The Absence of English

Earlier this year I reported on French television’s decision to cut back on the high costs associated with dubbing UK and American film soundtracks into French and using French language subtitles instead. One translator with a shooting script and a subtitle machine compared to a dozen actors in a studio for several days is a no-brainer for any accountant, even if it does slightly chip away at the Francophone integrity. But it was a big gain for the multitude of native English speakers living in France who can now enjoy the big Sunday night movie without it having to be a language lesson as well. Daniel Craig saving the world speaking English? Bliss.

But now comes news from Tajikistan in central Asia, that the country’s premier broadcaster, the First Channel, has taken to broadcasting British and American films without any dubbing or subtitling. Daniel Craig saving the world speaking English in Tajikistan? Not bliss for a new generation of Tajikistan aspirants wanting to improve their English.

The rationale for this decision comes from Komro Safarov, deputy head of the TV channel. According to The Guardian who reported on this story, he says that previous generations of Tajiks, primarily speakers of Tajik, a dialect of Parsi, learned to speak Russian, the language of their conquerors and colonisers, in just that way – by assimilation, which included watching Russian films without any translation help.

The President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, has said that all Tajiks should know both English and Russian as well as their native language. English language learning is becoming a growth industry in Tajikistan, as it is in most countries, but only around 5% of the country’s eight million people, most of whom are followers of a version of Sunni Islam, currently speak English and accordingly English plays no role in the daily life of Tajikistan, not even in signage or commercial branding, the two usual outriders of an emerging new language in a society.

The defence of the no-English translation policy is that Western films are shown widely with Russian dubbing or subtitling and thereby are accessible to most of the population. Daniel Craig saving the world speaking Russian? Mmmm.

In a developing economy it’s understandable that investment must be matched to social outcomes and that it is only a minority of the Tajikistan population who would directly benefit from English language promotion on television, is one argument that can be used. Another view is that despite the public assertion of the need for a new generation of Tajiks to face the West and learn English, too much Westernisation would not be a good thing; it might have implications for the social and religious underpinning of what is a secular Islamic state, possibly leading to the internal political unrest seen in many parts of the world recently.

Let’s hope it’s not that. Globalisation is seemingly inevitable, with English, along with Mandarin, being the only two languages in town. Surely a country with a still-considerable Russian heritage would prefer its children to have English, rather than Mandarin as their second international language.

If, however, it’s just a matter of the cost of providing English language versions of Western films, Today Translations can provide a very competitive quotation. The form is on the homepage.

We look forward to hearing from you Mr Safarov.