A Brill Calendar: March 20
"Management" and Winslow Taylor
Few of those charged with the translation of languages that are graced by a substantial literature fail to notice pitfalls associated with translating texts.
World history during the 20th century saw to it that these linguistic problems are becoming (albeit sluggishly) less pressing. The slow transmutation of English into the primary second language of the world’s population takes credit for this crucial evolution; near enough an autonomous growth, especially among adolescents everywhere, with the end not in sight.
The versatile polyglot of Western traditions – represented by a scholar understanding and reading, speaking and writing more than a few languages – could be a vanishing breed. These days it suffices more often than not to be a ‘diglot’: fluent both in mother’s tongue and prepared to do battle with the language that made poets of Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare.
Many academicians structure all their work - for a wealth of reasons - from the very beginnings deliberately in English, even if it isn’t their mother-tongue; knowing that translation into a foreign language takes linguistic genius & a fair amount of simpatico on behalf of the translator.
In the hectic pace of an international career enabled by a recommendable command of English, it is seldom considered explicitly that language is not just a handy way to deal with other people, but also a main ingredient of what we are ourselves. Two generations ago the word ‘management’ – for instance – was hardly heard in The Netherlands, let alone ‘scientific management’. That term was coined by an American, Frederick Winslow Taylor (March 20 1856 – March 21 1915; both in Philadelphia) some 130 years ago. Later, Taylor also claimed the invention of “a new profession, that of consulting engineer in management”.
It has been said that we belong to language and history before they belong to us. Scholars do create language; however they are being created by language themselves as well; both components of that brace are baffling and only superficially understood.