre des langues et les politiques linguistiques (Paris: Payot. had each relied on an ancient. Originally published as Calvet. to sliyaniye (the emergence of harmonious unity in a single world language). This “unique culture” was supposed to evolve in stages. which definitively transformed the inhabitants of the hexagon into citizens. intended to break all references to local particularisms. He also examines the lack of tolerance for minority languages in Russia—both before and after the revolution. Language Wars and Linguistic Politics. 30. ethnocide consummated: traditional languages were attacked as backwards patois. Language Wars and Linguistic Politics. The final stage of this movement through which differences would vanish before State power was the Third Republic. political traditions. from rastvet (the flowering of different cultures). in allowing the triumph of the Jacobins’ centralist thought over the Girondins’ federalist tendencies. village life reduced to the level of folkloristic spectacle destined for the consumption of tourists. 49. etc.

Balkan Babel 79 . painfully constructed.” he notes. The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language (London: Longman. 1998). Esperanto (1887). Mundolingue (1890). tortured.Nineteenth-century “logothèthes. Dil (1903). 1994). invented around five hundred schemes for artificial languages that would transcend the imperfections of natural languages: Cosmoglossa (1858). it is precisely at the moment when Globalspeak becomes feasible in the age of intelligent machines that Balkan Babel breaks out on the borders. Universalglot (1868). English and the Discourses of Colonialism (London: Routledge. and various forms of techno-babble (as in daburu-kurikku mausu for 31. sustained twenty-five journals.”33 This code language draws on the transliteration of English words pronounced with a Japanese accent (wonchu for “I want you”). Simplo (1911). and lingua franca movements in turn-of-the-century Europe — on the other hand. Alistair Pennycook. Kristof. “plus barbare que l’iroquois” [more barbaric than Iroquois]. he argued. and inharmonious. and an academy.32 Comprising a vocabulary of only 850 words. Basic English aspired to technological rationalism and mathematical simplicity. artificial.” hageru for “let’s get a Haagen-Dazs ice cream”). pig Latin mixing of product names with Japanese verbs (deniru for “let’s go to a Denny’s restaurant. for example. positivism. are often less logical than humble patois.” New York Times. “Stateside Lingo Gives Japan Its Own Valley Girls. one can argue. Even worse than their infelicitous form. to British philosophical traditions of pragmatism. was their specious pretense to logic: “Premeditated linguistic reforms . 283 societies. The idea of Nuclear English reveals the reductive drive inherent in Leibnizian schemes for a scientific language that were famously castigated by Ernest Renan in De l’origine du langage (1859) as “mangled. Nicholas D. boosted by Winston Churchill in the 1940s as part of a meliorist colonial platform. and utilitarianism that influenced Ogden’s development in 1930 of BASIC (an acronym for British American Scientific International Commercial). Pennycook. 33. Volapük (1879). BASIC set a precedent for future wars against linguistic proliferation and prepared the way for future fetishizations of a supersimplified English vulgate or technological Globalspeak. Babel can be identified in the teenage pidgins used to “evade parental surveillance. In Japan. 19 October 1997. . Ernest Renan.”31 If Nuclear English derives on the one hand from Leibniz — from revolutionary standardizations of language. 32. 1859). 33. Of course. state-sponsored single-language policies. . 95–96 (my translation). Volapük.” in short. and Europeo (1914) were among the most popularly disseminated. it has also been traced (by Alastair Pennycook among others). for example. Weltsprache (1883). De l’origine du langage (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères.

the greater the reach of English. “Hacker Attacks on the Internet. “Stateside Lingo. . Even more insidiously.” Editorial. A30. 35.Public Culture “double-click the mouse”). when we do not even know who or where the enemy is? Emily Apter teaches in the departments of French and comparative literature at the University of California at Los Angeles. the hackers have apparently enlisted unknowing allies in the attacks by invading vulnerable computer systems and using those computers to help carry out the assaults.” 33. and routinely “cleansing” the language of rebarbative localisms or mongrel incursions. Her most recent books are Continental Drift: From National Characters to Virtual Subjects (1999) and The Translation Zone: Language Politics at the Millennial Pass (forthcoming). Nor is it ‘owned’ by private businesses or individuals. the greater the production of “other Englishes” that both undermine and reinforce monolingual orders. How do we wage war.” New York Times. But already this task is complicated by the latest side effects of technological literacy whereby hackers—enabled by the Internet—“break in” and disable the languages and codes by which computers protect themselves. freedom of expression. is removed to electronic turf and the crucial question becomes. These very qualities are what make the Internet vulnerable to anonymous attack. the future theater of war. 80 . It is not owned or regulated by the government.34 Here it would seem. A New York Times editorial on Internet hacking is foreboding: “The Internet is nearly impossible to police.35 In an era of Internet attacks. . 34. Kristof. For English to maintain and enhance its growing grip on international communication. or control the enemy. In this environment. . supporting linguicide or the stamping out of “useless” endangered language species. political activity and the simple pleasure of gathering information and communicating have come to flourish in ways few thought possible only a few years ago. It consists of telephone lines and countless computer sites linked together in a system through which anyone can navigate anonymously. 11 February 2000. commercial transactions. where she is also chair of comparative literature. it needs to contain Balkanization by patrolling linguistic breakaway groups. for the same reason that it is so difficult to define. the future translation zone. make peace.