From the do you read me? newsletter, Why do we speak English in Berlin?:
In 2021, artist, researcher and curator Moshtari Hilal and political geographer Sinthujan Varatharajah held a talk on Instagram Live, where they discussed the prevalence of the English language in Berlin. Whether in cafes or restaurants, museums and art spaces, spoken on the street or in the Bürgeramt, it’s everywhere – also in our own newsletters, reviews and social media! It’s one of the things that gives Berlin its cosmopolitan shine.
But there’s another side to things, and this is what Hilal and Varatharajah bring to light in their talk, given physical form by Wirklichkeit Books in this striking blue reader.
English is international, seemingly universal – but who do we exclude, when we decide to speak and write in English? Who do we disinvite from our spaces? For those people whose languages and voices are consistently marginalised in the West, is the use of English just another barrier between them and full participation in the societies and economies that they are so often propping up with their labour?
An incident I recall from my time working with Plazes: on a trip to Berlin, at a weekly standup meeting with the new CEO, there was a long discussion of technical issues conducted entirely, and seemingly comfortably, in English. When the talk turned to deeper, subtler, more substantial issues — branding, purpose, team — the language switched to German. My impression was that one needs the breadth and depth of their native language to express things that are deeper and broader. As a result of this I was left absent from the deeper and broader conversation, and got some insight into what I imagine life is like for those living life constantly-in-translation.
This was not quite my experience ;)