[OPE-L:2059] Re: Translator's lot is not a happy one

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Wed, 1 May 1996 18:04:15 -0700

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I believe there are some serious issues here which should be addressed.

(1) Among Marxists, I believe that the uni-lingual ability of many Anglos
has had a profound effect on the "diffusion" of ideas. For instance,
Rubin's book wasn't translated until the 70's; Grossmann's major work
wasn't translated - in abridged form - until the '80's, and many
important works in political economy (in German, French, Japanese,
Russian, Italian, etc.) have yet to be translated. Just as the
translation of the _Grundrisse_ and Rubin's book had a major impact on
thought in the English-speaking world, one can only guess what
English-only readers are missing today.

(2) Among economists, it is an unfortunate fact that English is the
international coin of the realm. While most economists internationally
can *read* English, the ability to *speak* and *write* in English is
harder to come by. This problem, of course, is aggravated by the fact
that most English-speaking economists can not *speak* or *write* in *any*
other language and have very limited reading abilities as well (those
from the US, IMHO - for a variety of cultural reasons that include the
educational system in the US - are the worst offenders).

(3) I believe that both of the above factors have had important
consequences for Marxist economists internationally. The most important
consequence is that it creates a situation where different "schools" of
thought have developed essentially independently from each other and,
this, thus, inhibits the transmission of ideas internationally. To take one
example: how many Marxists outside of Japan are familiar with the *vast*
literature that has been written there? I know I'm not, since I
(unfortunately) can't read Japanese and since summaries of literature -
no matter how good - can not be substitutes for being able to read the
original works. Ironically, it seems that Japanese Marxists, though, have
a greater knowledge of other languages and have benefited from that

(4) The ability to communicate in many languages is well beyond the
ability of most workers internationally under current circumstances given
the nature of the educational system and the lack of leisure time
required for such an effort if undertaken later in life. Consequently, even
if we (as Marxist economists) learn more languages, that does not solve the
problem. Regardless of our individual multi-lingualism, more translations
are needed.

(5) Of course, a very good case can be made for learning German (and
other languages like French, Italian, Japanese, etc.). The sad fact is,
though, that we -- as Riccardo has suggested -- only have so much time
and most of us are not going to learn a lot of different languages now.
Even if we did, the ability to *read* in another language is quite
different from being truly *fluent* in another language.

(6) On the purely practical matter of communicating on the Net, some
other lists have frequent communication in languages other than English.
Unfortunately, if posts are not translated, then most will simply delete
on sight -- and that is a *fact*. On aut-op-sy the moderator (Steve
Wright) translates Italian posts into English and vice versa. On OPE-L,
all of our conversations have been in English. MUST it be so? *NO!*. My
feeling is that if members want to write posts in another language, we
can discuss practical ways of doing this. For instance, we could have an
enthusiastic graduate student or students subscribe if they were willing
to translate (this might be a very tempting offer for some). I'm not
proposing that at this time, but I do want to emphasize that non-English
posts should not be _a priora_ ruled out of order.

In OPE-L Solidarity,


PS: (for Alan and others familiar with the literature on the

* Identify the author and title of the book (largely on the
transformation) that the following quote is extracted from:

"The shortcomings of Marx's transformation method concern, first, the
way in which he determines the uniform rate of profit and, secondly,
that he does not convert the value totals of the capital used into
prices of production. These shortcomings, however, can be avoided,
with a problem arising with regard to the fixation of the absolute
level of the prices of production. One may wonder whether in that
case it is permissible to speak of a determinate solution of the
transformation problem. On that subject we argue, that with regard
to the system of prices of production, the same numeraire should be
chosen which underlies, either explicitly or *implicitly* the value
scheme in question; for only then is it permissible to compare
magnitudes from the value scheme with the corresponding magnitudes
of the price scheme. A similar position is taken by Morishima, but
it is questionable whether he sticks to it consistently."