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Living Languages

The blog for the Institute of Modern Languages Research

Modern Languages and Inclusivity: Sharing Ideas and Practices

Joseph Ford and Charles Burdett summarise the discussions at the 2022 AMLUK symposium held on 13 May 2022.

Promoting inclusivity is at the centre of the work of the IMLR. Together with the Institute of English Studies and the Institute of Classical Studies, it has recently appointed four fellows to help with the development of its programme of activities around Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement in research. The focus of the 2022 AMLUK symposium was to discuss how associations, schools, and university departments are approaching questions regarding inclusivity as it relates to the subject area of languages, cultures, and societies.

The first session centred on the work that subject associations are doing. Michael Tsang (Birkbeck) spoke about the challenges faced by East Asian Studies when it comes to decolonising initiatives. With curricula oriented towards aligning East Asian languages with geopolitical concerns specific to the region, he emphasised the need to balance the national and the regional with the global, for instance by identifying common and contrasting themes and imperatives in cultural production across global contexts. He spoke also of the need for East Asian Studies to examine its problematic disciplinary past and consider how broader structures, such as the REF, might restrict the kinds of research being done in this area. Zhu Hua (UCL) focused on the work of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) to develop a statement on equality, diversity, and inclusion. She conveyed how linguists are uniquely placed to bring a self-reflexive focus to terminologies deployed in our research and teaching. Developing a statement has been an opportunity to explore, question, and create space for alternative perspectives, but also to come up with concrete advice for colleagues across the disciplinary area, such as on the removal of problematic terms like ‘native speaker’ from job adverts and the provision of sign language interpreting at conferences. Claire Ross (Reading) and Iman Nick (Germanic Society for Forensic Linguistics) spoke about the work they have done over the past year to survey the field of German Studies as part of the EDI working group of the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland (AGS) and the Women in German Studies (WIGs) collective. Ross and Nick highlighted the ongoing work in these subject associations to grow inclusivity initiatives and reflected on the need for empirical surveys of the make-up and views of membership as a first step to bring about meaningful change.

Session One: Subject areas and associations

The second session focused on inclusion work happening in schools, carried out by teachers and academics attempting to bridge the gap between university and school-based pedagogies, curricula, and recruitment strategies. Lisa Panford (St Mary’s University) spoke as co-chair of the Association for Language Learning (ALL) special interest group, ‘Decolonise Secondary MFL’. She reflected on the ongoing work of the group, particularly the collaboration with the publisher Pearson to create more inclusive resources as part of the ‘Amplifying Marginalised Voices Through Languages’ initiative available on Pearson’s website. Charlotte Ryland (Oxford) and Stacie Allan (Stephen Spender Trust) talked about the Trust’s work in running translation exchange programmes in UK secondary schools as a means of increasing languages take up at universities. They discussed how their work is premised on the fact that the languages curriculum has not capitalised on UK schools having become more and more multilingual and that languages can be more inclusive if they privilege culture and creativity over communication and function. Gitanjali Patel (Shadow Heroes/Birmingham) spoke about the work of Shadow Heroes, an organisation whose translation workshops challenge the Eurocentrism and monolingualism of language teaching in UK schools. She stressed how translation can be a tool to include the perspectives of multilingual students in the classroom but is crucially also a means of engaging critically with the hegemony of a language classroom that neglects non-European languages and ways of knowing. Lucy Jenkins (Cardiff University) reflected on the work of the MFL Mentoring project in Wales, which has succeeded in increasing uptake of languages at university by employing undergraduates to work with 11–14-year-olds unsure about whether they will take a GCSE in languages. The project has been trialled in the UK and the hope is that mentoring schemes will be expanded in years to come.

Session Two: Schools

The final session of the day was an opportunity to hear about the work happening in universities and to reflect on a series of strategic interventions that could be made across the disciplinary field. Emanuelle Santos (Birmingham) spoke about the ‘Birmingham method for MLs’, which is working to align language teaching with core content modules, challenging traditional ways of language learning and helping to reconceptualise what language is altogether. She described how bringing together language teachers with researchers teaching cultural modules serves to break down the arbitrary and often discriminatory division of labour between language teachers and researchers whose work has traditionally been valued more within university structures. A key point here was that the work of inclusion must not simply mean introducing reform within pre-existing discriminatory and uneven structures. Giuliana Borea (Newcastle) brought the day’s presentations to a close by talking about decolonising initiatives in the School of Modern Languages at Newcastle University, and particularly about the need to think beyond the recent spate of activity in decolonising the university and to truly embed the work of self-reflection among all members of the department. Examples of this work include an effort to work in a translingual and transnational way across language areas and to include vernacular languages as a fundamental part of our teaching.

In the final discussion, attendees and presenters reflected on questions raised throughout the day, upon currently occurring subject-wide consultative exercises, including subject benchmarking, the forthcoming report from the AHRC Future of Language Research fellows, and the future investment of the AHRC in languages research, and upon issues such as the term ‘Modern Languages’ and the role of the IMLR as a space in which to draw together the work on decolonisation and inclusivity going on across UK education in languages and cultures. Two core actions points emerging from the conversation were (a) the ongoing necessity of breaking down the barriers between language and content teaching and (b) the need to think more deeply about questions relating to class and languages and the ways class intersects with all the issues discussed throughout the day.

Session Three: Universities, and Conclusion

Dr Joseph Ford, Lecturer in French Studies, IMLR; and Professor Charles Burdett, Director IMLR

Future Directions in Modern Languages: Action Points

Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research, discusses the recent symposium held on 25 February 2022 and issues that the event raised.

The question at the heart of the workshop on 25 February 2022 (Future Directions in Modern Languages) that was organised by the IMLR together with AULC, the UCML, and Bilingualism Matters was how the disciplinary area, broadly defined as Modern Languages, can develop to ensure its relevance and purpose. The importance of thinking about future challenges was foregrounded at the beginning of the event with the presentation of the work of the AHRC Future of Language Research Fellows. This was followed by presentations from researchers of Bilingualism Matters on how thinking concerning ‘community’ languages can advance decolonising approaches to the study of language and culture. The latter part of the day focussed on how the work of the four OWRI projects can be integrated within the subject area and inform developments more generally.

Many questions concerning the future shape of the disciplinary area were raised by the conference and all of these questions require a great deal of further strategic thought and engagement. One can, nevertheless, point easily to three issues that were present in all discussions. The first is how we can successfully move beyond a distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘community’ languages. The stratification of language learning is increasingly difficult to justify and serves no one’s interests. It might well, therefore, be a good idea to dispense with the adjective ‘modern’ and to seek to construct a broad, but nevertheless definable, subject area that has different emphases and inflections, but which is connected by the integrated study of language, culture, and society; that is grounded in the multilingual and multicultural realities that we all inhabit; and in which there is a strong emphasis on cultural and linguistic mobility.

The second issue that all speakers addressed was the necessity of intense, joined-up, and inclusive thinking concerning the teaching of languages and cultures. If we think about language teaching as an important element in the way in which we expand the nature of our contact with societies around the world, then it is clearly important that what is taught in schools is strongly connected with the subject area as it is understood and practiced in Higher Education. Innovative approaches to teaching, to the interface with creative practice, and to inclusivity need to be shared across the education sector as a whole.

The third issue concerns the need to demonstrate the relevance and applicability of the analytical frameworks that are used within the disciplinary field. All of the papers of the conference showed the powerful impacts that can be made by the subject area and how it can engage in cross-disciplinary research of crucial importance. The engagement of teams of researchers in high-profile funding initiatives such as OWRI leads to innovation in teaching practice and to changes in public perception.

The conference, with short interventions focussing on issues of strategic significance to everyone within the sector, provides an excellent model for future events. The recording of the event is available here:

 

Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research

 

Translating César Vallejo’s poem ‘Trilce III’

Cynthia Stephens translates this poem from the collection ‘Trilce’ (1922). This is a literary translation, which attempts to create a new poem while remaining faithful to the original.  Some of the difficulties which arise in such a translation are discussed, as it is a semantically complex poem in which multiple meanings echo through the voice of the scared child to that of the terrified adult.

 

 

 

 

Poet – César Vallejo

Original Poem:

Trilce III

Las personas mayores
¿a qué hora volverán?
Da las seis el ciego Santiago,
y ya está muy oscuro.

Madre dijo que no demoraría.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
cuidado con ir por ahí, por donde
acaban de pasar gangueando sus memorias
dobladoras penas,
hacia el silencioso corral, y por donde
las gallinas que se están acostando todavía,
se han espantado tanto.
Mejor estemos aquí no más.
Madre dijo que no demoraría.

Ya no tengamos pena. Vamos viendo
los barcos ¡el mío es más bonito de todos!
con los cuales jugamos todo el santo día,
sin pelearnos, como debe de ser:
han quedado en el pozo de agua, listos,
fletados de dulces para mañana.

Aguardemos así, obedientes y sin más
remedio, la vuelta, el desagravio
de los mayores siempre delanteros
dejándonos en casa a los pequeños,
como si también nosotros
no pudiésemos partir.

¿Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
Llamo, busco al tanteo en la oscuridad.
No me vayan a haber dejado solo,
y el único recluso sea yo.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Poet – César Vallejo

Translation:

Trilce III

Where have the grown-ups gone?
When will they get home?
Darkness has fallen in our village now,
it’s six o’clock and the light has gone.
Blind Santiago is ringing the bells.

Mother said she wouldn’t be long.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
be careful going out there, where
the souls of the dead have just passed,
sounding a death knell.
Double sorrows, ghosts,
are dragging their twanging memories
through our silent yard,
squawking, suffering, haunting.
So the sleeping hens
have been spooked and frightened away.

Better for us just to stay here quietly.
Mother said she wouldn’t be long.

We mustn’t be sad now.
Let’s go and look at our toy boats.
Mine is the prettiest of them all!
We’ll play with them the whole blessed day,
without fighting, as it should be:
they’re still in the pool, ready,
loaded up with sweet things for tomorrow,
ready for departure.

Let’s wait like this then, obediently,
not that we have any choice.
Let’s wait for them patiently,
for an apology from the two-faced grown-ups,
who are always ahead,
leaving us, the little ones, at home,
as if we couldn’t
as if we couldn’t also go away.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
I’m afraid of this punishment.
I call out, groping in the darkness,
searching through trial and error.
Surely they haven’t left me all alone,
in jail, doubled-up in pain.
Why am I the only prisoner?
The only condemned one!

Translation by Cynthia Lucy Stephens
Copyright © 2022

Commentary:

This haunting poem by the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo is about fear and loss. It expresses grief at the deaths of his brother Miguel followed by his mother, and the dreadful solitude following the break-up of his family and the end of his childhood. I see also the persecution and solitude later felt by Vallejo in his prison cell in Peru in 1920, held under never-proven charges, before he escaped on a boat to France and a life of exile.

I have tried to capture some of the multiple meanings echoing throughout this evocative poem. I divided the long sentence, in order to express double-edged meanings in the phrase “gangueando sus memorias / dobladoras penas”. “Gangueando” means “twanging” and “speaking through the nose”. I chose “squawking” because of the hens, but also because its discordant tones convey the difficulty of expressing painful memories. I focused on the active presence of the dead. “Penas” can mean “sorrows” or “souls of the dead” or “punishments”. “Dobladoras” could be “double”, “duplicitous”, or “doubled-over”, but I also wanted the sense of “doblar campanas”, to “toll”, or “doblar a muerto”, to “sound a death knell”, so as to connect with the blind bell-ringer Santiago from his childhood village.

The souls of the dead follow the child and the man, as the child waits in the village for his parents to come home, and in the last stanza the man reaches out for his lost siblings in the jail. He is afraid, like the hens from his childhood yard; he fears he may be left alone forever in a prison cell. This is a poem about departures and people not coming back home. Perhaps also a fear of his own future exile can be glimpsed within the ambiguous connotations of this complex poem.

Cynthia Stephens is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL), the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI), and the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). She studied English and Spanish at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, graduating in 1978, and that is where she discovered the poetry of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo. She has recently translated a chapter of the book César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, from Vallejo en los infiernos by Eduardo González Viaña, co-ordinated by Stephen M. Hart.

Translating César Vallejo’s poem ‘Enereida’

Cynthia Stephens translates this poem from the collection ‘Los heraldos negros’ (The Black Heralds) (1918). This is a literary translation, which attempts to create a new poem while remaining faithful to the original. Some of the difficulties which arise in such a translation are discussed, including how to render the made-up word title, which is probably a reference to January and a departure.

 

 

 

 

Poet – César Vallejo

Original Poem:

Enereida

Mi padre, apenas
en la mañana pajarina, pone
sus setentiocho años, sus setentiocho
ramos de invierno a solear.
El cementerio de Santiago, untado
en alegre año nuevo, está a la vista.
Cuántas veces sus pasos cortaron hacia él,
y tornaron de algún entierro humilde.

¡Hoy hace mucho tiempo que mi padre no sale!
Una broma de niños se desbanda.
Otras veces le hablaba a mi madre
de impresiones urbanas, de política;
y hoy, apoyado en su bastón ilustre
que sonara mejor en los años de la Gobernación,
mi padre está desconocido, frágil,
mi padre es una víspera.
Lleva, trae, abstraído, reliquias, cosas,
recuerdos, sugerencias.
La mañana apacible le acompaña
con sus alas blancas de hermana de la caridad.

Día eterno es éste, día ingenuo, infante,
coral, oracional;
se corona el tiempo de palomas,
y el futuro se puebla
de caravanas de inmortales rosas.
Padre, aún sigue todo despertando;
es enero que canta, es tu amor
que resonando va en la Eternidad.
Aún reirás de tus pequeñuelos,
y habrá bulla triunfal en los Vacíos.

Aún será año nuevo. Habrá empanadas;
y yo tendré hambre, cuando toque a misa
en el beato campanario
el buen ciego mélico con quien
departieron mis sílabas escolares y frescas,
mi inocencia rotunda.
Y cuando la mañana llena de gracia,
desde sus senos de tiempo,
que son dos renuncias, dos avances de amor
que se tienden y ruegan infinito, eterna vida,
cante, y eche a volar Verbos plurales,
jirones de tu ser,
a la borda de sus alas blancas
de hermana de la caridad, ¡oh, padre mío!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Poet – César Vallejo

Translation:

Fly Free January

In the fledgling morning
my ancient father,
with his seventy-eight long years,
can scarcely drag his winter branches,
all seventy-eight of them,
into the warmth of the sun.
He sees the local cemetery of Santiago de Chuco,
anointed by a merry New Year.
Many a time he took the village shortcut here,
walking, to attend some humble burial,
then making his way back home again, on foot.

Now it’s a long time since my father even left the house!
His children have fluttered and scattered away,
as if having some kind of a joke.
In the past he would discuss city matters,
public life and politics, with my mother;
but today he leans on his distinguished walking stick,
which sounded better in past times,
when the Government was in power.
My father is a different person now,
fragile and unfamiliar.
He’s on the eve of a big event,
awaiting a new beginning, a rebirth.
Withdrawn, he picks things up
and then puts them back again,
relics, memories, suggestions of things past.
The pleasant morning accompanies him,
with its Sisters of Charity white wings.

This is an eternal day, naïve and innocent;
child-like and choral, it resembles a prayer;
time is crowned with doves,
and the future is planted with caravans of roses
moving towards immortality.
Father, everything is still awakening;
January is singing, with mirth,
for the rebirth of the year;
your love echoes and rings on its journey to Eternity.
You will be laughing soon at your own little baby ones,
and their triumphal racket will fill the silence of the Void.

It will still be New Year’s day, like long ago.
Festive pies will be served, and I will be very hungry
when the bell is rung for mass in the blessed belfry,
by Santiago, the good blind man.
His conversation was so lyrical,
when I used to chat with him,
and share my fresh schoolboy syllables,
my resounding innocence.

When the new morning comes, full of grace,
its breasts of time two renunciations,
two points of love advancing;
Sister of Charity nuns, with white veils flowing,
and white sheets laid out, will pray,
reciting the Word, for infinite, eternal life.
The morning will sing out loud, and plural Verbs,
the tatters of your fragile self, will be set free;
white wings sailing over the edge, into Eternity.
Oh, my fledgling father, in January
you too, like a white dove, will fly away.

Translation by Cynthia Lucy Stephens
Copyright © 2022

Commentary:

This haunting poem by the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo is a filial tribute expressing love. It is about Vallejo’s old fragile father, who is struggling with his life after the death of his wife and the break-up of his family. The poem takes place on New Year’s day, and the father is portrayed as being like a young bird about to fly away sometime in January.

The title “Enereida” is a made-up word, possibly from “Enero” (January) and “ida” (departure). There may also be a reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the themes of rebirth and filial piety are both important. I found translating the title the hardest part; I started with an ugly made-up word, but I ended up with a title that I like the sound of and that I think is more optimistic.

I tried to capture some of the multiple meanings within this valedictory poem. The last stanza was particularly challenging due to many interacting symbols, and entangled syntax. I split this stanza into two; in the second section I have been more “creative”, so as to encompass the wider connotations. For instance, I focus on the Sister of Charity nuns, and their white wings become white veils; also white sheets, which are laid out; this is justified by the text, as “tender” can mean to lay out a dead body. I also added the reference to a white dove in the last line, but I think this is justified as doves are mentioned in the poem, and their white wings reflect those of the nuns.

The poem is imbued with religious imagery. I used the full name of Santiago de Chucho, the village where Vallejo grew up, as for British readers Santiago tends to mean Santiago de Compostela; and I gave the blind man his real name, Santiago. Language parts participate in the poem, in the form of Syllables and plural Verbs. I have the praying nuns reciting the Word. At the end of the poem I make explicit the idea that the fragile father, like a fledgling bird, will soon fly away to a new life in Eternity.

Cynthia Stephens is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL), the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI), and the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). She studied English and Spanish at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, graduating in 1978, and that is where she discovered the poetry of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo. She has recently translated a chapter of the book César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, from Vallejo en los infiernos by Eduardo González Viaña, co-ordinated by Stephen M. Hart

(Mis)translating Deceit: Disinformation’s Hidden Translingual Journey

Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz discuss how Modern Languages expertise can illuminate hitherto unacknowledged, but critically important, aspects of a major societal challenge: disinformation

COVID-19 and America’s Russia Gate scandal highlighted the threat posed by disinformation, generating multiple counter-disinformation initiatives – fact-checkers, monitoring organizations, legislative restraints, and online literacy initiatives. These reflect legitimate concerns implicating authoritarian states, but they also point to what a respected US journalist recently termed a ‘Big Disinfo’ knowledge industry.

An enduring ‘Big Disinfo’ fallacy posits ‘disinformation’ as a mid-20th-century English translation of the Soviet  termdezinformatsiya’, coined deceptively to resemble a French word, and a practice of non-Soviet origins. Disinformation is thus fundamentally inflected by (mis)translation, and history. The conventional wisdom is flawed (the term first occurs in early 20th-century English parliamentary disputes), indicating further that, rather than designating demonstrable falsehood, to identify something as ‘disinformation’ is a communicative, historically contextual act either inculpating other states or ‘othering’ internal critics. This explains why, when it is discovered locally, we have, since the Cold War, tended to seek evidence of foreign co-production; why the presence of non-Latin script on digital platforms can be over-interpreted as evidence of hostile state involvement; and why we often differentiate domestic ‘misinformation’ (unintentional falsehood) from foreign ‘disinformation’ (deliberate falsification), despite the impossibility of corroborating distinctions in an online world replete with camouflage.

Since English still dominates the digital realm harbouring most contemporary disinformation, it is the main target for disinformation producers. Conversely, its trackers prioritise anglophone examples of it. But what do we miss by disregarding disinformation’s hidden journey across multiple linguistic borders and communicative and conceptual contexts, its calibration for and interpretation by multilingual audiences, and its associated fluidity as a term of accusatory practice?

The main American and British English language corpora suggest that, excluding the world wars, from the term’s first appearance in the 1880s two historical points witnessed dramatic increases in western attributions of disinformation to foreign adversaries: the early 1980s and the 2016-2019 period. The relevant adversaries were respectively the USSR and Russia. Similarly, in both periods the initial obsession with foreign disinformation eventually gives way to concerns with internal culprits. Both periods, too, start with high-profile polarizing votes (the elections of Thatcher and Reagan; that of Trump and the Brexit referendum).

While in the early 1980s, the English language corpora’s examples primarily invoke KGB/Soviet disinformation, the mid-1980s saw annual increases in the term’s usage (continuing into the 21st century), but now as insults traded among internal opponents – Labour and Tory MPs, Democrats and Republicans.

In the second period, 2016 witnessed a sharp spike in accusations against Russia. This is unsurprising, given the Kremlin’s well-documented interference in the US elections. However, by 2019, according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, only 15% of examples name Russia, with the majority of disinformation culprits internal to the US.

Accusations against the USSR dropped after 1985 despite the most effective Soviet disinformation campaign ever – claiming that HIV/AIDS originated in a US laboratorypeaking in 1985-1988. The campaign’s failure to penetrate anglophone public debates reflected improvements in Soviet-Western relations under Gorbachev. Internally, disinformation allegations now, however, benefited from polarization generated by Reagan’s and Thatcher’s policies. Similarly, by 2019 disinformation discourse again targeted internal divisions within anglophone societies. Significantly, peaks and troughs in instances of ‘dezinformatsiya’ in the Russian national corpus follow patterns similarly dictated by international relations, alongside episodes involving the inverted mirroring of Western accusations. .

What of disinformation’s contemporary translingual trajectories? One narrative branded as disinformation by its leading European tracker is the ‘Russophobia’ accusation levelled by the Kremlin at western powers. Deployed recently to rebut allegations of demonstrable Kremlin involvement in the Salisbury poisonings this narrative sometimes involves deliberate deceit but more often reflects Russia’s historical defensiveness vis-à-vis the West and residual imperial rivalry (‘Russophobia’ featured in 19th-century English and Russian). That the same term is used polemically by opposing sides both to exemplify and to disprove current disinformation demonstrates why it works poorly as a forensic tool. Interestingly, despite the equivalent term’s minimal presence in German, ‘Russophobie’ is a search term on the RT Germany website, seen as a prime disinformation culprit. Moreover, the EU disinformation tracker lists as a source propagating the Russophobia narrative a Sputnik France article from which the term is entirely absent. The unacknowledged migration of concepts across languages and history, between allegation and rebuttal, and from rhetorical device to forensic tool, proves deeply problematic.

Another pernicious narrative of the COVID period revived the western-produced biological weapon myth. Aired throughout Russian-language media (but traceable to US ‘deep state’ conspiracists with whom Russophone extremists co-produce narratives), the theory was targeted by the EU’s counter-disinformation unit which tracked one example to a nationalist website hostile to the Kremlin. Yet the source associates the notion of COVID as ‘a British weapon’ with Western conspiracy sites , and the author concedes that Coronavirus’s probable origin is non-human. The article is highly tendentious but listing it as ‘pro-Kremlin disinformation’ is triply inaccurate.

Context – historical and linguistic – matters. For most anglophones the ‘bio-weapon’ story is conspiratorial nonsense, but for Arabic speakers sensitized to postcolonial paradigms, it re-invokes colonial aggression – hence the theory’s Arabic-language prevalence. Russian broadcaster, RT Arabic, is cited by the same disinformation tracker as concocting a claim  that COVID-19 is a US biological weapon. Closer scrutiny reveals that RT merely reports the claim by an Iranian official (admittedly without challenging it). Attention to a narrative’s surrounding linguistic context is essential to confirming its ‘disinformation’ status.

Disinformation trackers combine misattribution of narratives with mis-readings of their purpose. Another Russophone outlet was accused of claiming that COVID-19 was designed to kill elderly Italians. This source, however, targeted Latvians exposed to mainstream European media and was clearly ridiculing conspiracy theories. Indeed, Russia’s French-language output absorbed much of the mainstream anti-conspiracy rhetoric, re-deploying it for polemical ends, as in RT’s denunciation of France’s leading bookseller for promoting COVID disinformation, including the bio-weapon story.

The contradictions reflect uncritical usage of the term ‘disinformation’ to demarcate the Self (as upholder of truth) and the Other (as promoter of deceit) – hence the tendency to attribute the concept to the Other’s language; the confusion of polemical and partisan bias with disinformation; and the historical oscillations between projections of deceit onto internal and external adversaries respectively. These conflations are exacerbated by Big Disinfo’s perceived need to match volumes of disinformation identified to levels of funding received.

Inattention to disinformation’s translingual contexts, trajectories and narratives bolsters the dynamic sustaining it, to the advantage of authoritarian state actors like RT, which has launched its own multilingual ‘counter-disinformation’ initiative. Like ‘Big Pharma’, Big Disinfo shows scant respect for borders (of politics, language, or state). This confirms the value of retracing the steps of disinformation’s hidden journey.

Stephen Hutchings, Professor of Russian Studies, University of Manchester

Vera Tolz, Professor of Russian Studies, University of Manchester