Knowledge transfer cont’d

I previously wrote here about the lack of an English equivalent for the common German term Wissenstransfer. While “knowledge transfer” is established in Anglophone microeconomics, it does not have the broad meaning of Wissenstransfer, which is used in German to designate various phenomena, from the sharing of academic insights with policymakers to the international spread of philosophical thought. The lack of a direct equivalent for Wissenstransfer is a translation problem of such severity that non-native speakers of English seem to be in a state of denial, as evidenced by edits recently made to the English Wikipedia entry for “knowledge transfer”, where the term is normally defined as a concept in “organizational theory” that relates to “transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another.” At the end of the first paragraph, an unknown editor has contributed the following clarification: “The term has also been applied to the transfer of knowledge being transferred [sic] at the international level.” Edits to Wikipedia articles made by non-native speakers are always a joy, particularly when atrocious grammar is paired with errors of content. At the end of this sentence, we find two footnotes to substantiate the assertion: The first is a reference to an article published in the Economic Times of India that was auto-generated (!) based on a news feed from somewhere else (note that “knowledge transfer” appears nowhere in the article aside from the title, where it is used as part of the larger compound “scientific knowledge transfer”). The second is a reference to an EU document produced as part of the Innovation Union, which means German natives were maybe (just maybe!) involved in its authorship.

In any event, Lord Grey’s successful effort to squelch the pro-German factions in British Parliament who advocated remaining neutral in 1914 means we now live in a world of Anglophone hegemony, a world in which a Professor of Political Science at Yale University, when asked by your humble author to define “knowledge transfer,” can unabashedly respond, “What in the hell is that supposed to mean?”

One thought on “Knowledge transfer cont’d”

  1. Well, here is another of your very interesting blogs that will also go unappreciated: native English speakers, like your Yale University friend, don’t care what Wissentransfer means, and native German speakers already know exactly what it means.
    Get my point? This word, therefore, is just another thorn in the shoe of the translators (who are remembered mostly only when they make a mistake).

    One small observation: in the 7th line from the top, you refer to
    “the field of Reception History”*. I have never heard of this field.
    Is it possible the German equivalent is well-known by all Germans, but you have forgotten that its literal translation males no sense in English?
    *I seem to remember you and I boxed a few rounds over
    “Reception History” a few years ago. My memory is your claim
    that it means “Received History”, meaning the histories we currently write in “our time” based on the histories or the knowledhe we have
    “received” from “past times”. I remember telling you that this probably makes perfect sense in German, but that we just don’t
    say it that way. I remember telling you that I would happily concede if you would show me just one college catalog that lists
    a course or a heading called “Reception History”. I am standing my ground.

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