Languagehat doesn’t normally concern itself with the news pages (except as sources of linguistic tidbits), but two recent stories should be troubling to anyone who cares about the free flow of information.
1) Publishers Face Prison For Editing Articles from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya or Cuba:
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control recently declared that American publishers cannot edit works authored in nations under trade embargoes which include Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Cuba.
Although publishing the articles is legal, editing is a “service” and the treasury department says it is illegal to perform services for embargoed nations. It can be punishable by fines of up to a half-million dollars or jail terms as long as 10 years.
So welcome to Rebel Edit. Edit a poem or short piece by a writer from one of these countries and send to rebel edit at shannacompton dot com. I will post it on this blog, which in effect will become both an act of protest and a petition.
Addendum. Bill Poser at Language Log has gone into more detail about both why the Treasury Department’s interpretation of the law is wrong and why it’s counterproductive.
2) Charges have been dropped against translator Katharine Gun—not in itself bad news, but Gail Armstrong has some extremely cogent remarks about the implications of the case for translators:
I expect that in the UK at least, this episode will lead to more careful screening of potential in-house translators in government offices, and perhaps even to recruits being questioned on their political stance (and an unspoken policy of hiring only those who toe the incumbent party line).
Translators have traditionally been viewed with some suspicion by those unable to grasp a divided devotion to two or more cultures, and by those baffled by such dedication to words.