Forthcoming in "Translation in a Global Market," specialissue of Public Culture, guest edited by Emily Apter (vol. 13, no. 1, Winter 2001)


Free Markets: Language,Commodification, and Art

Rainer Ganahl


"It's Fluent in Every Language" (Visa)

"Any time, Anywhere, Any Language" (MasterCard)

"Sell your language at any price" (Rainer Ganahl)

<end epigraphs>


In our times, when basically anything can becommodified—including human livers and tongues—we are confrontedwith the question: Are languages commodities or do they resist commodification?

Commodification is a processin which something enters freely or is coerced into a relationship of exchange,a transaction enabled by an instrument of payment within a relatively shortperiod of time. Parties in this exchange identify themselves as owners.Assuming that language is primarily a mode of verbal exchange and interaction, Iwould like to ask the following questions. Can an author, a linguist, a state,a nation, or even a transnational company own an entire single language or evengroups of languages? Can spoken languages be copyrighted as computer languagesare copyrighted? Clearly the answer to both these questions is no. As withcloud formations, languages cannot be owned. In spite of the fact that cloudsdevelop in specific areas that are geographically and legally defined byownership, they cannot be owned, purchased, sold, or stocked. One can commodifyoxygen and stabilize or destabilize climate conditions within a confinedspace—think of climate and cloud machines—but one cannot turn cloudformations into a commodity as such.[1]It is the same with language: words, sentences, texts, and books are endlesslyproduced, copyrighted, bought, and sold, but you cannot own a language as such,since language is a sort of "atmosphere" in which words are produced.Of course, to push this reasoning even further, according to Ludwig Wittgensteinthere are only language “games” and not language as such.[2]There are recent indicationsthat perhaps these games can be commodified, sold,and translated in the same way that both cities and nations are about to beginselling their water resources.[3]One case in point is that the corporate world has been registering("trademarking") more and more sentences taken from common speech,for example, Nike’s "Just do it,” Apple’s “Thinkdifferent,” and Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today?"

In spite of being impossibleto own, many people try to claim, influence, control, and appropriatelanguages. States and state-funded organizations that use or are otherwiseconnected to a language are typically eager to instrumentalize it as well. Butno single language can be reduced to a nation's property. So-called nationallanguages are rarely, if ever, confined to state borders. At the end of theeighteenth century, the creation of national languages became integral to theprocess of political and ideological formation—and ofmodernization—in Europe.[4]For instance, in France a common language was imposed on the totality of aclaimed territory—and yet only 33 percent of the population spoke Frenchat the eve of the French Revolution in 1789.[5]And in Germany, in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries a commonlanguage was "discovered" and used for official and politicaladministration. This common language then legitimized the demands for thecreation of a united political body called Germany. Within colonial contexts,language policies functioned the same way: the imposition of new regimes, neweconomies, and new labor conditions also came with new tongues, new speakers,new languages, new religions, and new laws. The problem in these cases wasoften not so much the learning of the colonial language but the unlearning ofthe local languages. It took many decades for colonized countries to unlearntheir original languages and to adapt to their new colonial language. And fortheir part, colonizers were only interested in local languages foradministrative purposes, cultural exploitation, and more efficient governance.The postcolonial situation has forced languages to move and wander along withpeople, information, labor, capital, war, diseases, gods, religions, fashions,and raw and refined materials.

Although people cannot ownlanguages, they may know, use, and learn them. Everybody knows at least onelanguage but nobody can know all languages. In order to know, speak, or write alanguage, exchange is necessary. One directly acquires languages from otherspeakers or indirectly acquires them with the help of tapes, computers, andbooks. But what distinguishes this exchange (this language acquisition) frommost other forms of commodified exchange is the time factor. Neither money,authority, influence, nor love can help you learn a new language immediately.Weeks, months, and even years in the process of learning are like pennies,dimes, and dollar bills in a commodity exchange. Accents are wonderful remindersof this difficult acquisition process. Comparable to the social function ofproducts and other possessions, a person learning in a given social contextpicks up many of the linguistic characteristics and idiosyncrasies of thisparticular group. Acquired local or social accents and speech patterns canpermanently identify people as being supposedly good or bad, and thereforeaccepted or disrespected in a society. It is as difficult to learn languagesand specific ways of speaking as it is to unlearn them. Spoken languages arelike open passports with stamps and dates, and the forgery of them is an art.

What determines the price ofa product? At least in part this is determined by the costs of materials,labor, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, advertising, and demand.What is the price for the acquisition of a language? A life, a collegeeducation, travels and conversations, love, war, and the loss of a countrythrough emigration? Language acquisition cannot be solely measured by time orby any monetary symbol. Nonetheless there actually exists a market for languageschools, universities, and training centers. There exists as well a translationindustry. States and corporations pay immense amounts of money to organizationsthat promote national languages and cultures. For instance, states fundorganizations such as Goethe Institut, the Institut Français, and CasaItaliana, and the many other national language organizations around the world,who then market and disseminate languages abroad. But the most widelyorchestrated attempt to promote a language globally occurs with English as aSecond Language (ESL) and the attempt to make English a lingua franca (so tospeak).[6]This de facto English language imperialism is linked to the post–WorldWar II powerful economy, high standards of technology and research, dominatingentertainment industry, and gigantic industrial and military complex of theUnited States, Britain, and the Commonwealth states. The Internet is definitelya new powerhouse for the necessity and use of English worldwide—in July2000 it was estimated that 80 percent of all web sites were in English.[7]Massive investments in language politics have ramifications and remarkablereturns, for languages are not just products of exchange, they also encouragethe exchange and commodification of most other things. North America's mostprecious resources at this point are not just oil and gas reserves but also itsintelligent products such as software and the English language. It makes adifference whether scientific, technological, medical, or cultural discoursesare written and read in English, German, French, Mandarin, Myanmar (Burmese),or Togo and this has an impact on university studies, research, corporateinvestments, and decision and definition making of all kinds. Also intriguingis the way in which information and entertainment industries constituteturbomarkets that compete or collaborate along the lines of language zones.Related is a notion of language alliance, which evokes the idea of corporatemergers: some languages translate better into some languages than others, andsome states even collaborate on translations. In Germany and France, the states finance translation of filmsand television programs from one so-called national language to the other.

With the advance of theInternet's promotion of global English, and with increased demographic mobilityand migration, we are beginning to see how English is losing its immediatenationalistic or colonial/postcolonial context. English will soon also become astripped-down tool of electronic communication, deprived of the sharedexperiences that generally go along with the learning of language in a"natural" context (as opposed to in the “unnatural”context of learning languages online, from audio tapes, and so forth). Thenotion of collective memory, of an identity that is somehow constituted througha common language and a shared history, now exists on the Internet, turningEnglish into a new sort of transit language, a mobile language (in the senseassociated with mobile phones) becoming lost or radically altered. From aconservative point of view one could even say that English is selling out.

The World TradeOrganization’s free market doctrine and the version of globalization thatthe WTO helps constitute also affects language politics in that technology,telecommunications, labor, capital, goods, intellectual property, pollution,poverty, and people interchange in and penetrate all language zones. A searchof the 5474 documents posted on the WTO’s web site doesn't find anydocuments on "language politics."[8]It finds, however, the word language in 103 different documents. In the WTO’smain texts on free trade and intellectual property, “language” canbe found only in relationship to language problems within their ownadministration. English, French, and Spanish are the official WTO languages,although the organization acknowledges the existence of national languages ofthe member states. This lack of an interest in language politics by the WTO makesme repeat my initial question and add some new ones: Are languages commodities,that is, something to exchange, to market, to buy, to sell, to invest in, andto compete for? Are they raw materials that can be exploited or that need to beprotected? Are languages rare species or are they available in excess, forinstantaneous use and disposal? Are languages technologies to be standardized,improved, reinvented, or copyrighted? Are languages to be privatized,internationally traded, and globalized? Do language policies allow for mergersand hostile takeovers? Barely a decade ago Serbo-Croatian was classified as asingle language but now it is violently divided into several languages. In anera where the Internet could substitute for education all over the planet andguarantee the dominance of only a few standardized languages—think of theparallel with megacorporations in today's global economy—this set ofseemingly absurd questions is intended to provoke thought about theconsequences of the hidden and/or ignored language policies in this"golden age" of globalization.




If I buy a dictionary or a translation machine I assume that itcomes with a language currently being spoken somewhere. But where can I findnative speakers of a given language? In New York, for most languages, Iwouldn't have much of a problem. I could easily find someone in a taxi, in asweatshop below Canal Street, on the subway, in a 24-hour deli, at myneighbor's apartment, or at Columbia University. But what language and whatversion of a language I find is dependent on where I look: a different kind ofChinese can be found in sweatshops than at Columbia, and Chinese might be moreeasily located in one of those spots than at a taxi stand, where I might bemore likely to come across Urdu, Marathi, or one of many African languages. Ihave the privilege of learning languages without being forced to do so in alegal or illegal alien environment. Language learning has a market value. Itopens additional communication possibilities. In the corporate world, ifsomeone speaks, writes, and understands one or more of the so-called usefulforeign languages, they will certainly be able to obtain more attractive andhigher paying jobs.[9] On the otherside of the social spectrum, a migrant worker's poor language skills in thedominant language of the host country result in and supposedly justify his orher miserable living and working conditions.

The context in which I havebeen studying languages over the last decade is that of the fine arts, a domainof visual pleasure and contested reflection where nobody expects a languagedegree or any other kind of particular linguistic competence. As I see it, artconstitutes a complex order of things that exists because of its ambivalent anddiscourse-related nature. Art is the subject of permanent and endlessnegotiations and cultural conflicts and enters only through complex(institutional) selections into the domain of value production andcommodification. Throughout most of my life, which started in aquasi-monolingual area in Austria, I have pursued foreign languages as astrategy for "personal survival": first (with unsatisfying results)in order to stay in school, then (with better results) to get away from school,and finally to leave Austria altogether for Paris and New York in 1987. Since1990 when I settled in New York and left school behind, I decided to continuelearning languages as part of my art practice. This decision emerged frompostcolonial studies, in particular, the questioning of Eurocentrism andWestern language histories, and the implication of this questioning on culturalinstitutions and their literary and artistic products.[10]What did it mean that I was fluent in the five most-spoken European languagesbut had neither a clue about nor much interest in any other language? In 1990 Ibegan to learn Russian from an emigré neighbor, and my language learningintensified over several years, though I didn't know yet how to integrate itinto my art practice.

That changed in 1993 when Ibegan to study Japanese. My intense daily studies over many months turned intothe work "Basic Japanese," which includes works on paper (studysheets), photographs, performances, and a series of objects. Taking the lessonsof representational politics very seriously, I tried not to play the role ofthe informer, the traveler, or any other kind of agent dealing with thedepiction of others. My focus became the process of studying, language books(with their illustrations), and myself in an endless and helplessly frustratingenterprise of language learning. In 1993 a six-month stay in Tokyo helped meintensify my Japanese studies, develop work based on a critique of Orientalism(influenced by the work of Edward Said), and, for the first time, present mylanguage learning as part of my artwork in the confines of a larger museumshow.[11]

After Tokyo I was invited in1994 to do an exhibition at the Ice Box in Athens. During my preparation Istarted thinking differently about Europe's obsession with ancient Greekhistory, institutions, and language. I began to understand how Germanphilologists and archeologists produced a historico-linguistic universe thatreflected the contemporary aspirations in domestic politics and nationbuilding. In the nineteenth century, Greek studies, university activities,excavations, and cultural expropriations served the yet-to-be-built Germannation as a kind of imaginary ersatz colony in the competition with the French,British, and Belgians for colonies and colonization. In the 1830s, Otto from Bavaria, a brother of theromantic king Ludwig, became the first Greek king (and this royal dynasty isstill in place, though without any political influence). This history is relevant to the present: in the 1990s, so-called guestworkers (Gastarbeiter) from Greece whohad been living in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland since the 1950s faceddiscrimination based on their inability to become linguistically integrated. Atthat time, knowledge of ancient Greek still characterized the ultimatehumanistic and academic achievement, yet scant respect was paid towards theGreek-speaking immigrant community and their language. These conditionsprompted me to begin studying modern Greek for this exhibition. For the firsttime, I decided to quantify and record my studies. I came up with a pieceentitled "3 Months, 3 Days A Week, 3 Hours A Day—Basic ModernGreek." With a video camera directed at me from an elevated position, Istudied Greek for the exact time the work title told me to, whether I liked itor not, and whether I "had the time" or not. Though my Greek advancedslowly, my artwork "materialized" in numerous boxes filled withrecorded videotapes. After accomplishing my homework in New York, I traveled tothe site of the exhibition and for the first time I received lessons not out ofbooks but from native speakers. My piece entitled "6 Days, 6 Hours ADay—Basic Modern Greek," which consists of two sculptures (VHScassettes piled in two towers) and works on paper (study sheets), was shownalong with some additional pieces. All this was accompanied by my performanceduring the opening, which consisted of stuttering some basic Greek to thesurprise of the Athens locals.

Later on that year I wasinvited again to exhibit in Japan. Given my interest in the historicallyproblematic relationship between Japan and Korea, one of my works in that showconsisted of studying Korean. As with my insufficient study of Greek, I decidedto record my efforts on video. I titled this work "Basic Korean."Thus far I have accumulated approximately six hundred hours of Korean and Icontinue learning this language from time-to-time, or more precisely fromexhibition-to-exhibition and from tutor-to-tutor. In 1997, an invitation toexhibit at the Kwangju Biennial resulted in a work I entitled "4 Weeks, 5Days A Week, 6 Hours A Day—Basic Korean," which involved workingwith paid tutors in Kwangju. I usually study a language by myself, usingcommonly found language learning material. But depending on the exhibition'sbudget and the generosity of friends, I sometimes enjoy the help of nativespeakers. One of my encouraging thoughts on this work goes as follows: I maynot sell this work, but at least I learn something.

In January 1999, after nearly4 years of learning Korean, I started working on my next language projectentitled "Basic Chinese." Advancements in Chinese–United Statestrade relations, the decline in my fear of this language and its nonphoneticwriting system, and my building curiosity about Chinese culture encouraged meto give this work a title that would assure its rapid development. In July 2000I completed a work called "My First 500 Hours Basic Chinese" (500hours video, 250 tapes) and as of August 2000, I have just started "MySecond 500 Hours Basic Chinese." Learning languages is both a dream and anightmare for many people, myself included. Therefore, the self-imposed"nominalism" of this work's title forces me to learn Chineserigorously over a long period of time. It helps me to sustain these studies inthe absence of any direct social, professional, institutional, or monetarygratification. It is mainly the stretchable but uncertain context of art andits social and critical impetus that provides a justification for such acommitment. Additionally, as the camera watches over me, taking on the role ofa driving and regulating superego, an inner voice seems to tell me "Keepmoving away from your mother tongue!"[12]

The production of theserecorded tapes marks the production of knowledge, experience, language, andsomehow also of subjectivity. It is interesting to observe the impact mylanguage experiments have on various people. They tend to label me as talentedand use even more cliché adjectives, but they seldom take an interest inthe simple fact that my work involves almost daily hours of committed study foryears on end. This challenges not just common ideas about knowledge and art,but also traditional notions of subjectivity. Subject formation, knowledge, andart are shown by me and through my practice to be accumulative, repetitiveproduction. For when people really see me uttering sentences in a foreignlanguage they typically overlook the actual "work"—theproduction and process behind my language ability.

I consider the piled upvideocassettes of my studies to be a sculpture. However "My First 500Hours Basic Chinese" also illustrates the impossibility of representingthe learning process, even alluding to the problematic aspects ofrepresentation itself. It would be torture to have to sit and watch five hundredhours of these tapes. Also, the fragility of the magnetic tape references theeven greater fragility of the human mind and its quality of forgetting andfatigue. To a certain degree these piles of tapes also remind me of failurebecause my semiprofessional dilettantism could never uphold the criteria for anadvanced university degree in language. Standing in front of these piles ofindustrially produced and designed videotapes, I am flooded with a fadingfeeling of all the hours I have spent over my studies and papers. I oftentimesask myself where have my efforts gone. As with reading, what do we reallyremember, what do we really learn? What does it really do to us?

Learning a language doesn'tmean that you just study a language. Already my textbooks speak about"traveling in China," "meeting Chinese friends," and"eating Chinese food." In spite of the new social interactions andopportunities that result from my language ability, I try to keep anecdotalaspects out of my art since I want my work to function as an index for a largerdiscourse on language politics and less about my social life and me.[13]However, I don't want to deny that these studies create social opportunitiesand insights that frequently take me by surprise. It is with a certain ironythat I subscribe to the impossible Kantian tradition of defining art as an interessenlosesWohlgefallen(interest-less pleasure), a pleasure that tries to refrain from (social)interests.[14] Whenfrustrated at my lack of learning progress I compare myself to a Skinner ratand I wonder what these studies are really doing to my head and my life. I tryto minimize the spectacular aspects of this work, foregrounding the tapes, thepapers, the screen, and the photographs, and avoiding the public while I study.But there is an undeniably uncanny aspect to my work as I switch across elevenlanguages throughout the course of a performance.[15]The production of language, knowledge, information, subjectivity, identity,memory, social relations, spectacle, and art all intermingle in this sort ofartwork.




Apart from learning languages as a continuous enterprise, I havealso conceived other artworks that address the realities of language in adifferent way. I presented a work entitled "Please, teach me . . ."for the 1999 Venice Biennial, a one hundred-year-old international exhibitionorganized like a world's fair around a system of national pavilions. Contraryto what one would expect of such an exhibition, its selection of pavilions doesnot include all countries. "Please, teach me . . ." consisted ofT-shirts bearing this very phrase in fifty different languages from countriesnot participating in the exhibition. With this request to be taught theseunrepresented languages, "Please, teach me . . ." was my attempt topoint out not only the enormous diversity of languages in the world but alsothe nationalistic pavilion system that excludes many parts of the world. Sinceeach T-shirt had this single sentence printed in a particular language in itsproper writing system, it also showed traces of colonization andEuropeanization that are often manifest in the free or coerced adoptions of theLatin alphabet. I chose T-shirts (as opposed to, say, a wall) for this workbecause T-shirts allowed the work to be brought on the streets and to thepeople: T-shirts are a medium for direct street communication, and any printedrequest could provoke reactions depending on where it is worn and by whom.

For the Venice Biennial Ialso produced a series of videos entitled "Basic Conflicts . . ." inwhich I played with sentences that are at the heart of major conflicts. Itranslated these sentences into the eleven languages I have been learning sinceI was born. In "Basic Conflicts: Currencies" the sentences includedthe English "I only believe in dollars;" the German "Ich glaubenur an die Mark;" and the same for the ruble, yen, renminbi, etcetera.Some of these currencies are about to disappear, are perceived asembarrassments, or are treated as objects of national pride. Other works inthis series were "Basic Conflicts: Justice" (English: "I amalways right," French: "J'ai toujours raison," and so forth);"Basic Conflicts: Language" (English: "I need to only knowEnglish," and the same for Deutsch, russkyii, etcetera); "BasicConflicts: The Nation" (English: "My country is the greatest,"German: "Mein Land über alles"); "Basic Conflicts:Religion" (Spanish: "Solo un dios"). I never translated thesesentences literally but tried to use phrases that are common, exclusive, and,as such, conducive to conflict. The precursors of these works were videos thatfunctioned according to the same principle of translation: "BasicFeelings, Not Good Today" (German: "Heute fuehle ich michscheiße") or "Basic Feelings, Confused Today."

The issue of a regionaldialect turning slowly into a social marker was the main subject of"Reda—The dialect of Vorarlberg," which I presented at a 1998 exhibition at the Kunsthaus Bregenzin Vorarlberg. Vorarlberg is the most western alpineprovince of Austria where most of the population speaks a Germanic dialectcalled Vorarlberger Dialekt. I produced a variety of works around that subject,including a series of forty interviews about the linguistic self-understandingof people from this region. The pressure for standardization and linguistic"neutrality" is felt by many, producing a formula that might beparaphrased in Freudian terms as "discontent in dialect." Locallanguage pressure and politics take on many forms, open and hidden, so thatsimple acts of utterance become significant and informative with regards to thespeaker's social and educational standing. Since I left that region twentyyears ago much has changed in terms of the use of local language. I grew up inthe 1960s speaking only the Vorarlberg dialect. I rarely encountered anyone whospoke Ganahl-Dütsch (the name of a language that coincidentally containsmy surname) or Bödele-Dütsch.[16]These are both languages that during my childhood seemed an arrogant andstrange mix of dialect and standard German, for they created socialdistinctions for setting these language users apart from the common people inthe community. But these days, the use of Ganahl-Dütsch and Bödele-Dütsch has evolved from a socialcode—regional upper class—to a regional standard in large parts ofthe community. One of the ironic effects of this shift in local languagebehavior is that the second and third generations of Gastarbeiter, who arestill discriminated against on many levels, are among those who speak the mostauthentic dialect. This has to do with the fact that, in Vorarlberg, languagechanges most slowly among the working classes. Because I have been living farfrom Vorarlberg for many years I felt like a guest worker when I was thererecently and was repeatedly told, "how intensely you still speak with anauthentic Vorarlbergian dialect."

I like to draw a parallelbetween this local language behavior in Vorarlberg (where native speakers cansometimes feel "old fashioned" and uncomfortable using their dialect)and the way people treat products, objects, and other goods. When I was growingup in Vorarlberg it was only necessary to have shoes, socks, and pants thatwere made well. We were not yet completely absorbed by corporate identities andthe pressure to wear brand name clothing. Today, small children in Vorarlbergknow the entire spectrum of the corporate hierarchy and they want it. Isn't itsomehow similar with languages? There are no dialects on German and Austriantelevision other than standard German. So doesn't this also influencelinguistic self-understanding of local people? I tend to exaggerate and saythat standard German appears in the alpine region of Austria as some kind ofBMW or Mercedes language whereas the Vorarlbergian dialects—different inevery village—come off as some kind of homemade pushcart in contrast.Commodification on that level seems to have become such a norm that it appearsdesirable and contradicts Georg Lukács, whose analysis of thecommodification process foregrounded alienation.[17]

It is the nature of spokenlanguages to continuously change, mutate, and adapt to new situations anddevelopments. Distance from the place one grew up in deprives the speaker ofthe experience of these changes. This simple acknowledgment serves as theformal context, if not pretext, for a work I call "Sprache derEmigration—Language of Emigration." In the spring of 1999 I met aGerman emigrant who had been victimized by the Nazis and came to New York inthe 1930s. I was impressed by this person since I had never come in contactwith members of this social group, many of whom, I have since discovered, livein my neighborhood.[18]Since then I have been interviewing German-speaking emigrants who left Europein the 1930s and 1940s. An important aspect of our conversations is thelanguage issue, including questions of language use; accents; linguisticintegration; and the role German and English have played in their lives, intheir recollections, and in their ways of blocking out tragic events. Someemigrants simply refuse to speak German and restrict themselves to quotingpeople in German, the language they associate with their victimization. Butmany Austrians I have interviewed speak a German that is itself a testament toloss, a form of cultured Viennese German that has vanished with the destructionof the educated Jewish classes in Vienna. The same is the case withGerman-speakers who were forced to emigrate from Prague, such as one woman Iinterviewed who was a relative of Franz Kafka. For me this "Language ofEmigration" project closes a kind of hermeneutic circle and causes me toquestion whether my own language-learning enterprise is making me move awaymore from my mother tongue or from my father tongue.[19]

[1] For climate machines Iam thinking of air conditioners; for cloud machines I am thinking of the use of“clouds” of white ice on performance stages. Clouds can be imaginedas a sign system apart from their meteorological context, but only in specificcases: when smoke is produced for the transmission of information.

[2] For his Sprachspiel (language game) theory,see Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M.Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974).

[3] It may seem ironic tomeld language rights with environmental concerns, yet they face the sameessential threats of commodification, pollution, scarcity, and disappearance.Drinking water and clean air are like languages in that they are "justthere" and constitute our common natural and cultural property. Theyseem—when encountered—so immeasurable, enormous, and omnipresentthat the thought of their destruction would be absurd.

[4] The quasi eliminationof local languages and dialects in favor of national languages during thenineteenth century has to be seen as part of the modernization process thatcontinues today indirectly with the emergence of English as a corporate worldlanguage in which both states and corporations invest. This process isparalleled by the advancement of transnational capitalism and its most powerfulmedia: satellite television and the Internet (80 percent of web sites are inEnglish according to USA Today). (Julie Schmit,“Rough Translation: ‘No English, No Job’—A Reality Manyof Asia’s Workers Face,” USA TODAY, 26 July 2000, 6A.)

[5] E. J. Hobsbawm, Nationsand Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1992), 38, 60.

[6] Robert Phillipson, LinguisticImperialism(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

[7] Schmit, “Rough Translation.”

[8], as of 6 December 1999.

[9] The government military complex also has an interest in funding languagelearning: in U.S. universities area studies scholars are often sponsored by theU.S. government's Foreign Language Area Studies grants (Title VI) for the studyof so-called strategically important languages (for example, Sinhala or Tamilbut not Sanskrit).

[10] For example, the workof Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Stuart Hall, James Clifford, andmany more. Ron Clark and my ethnically diverse colleagues at the WhitneyIndependent Study Program provided the context for my learning and unlearning.

[11] The 1993 show was atPerson's Weekend Museum in Tokyo.

[12] I have used thissentence as a title for an art work and for a separate text.

[13] Compassion for people,countries, and languages can be irreconcilable and can increase personalcontradictions because one only can live one life.

[14] Immanuel Kant, Critiqueof Practical Reason,trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[15] Franz Kafka's"Hungerkünstler," the hunger artist who starves himself to deathin front of an abandoning public, is a wonderful metaphor I keep projectingonto my work (and so I have copies of this essay in my apartment in German,English, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Greek, and Korean). Thisartist tried to reify his activity of starving into art and spectacle,"commodifying" an activity that shortly thereafter became theemblematic and terrifying experience for millions at the hand of the Nazis andas a result of the war. Language acquisition as well may cut deeply intopeoples’ lives if it is necessitated by forced migrations and misery.When I was in Russia in 1991 and 1992 I saw how the "hunger line"around me was somehow identical to the "linguistic line": the abilityto speak Western languages enabled many people to have foreign friends, andlater this helped them establish small businesses and thus to be able tosupport themselves. Kafka, "Ein Hungerkünstler" [The hungerartist], in Franz Kafka, Ein Hungerkünstler: Vier Geschichten (Berlin: Verlag der Schmiede, 1924).

[16] The term"Ganahl" stood for industrialists (I just share the name, not thefamily fortune) from that region who spoke “different,”  as did wealthy people living on thesunny hills of the "Bödele."

[17] Georg Lukács, History andClass Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge,Mass.: MIT Press, 1971). Similar is the fact that when it comes to the massmedia, being “on air” or “in print” means“being” itself.

[18] I had not only nevercome into contact with such émigrés but I also knew only inabstract terms about emigration; this seems to be a symptom of aninsufficiently addressed Austrian repression of the past.

[19]  My parents’ Nazi upbringing lefta permanent negative imprint on me, so much so that I refuse to live in aGerman-speaking country. This particular language I will sell cheap.


<caption text>


Please, Teach Me Albanian, 1999. T-shirt.


Please, write down the Russian words theartist should learn, 1994. Wall drawing, Contemporary Art Center, Moscow.


Basic Korean, English is . . . , 1997–98.Photograph, 20 x 24 inches.


My First 500 Hours Basic Chinese, 1999–2000.250 video tapes in 50 boxes, Ludwig Museum of Art, Cologne, 1999.


Basic Chinese, 1999. Photograph,20 x 24 inches.


BasicVorarlbergian, Son of a Bitch . . . , 1997–98. Photograph, 20 x 24inches.