Amongst languages world-wide, English has the highest proficiency among populations who speak it as a second language rather than a mother-tongue. As the dominant language of global capitalism and international politics, it is becoming the world’s primary lingua franca at a pace unmatched by Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. As a result, English is changing into a language of non-standards, where non-native speakers outnumber native speakers four to one.
Nicoline van Harskamp’s “Englishes” project attempts to imagine and represent a situation where English speakers world-wide rid themselves from a single native-speaking standard of the language and co-opt multiple “Englishes” towards emancipatory or creative ends; utopian language projects of the past may be renewed; the simplification of English as a relay language may dissolve; the suffocating influence of professional jargon may disappear.
Following the recent live performance work, English Forecast, for BMW Tate Live: Performance
Room (2013), van Harskamp is embarking on a new stage in the “Englishes” project – producing and recording a series of language experiments during exhibitions and residencies over the next year, with the first exhibition at Kunstraum, London in October 2014. As in earlier projects, this elaborate research strategy is part of the work itself, forming alternative points of conclusion towards
a finally realised fiction piece in film and on stage. The experiments are themed around linguistic phenomena within the English language as it develops today.
Van Harskamp’s language-experiment at Kunstraum will focus on the unique characteristic and problems of translating from one language to another. At a live translation event over eight hours on Saturday 18 October, Kunstraum hosts a reading of George Bernhard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ where each participant reads from a script in their own language, but must translate their part into English. ‘Pygmalion’ tells a story of the power relations between language and class; a man and a woman who speak English in very different ways are forced by circumstance to communicate. The play has been translated to many languages since its first staging in 1912, up to 20 translations will be collected for this simultaneous translation. Van Harskamp’s exhibition at Kunstraum, opening 24 October, will include the voice recording of the event and drawings made by a professional sketch artist. For a later project the recorded dialogue will be adapted into a new staging of the play, taking on all the idiosyncrasies of the quick-fire translations.