Resolving Conflict Across Languages


  • Raymond Cohen

    1. Raymond Cohen is professor of international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel 91905. Email: Among his publications is the book, Negotiating Across Cultures: International Communication in an Interdependent World (Washington: USIP Press, 1997).
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English is increasingly used as an indispensable interlanguage, the common third language of non-native speakers, in international negotiations. In technical or commercial talks, where interlocutors share a stock of expert knowledge, semantic problems are relatively easily overcome. In emotive and complex negotiations to resolve protracted international conflict, however, intriguing problems of interpretation arise. Though interlocutors speak in English, they are unlikely to think or work in English. Back home the political debate is conducted in the mother tongue. Thus the semantic fields, the full range of meanings and connotations, of key abstract concepts at the heart of the negotiation may not be conveyed in translation. The ill-fated Syrian-Israeli peace talks are drawn upon to exemplify the argument.