I’m happy to share an interview with a former NATO colleague published in the current journal of the UK Speechwriter’s Guild, The Speechwriter. Neringa Vaisbrode is Lithuanian and after she left the International Staff remained in Brussels to write for prominent personalities in her home country in English and Lithuanian (which are not the only languages she speaks!). Her perspective on writing and communicating in the complex cultural and linguistic environment of modern Europe is very interesting and her interview is worth reading.
As a language Lithuanian joins Hungarian and Albanian among Europe’s linguistic “black sheep” (written with affection for my Lithuanian, Albanian, and Hungarian friends!). Unlike the Romance or Slavic languages, Lithuanian shares little in common with its neighbors and can be traced back directly to its oldest Indo-European roots. No more than 3.5 million people speak Lithuanian, but it is in no danger of dying out. Lithuanians protect and preserve their language with great pride, particularly given their country’s long history.
Lithuania was once a dominant power in northeastern Europe. But following a series of wars, plague and famine, Lithuania came under the influence of Russia and was eventually occupied first by the Czars and then by the Soviet Union. The Russians suppressed education and publishing in Lithuanian to assert political control. But Lithuanians kept their language alive underground while also developing a healthy skepticism for official rhetoric during Communist rule, which lasted until independence was achieved in 1991. As a result of this foreign influence, Neringa notes, “if we spot good rhetoric, we suspect a hidden agenda.” Practically speaking, this places the modern politician, and the speechwriter, in a difficult spot. How do you communicate effectively and professionally if the public views those attributes as a fault?
Neringa also has good, simple counsel for writing for multilingual audiences — the typical audience in official Europe today — which tracks closely my advice for speaking to English as a Second Language learners. (Writing for them, she says, shouldn’t be a test of English vocabulary and grammar.) And her mark of good writing appears to apply in any language: it should stand on its own, self-evident, without elaboration or annotation.
Without summarizing all of Neringa’s interview here, I would add that it’s always a pleasure to discover my friends’ favorite books and guides that I’ve not yet read. Neringa lists among hers Jose Saramago, Susan Jones and Philip Collins.
Special bonus: don’t miss The Speechwriter‘s turgid outtakes from the Bank of England Governor’s recent speech following Neringa’s interview.
You can read all of The Speechwriters by visiting the UK Speechwriter’s Guild here and clicking on “blog”.
My thanks to Neringa for her permission to reprint (and promote) her interview here!