[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Even English newspapers aren’t objectiveNoam Chomsky, one of the most famous scholars in the world, said in the recently published book of interviews, “Imperial Ambitions,” that using a specific language particular to a specific position, such as professor, gives a person a privileged status. The famous linguist also asserts that using English can endow a person with social status.
English, a foreign language to most of the world, is spreading everywhere.
Nevertheless, trying to read an article written in a foreign language is not as easy as reading something in one’s mother tongue. It requires time for interpretation. It also needs some time and considerable concentration, which can cause one to overlook issues of context.
As a student reporter and an editorial consultant at a campus English paper, I get to express my ideas to diverse groups of people. I feel, however, that writing in English automatically puts my political and academic views into a certain stereotype.
I feel that writing in English isolates me from readers, mostly Korean students, who might not feel comfortable reading an English newspaper.
Sometimes, readers have a stereotypical impression of stories written in English as being objective. Some readers even say English papers do not have specific views of their own because they are trapped in the rule of being objective.
I think this is partly because readers take a considerable amount of time translating the English text before they understand the context, therefore accepting only the facts they want to (or are able to) understand. Problems occur when readers understand a certain context to be the absolute truth because the writing is objective ― as many students believe English papers must be.
There’s a huge difference between an objective view and a neutral political stance.
I want to point out that columns not only advocate the views of the writers, but also of the majority of their readers. The Argus, our school paper, writes for students. But I believe the JoongAng Daily reflects its target readers, mostly foreign ambassadors, foreign investors and corporate groups.
The Argus recently criticized the role of the Korean government at the negotiation table for the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. We questioned the capability of our government to negotiate and said there were good reasons for farmers and labor unions to go out on the streets to protest. But the JoongAng Daily criticized the protests for being violent and advocated a market-oriented economy.
I cannot say which stance is right (and it should be discussed in another article), but I want to point out that English newspapers do have a political stance on certain issues, while presenting themselves as “objective.”
Noam Chomsky said self-defensive consciousness is key to one’s search for objective facts. With a skeptical mind, he states, we should know what is true regardless of which media we get the information from. I’d say the same to readers: We must be more careful when we read (English-language) newspapers, although we may need to go through the inconvenience of translating them first.
*The writer is a student editorial consultant for The Argus, the English newspaper of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
by Yeo Hee-soo