Superficial Sources

Some encyclopedias, published in English-speaking countries, have been created with the help of international contributors with hands-on expertise. Moreover, the encyclopedias have been compiled and printed through the professional use of modern equipment. That is why, their readers should expect a high-end product, indeed. But, in certain respect it is not true. The sources they list at the end of entries are primarily in English. Such superficial approach doesn’t provide us with thorough knowledge.

Having been tired of the rootless globalization, some entities promote their mother tongues energetically. For example, the University of Zurich’s Museum of the History of Medicine, Switzerland, displays its exhibits with inscriptions almost solely in German. The official website of Italy’s Boxing Federation provides you with information only in Italian, except for some Tweets in English. As you can see, in order to get the full picture a meticulous researcher cannot rely exclusively on English-language sources.

The second edition of Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics in fourteen volumes, published by Elsevier Ltd. in 2006, contains vast resources of information on world tongues. But, even such a scholarly publication is not free from blemish. For example, Kazakh words in its entry Kazakh have been reproduced in Latin script, whereas the Kazakh language today is based on Cyrillic script. Yes, there are Kazakh minorities abroad, who use different scripts (e.g. Turkish Kazakhs write in Latin script or Chinese Kazakhs write in Arabic script). But, the vast majority of Kazakhs, living in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, or Uzbekistan, use Cyrillic script in their official documents, daily life, and literary activities. Moreover, bibliography of the entry Kazakh contains basically English and Russian sources. The practical absence of Kazakh sources in the bibliography may raise eyebrows. One cannot study seriously the Kazakh language without its monolingual dictionaries or informative articles, written by its native speakers.

People, covering their faces with question marks.

Encyclopædia Britannica in thirty two volumes, published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. in 2010, also has given a marked preference to sources in English, even when dealing with foreign topics. For instance, the bibliography of its article Gaulle, Charles de consists of English-language works. What would you say, if a French encyclopedia listed only French-language works in the bibliography of its article about Sir Winston Churchill? Of course, that would have been more than enough for a quick amateurish reference. But, when it comes to in-depth studies, then one must, first of all, research such prominent figures in the original. As a rule, they translate only major works from abroad. Meanwhile, one has to study tons of important monographs and archive materials in the original. Otherwise, your scholarly endeavours will be insufficiently furnished with appropriate data.

Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History in six volumes, whose 2nd edition was printed by Berkshire Publishing Group LLC in 2010, and The Encyclopedia of Mathematics and Society in three volumes, published by Salem Press in 2012, rarely have had recourse to non-English sources. For instance, in the latter’s article Asia, Central and Northern they wrote vaguely: «During the Soviet period, mathematicians from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan may have been drawn to some of the central academic centers in Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union». Had its authors researched the topic in depth, they would have mentioned a prominent Soviet Kazakh mathematician Umirzak Sultangazin (by the way, Los Angeles Times mentioned him) and his Kirghiz counterpart Murzabek Imanaliev.

It poses a mystery to me, how authors and editors of these truly global works dared to compile their bibliography virtually without native sources. To my mind, it is tantamount to pretend researching Shakespeare through excellent Russian translations, which sometimes sound even better than archaic originals. True, technically there is nothing wrong to study Bard of Avon with the help of first-class Russian books. But, in order to achieve really professional results you have to get direct knowledge of the topic through English sources.

As for the wide range of multilingual sources, social networking projects, like Wikipedia, are much more better than the aforementioned editions. But, unprofessional contributors quite often have spoiled the whole show. For example, the English Wikipedia is wrong, when it claims that a Russian heavyweight boxer Sultan Ibragimov is a cousin of an Uzbek heavyweight boxer Timur Ibragimov. As a matter of fact, they are just namesakes. So, we have long way to go to keep balance between a highly qualified team of experts and a broader spectrum of multilingual bibliography.

It is rather natural to furnish monolingual bibliography for high school textbooks, because teenagers usually are not fluent in foreign languages. But, encyclopedias for general public must have multilingual bibliography. Soviet reference books present an excellent example of the truly global scope of research. Yes, their authors didn’t have access to the Internet. They were obliged to stick to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism. Nevertheless, Soviet scholars based their studies not only on major languages, like German or Chinese, but also on less important languages. For instance, Philosophical Encyclopedia in five volumes, printed by the Soviet Encyclopedia Publishing House in 1960-1970, extensively used original sources in Armenian, Czech, Mongolian, Portuguese, and other languages. Such broad knowledge base was one of the principal ingredients for the top quality of this edition. By the way, Russian successors of Soviet authors have failed to uphold glorious traditions of Soviet encyclopedias.

Original sources ensure not only the wider scope of research activities. To tell the truth, it makes no difference whether you cite some factual information in Greek or Japanese. But, these sources are essential vehicles to underscore important aspects of different ideas, lifestyles, and beliefs. That is why, if you choose only one language as a tool to explore the world, then you inevitably will adhere to certain ideology behind the sources in this language. Let me illustrate this assumption. Russian-language books on economics, published during the Soviet era, clearly emphasized the preeminent role of class struggle in economical issues. English-language books on economics, published in USA, mainly give priority to private enterprise in these issues. In order to form a balanced opinion concerning the economics, one should study both Soviet and American sources. Such unbiased approach towards socialism and capitalism would ensure a sober judgement as for, what is right and what is wrong in the field of industry and trade.

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