Neglecting Italian Scholarship

Neglecting Italian Scholarship July 25, 2016

While in Italy, I had a conversation with a scholar from Sicily about the tendency for English-speaking scholars to ignore scholarship in languages such as Italian and Spanish.

While I’ve tried to make a point of noticing, reading, and/or buying scholarly books that relate to my field written in Romanian (scholarship in which language is even more neglected), and I’ve read books in Italian by Edmondo Lupieri which are relevant to my work on the Mandaeans, I still feel that I contribute to the problem. I don’t always seek out publications in other languages that relate to subjects that I am working on as actively as I do material in English, or read websites and catalogues of publishers in other languages as regularly or as thoroughly to find out what has appeared more recently.

On the one hand, it would be easy to make excuses. We can scarcely read everything that appears in English that we ought to, and so how can we possibly be expected to read material in other languages as well, except when we absolutely have no choice but to do so?

On the other hand, as scholars we claim to be involved in an international academic endeavor, and we often highlight the fact that its strength lies precisely in the fact that our work and our methods transcend boundaries of nation, culture, and language. More than that, most of us claim to be working in a way that, however indirectly, builds bridges rather than barriers between people.

And so I will say again as I have said before: learn another language, and use it. I recommend starting with the Pimsleur language courses (and I’m not the only one even at Patheos who does so). People in other parts of the world are genuinely hurt when we fail to do so, and even though my Italian is nowhere near as good as it ought to be, people in Italy (both Italians and fellow visitors) appreciated when I tried to use it, and on a few occasions it allowed communication when otherwise none would have been possible.

As academics, we need to lead by example in this area.

So what language will you learn next?


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