Abstract Translation gaps—words that cannot be easily translated into another language—present communication problems that can be addressed by novel theoretical endeavors. This essay suggests utilizing them as analytical entry points to explicate broader international issues, drawing on theoretical frameworks rooted in communication to explore problematics involving other academic disciplines. In particular, this study focuses on the term “cool” and its international diffusion and untranslatability, analyzing its roots and ramifications. Its roots are situated in the production and global distribution of audiovisual artifacts originating in the Anglosphere and its ramifications within discourses of soft power of English-speaking nations, contributing to a global zeitgeist in which the semantic point of reference is the English language, including the sought-after dimension of cool. Translation gaps as clues to analyze broader international communication issues What is cool? In the many definitions provided by the Merriam-Webster dictionary for the term cool, under slang it indicates a) very good, excellent – also: all right; b) fashionable, hip. Shedding light and elaborating on the concept, Tapp and Bird point out that “it still seems the best word to describe that elusive, exclusive quality that makes behaviors and objects so hip, desirable and symbolic of ‘being in the know’” (Tapp & Bird, 2008, p. 20). While it is a relatively simple task to understand the connotative and denotative meanings of the term in English for native speakers, when this word crosses linguistic and cultural borders its meaning becomes more complex to grasp and explicate, as it appears to be deeply intertwined with its semantic original milieu, the English language. How do you translate cool? In many languages a paraphrase is needed to explicate via translation the concept expressed in just one word in the source text, and as a result in order to capture and maintain its meaning it is oftentimes left untranslated in the target language (rendering the term even more attractive). This represents one of the instances that makes the task of the translator as semantic negotiator between evolving languages and cultures complex and challenging. Sometimes, notwithstanding translators’ efforts, words cross different linguistic and semiotic environments untranslated, such as the German word zeitgeist (to indicate the defining spirit or mood of a particular period revealing the main beliefs of the time), the Italian word mafia (utilized to identify organized crime even when not originating from Italy, as in Russian mafia, Mexican mafia, etc.), and the French word chic (elegantly and stylishly fashionable), which are all commonly utilized untranslated in the English language. The communication problems presented by these “translation gaps,” words that cannot be easily translated into another language, can be addressed by explorations rooted in communication theory, providing an unconventional entry door to delve into broader societal issues. These very semantic disruptions taking place in international communication could be the focus of scholarly endeavors, bringing to the fore their origin and implications. Translation gaps can in fact disclose and explicate the inability of certain semantic environments to incorporate seamlessly the meaning of specific foreign words, rather than shortcomings on the part of translators. As translation scholars have long pointed out, translation is not merely an exercise of linguistic transfer; it a cultural process (see for example Bassnett, 2014). Therefore the explanations for these communication problems, where the negotiation efforts of translators are not enough to capture the meaning of a term in one language and to render it understandable to its full extent into another, have to be researched above and beyond linguistics in the historic, cultural, economic, and political relevance of the languages, the communication context in which such terms were originated, and their paths crossing cultural and national borders. Explorations rooted in communication theoretical frameworks can initiate and guide the analysis. The communication problems presented by translation gaps can be addressed by novel theorizing efforts delving into these problematics involving other academic disciplines, situating communication at the center of these analyses and aiming at contributing to the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature of communication as a field of study. Through the analysis of translation gaps, communication can in fact be utilized as a theoretical framework to shed light and explicate deeper societal issues in the international landscape in conjunction with other fields of study. The need for harmonizing theoretical efforts at the intersection of different strands of inquiry to analyze complex international issues is shared by other academic disciplines. In particular, sociolinguistics and translation studies scholars, analyzing the issue of the global primacy of the English language, acknowledge the necessity to look beyond linguistics to include also the “nonlinguistic dimensions” posed by language problems (Park & Wee, 2012, p. 22) and, specifically, the “politics of untranslatability” (Apter, 2013). This paper suggests utilizing, as an analytical entry point, these very translation gaps identified as communication problems, and addressing them through theoretical endeavors (Hanitzsch, 2013) with the intent to contribute to scholarly conversations, unveiling through their analysis hidden communication patterns and dimensions with broader ramifications. Methodologically, this essay follows and adopts Ginsburg’s (1989) historiography method of utilizing clues and gauges to investigate complex phenomena not easily explicable by the observer as an approach of scientific inquiry. Adapting this approach to the communication field of study, this essay invites to focus on translation gaps as clues to unveil communication issues with international repercussions. Departing from a purely linguistic and translation studies perspective, it suggests drawing on and contributing to theoretical frameworks in communication through the analysis of translation gaps. Specifically, this paper embraces the aforementioned approach, focusing on the term cool, tracing the context in which this term originated in the United States, and situating it within an international trajectory of examples of media content crossing national and cultural borders. It analyses in depth a specific case study in a non-Anglophone semantic environment—an Italian advertising campaign where the term cool is utilized untranslated in an attempt to capture its cachet—providing the political and historical context in which this attempt took place and explicating the attractiveness of the term for non-English speakers. The case study analyses the utilization of the term cool in the Italian context to delve into the evolving power dynamics of languages in the international communication landscape, and in particular to explore the global zeitgeist revolving around the word cool and its soft power ramifications in the global arena. The analysis presented, after a brief exploration of the American genesis and evolution of the term, traces the roots of the international new aesthetic of cool in the global circulation of popular culture artifacts and marketing efforts originating from the Anglosphere, who have been embracing and effectively incorporating this very term and notion for decades. As a result, the soft power of the nations in the Anglosphere is increased by this additional dimension of attractiveness. The translation gap originating from the untranslatability of the term cool is deemed an intellectual entry point for the analysis of phenomena of globalization, as the case study presented specifically analyzes an example where the term cool is utilized and contextualized in a different, geographically and culturally distant, local communication environment outside of its original semiotic environment of the United States. Through the lenses of cool, it aims to shed light on how the globalization forces materialize in different media platforms, providing political and historical context, and the hegemony of English as a global language in addition to its primacy in academic, economic, and technological fields as illustrated by an evolving body of literature originating from different strands of inquiry (see, for example, Cronin, 2003; Gordin, 2015; Munday, 2012; Northrup, 2013; and Venuti, 2008). In the case of the term cool, it is argued, a translated term is difficult to identify in other languages as a result of decades of imbalance within the flows and contra-flows of entertainment content originating from the Anglosphere and the rest of the world, as well as the appropriation of the term by marketing communication strategies that similarly cross national and cultural borders as a result of the phenomena of globalization. This term originated in the US and has followed the international diffusion of audiovisual artifacts combined with marketing communication efforts of transnational conglomerates from Anglophone countries to the rest of the globe, both often reaching untranslated locally situated audiences; it is currently utilized, and thriving, in different international media landscapes. The process did not take place overnight; rather, it has been unfolding in the last decades and it continues to evolve, as this paper aims to chart. The origins and creation of cool in the English language The term cool in its current connotative meaning originated in the U.S. jazz scene of the 20s1 and continued to evolve after World War II. It was embraced by other different American societal groups, oftentimes at the margins of mainstream society either by choice or by circumstances. These groups would, for vastly different reasons, challenge conformity in society; these groups included soldiers returning home after the Korean War and finding it difficult to blend in and reintegrate back into society that in the meantime had evolved, and white bohemians, disenchanted by the banality of mass culture and not interested in the path proposed by the promises of the new consumeristic society stemming from mass production of consumer products and its marketing (MacAdams, 2001; Tapp & Bird, 2008). It was in the 60s, however, that the anti-conformism movements brought to the fore, among other dimensions and discourses, the notion of cool, with San Francisco and New York as its initial gravitational centers (MacAdams, 2001, pp. 27–29). The complex interplay of vastly different forces was instrumental in establishing the very notion of cool as we have come to know it. On one side was the counterculture movement of the 60s and on the other corporate America, interested in intercepting and anticipating consumer trends of the young Baby Boomers first and of those aspiring to youthfulness ever since. Frank’s The conquest of cool2 analyzed the phenomenon, pointing out that since the 60s it has become “a more or less permanent part of the American scene, a symbolic and musical language for the endless cycles of rebellion and transgression that make up much of our mass culture” (Frank, 1997, p. 31), delineating the notion of teenagehood. On a similar note, Danesi (1990) points out that “teenagehood is really a four-decade-old construction of Western society” (p. x). The trend continues to be a relevant feature of the 21st century landscape, with always new evolutions and incarnations. Frank’s volume analyzed and brought to the fore a relevant conversation and provided a deeper understanding of the genesis of the phenomenon and its evolutions. His analysis, while both historically thorough and innovative in exploring the unlikely relationship of corporations and counterculture movements, utilized theoretical tools from different strands of inquiry, such as cultural studies and management theory, and shed light on many aspects of American popular culture and society through the lenses of cool. Its magnifying glass of analysis, however, stops at the American borders without elaborating on its international diffusion, consequences, and ramifications. In a similar way, an insightful documentary aired by the U.S. public broadcaster PBS in 2001, The Merchants of Cool (Goodman, 2001), illustrates the origins of cool at the intersection of entertainment content distributed both by media platforms such as MTV and by corporate marketing to their favorite target—teenagers—only in U.S. domestic terms, falling short of exploring what happens when these encounters, and their dynamics, take place in different international cultural environments. Since the 60s, the shift from the mass marketing to the segmentation approach of the leading Anglophone transnational conglomerates distributing consumer products has led to the specific discovery/creation of the segments of young consumers. The process started successfully identifying and reaching Baby Boomers, then focusing on the following Generation X, and now Millennials. These consumer cohorts have been analyzed and dissected to understand their needs and wants in order to intercept and influence the demand for products and services that might originate from the new generation of young consumers. The exact boundaries of these cohorts slightly differ depending on the goal of the inquiry. Markert (2004), for example, proposes 20-year generational increments, defining Baby Boomers as the individuals born between 1946–1965, Generation X those between 1966–1985, and Generation Y (also known as Millennials) between 1986–2005. Regardless of the exact demographic boundaries of these generational cohorts, the constant search for new consumers indicates the continuous attention and interest of U.S. marketers in influencing the young segment (the “next generation,” as Pepsi would put it), which tries to subvert the status quo they find in society as they become of age. As these dynamics, originating within Anglophone business environments, cross national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries in global marketing efforts, combined with the international distribution of entertainment of transnational media and communication conglomerates, they contribute to establish and perpetuate the primacy of the English language in the realm of cool. The interactions between locally situated consumers and international communication flows have been increasing in the last decades within the phenomena of globalization, contributing to the international diffusion of cool. For example, analyzing Japan’s linguistic environment and the country’s metroethnicity, Maher (2005, p. 83) points out, “Gone are the immutable ciphers of ethnic identity. Here comes Cool.” In particular, MTV, at the center of the analysis of the documentary The Merchants of Cool (Goodman, 2001), had been generating since the 80s a specific impact of its own, vastly increasing the diffusion of popular music in English, originating both from the United States and the United Kingdom, oftentimes attempting to strike the right balance between homogenization and local adaptations, mixing international English speaking content with local ones, as the example of its roll out in Germany illustrates (Adelt, 2005). In the process, it has contributed to the association of the English language with the notion of cool in the minds of international young audiences. The international development of MTV is an example of the global strategies of transnational media conglomerates such as Viacom, successfully operating internationally and targeting different demographics with a portfolio of different brands such as Nickelodeon and MTV (Moran & Chung, 2008; Rosati, 2007), which have contributed to building and maintaining the cool environment for the media content proposed to young audiences worldwide since their infancy. It could be considered another effect of globalization, as some of the very forces instrumental in the creation of cool, the marketing strategies of Anglo-American consumer products and entertainment industry corporations, are also major drivers in the processes of globalization, which have been unfolding in the last decades. During this time, the very nature of capitalism has evolved, as analyzed by Boltanski and Chiapello (2005, p. 419), illustrating “the new spirit of capitalism,” which is willing and able to incorporate critiques, in particular “much of the artistic critique that flourished at the end of the 60s,” generated by counterculture movements. Within these broader shifts in Western capitalism, the appropriation of the elusive concept of cool has increasingly gained center stage, generating what has been defined as cool capitalism: “the incorporation of disaffection into capitalism itself” (McGuigan, 2009, p.1) and “one of the major factors driving the modern economy. Cool has become the central ideology of consumer capitalism” (Heath & Potter, 2004, p. 188). In this context, the export of audiovisual artifacts from the Anglosphere to the rest of the world plays a vital role in the diffusion of the English language and the creation of the very concept of cool internationally. The international flow of audiovisual artifacts and the global diffusion of cool The successful international distribution of audiovisual media artifacts originating from English speaking countries and reaching virtually every corner of the globe can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. It has vastly increased, however, since the late 50s and early 60s, each sector with its own distinctive path of international development and distribution, and it has been accelerating in the last decades as a result of the globalization processes, to which it is still contributing. In particular, the international distribution of popular music and the development of international marketing and advertising strategies have contributed to the global diffusion of cool. International distribution of popular music The international distribution of popular music provides a direct contact between international audiences and foreign languages, usually crossing national and cultural borders untranslated, without necessarily being completely understood in their connotative and denotative meanings by the locally situated receiving audiences. While the different popular music landscapes tend to be localized, with local artists producing the bestselling albums and songs at the top of the charts of different local markets, the global phenomena in popular music in the last decades have been almost exclusively in English. A recent example is Pharrell Williams’ 2014 song Happy, also part of the soundtrack of the movie Despicable Me 2 (Coffin & Renaud, 2013, distributed by the Hollywood studio Universal Pictures), a global success with clear American roots, as shown in its video, which depicts images noticeably drawing on its American popular culture milieu of origin (iamOTHER, 2013). This music video in fact shows clearly identifiable images of Southern California and celebrities from the American entertainment and sports industries. Its international distribution and success had unintended consequences: the international audiences’ participation in this media artifact have originated different, user-generated amateur local videos, such as in Tunisia, utilizing the song to generate derivative, participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006) in English rather than the local Arabic language (ZiguaOfficiel, 2014). The English language, as a result of globalization, is increasingly becoming the semantic environment for expressing participatory culture via social media and internet-based platforms, amplifying the international distribution of popular music in English. Interestingly enough, however, only a few decades ago some of most popular English-speaking pop/rock music bands (and their producers), who would later became international phenomena, initially felt the need to adapt their work to local audiences by translating their songs into foreign languages. We can hear in early records (now collectors’ items) the Beatles singing in German I Want to Hold Your Hand, which becomes Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand [Come On, Give Me Your Hand]3 and She Loves You becoming Sie Liebt Dich, while The Rolling Stones translate their As Tears Go By into Italian as Con le Mie Lacrime [With My Tears]. The success of English language music in the 60s in still extremely localized national popular music landscapes initially generated the opportunity for the rise of cultural and artistic translators: local artists would translate popular music hits from English and present in the local language to their audiences, usually unaware of their foreign origin. It could be defined as a “popular culture arbitrage” attempt, taking advantage of the cultural and national barriers of the time to present successful hits from one domestic musical market into another. This is, for example, the case of the French cover versions of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Do You Want to Lnow a Secret? by Pierre Lalonde as Je Croyais [I Believed] and Lucky Blondo (stage name of French singer Gérard Blondiot) as J’ai un Secret a Te Dire [I Have a Secret to Tell You], or the Italian singer/entertainer Adriano Celentano adapting Ben E. Kings’ hit Stand By Me in Italian as Pregherò per Te [I Will Pray for You]. The era of popular music translators, however, was short lived, and possibilities for popular culture arbitrage vastly diminished over time and virtually ceased to exist in a more internationalized landscape where national and cultural barriers for popular music distribution became less and less relevant. It was a process which unfolded over the last decades. Eventually, the original versions of hits were distributed internationally, reaching local audiences and taking over; since then, English established its role in the global mediascape as the cool language of music, targeting young people and adding mystique to its already primary position in other linguistic and communication fields. In fact, from the 70s on the practice of adapting foreign hits in local languages practically disappeared and, in contrast, local groups aiming at the international popular music marketplace started to release their songs directly in English, such as the Swedish group ABBA, which became an international success by winning the Eurofestival singing contest in 1974 with the song Waterloo. This trend continued with the Norwegian pop group A-ha's Take on me (1986), successfully crossing the Scandinavian borders in English. International marketing, advertising strategies, and consumer products distribution The opposition to conformism in society, stemming from the mass market approach of large, profit-oriented conglomerates and its consequences, arose in the 50s in the United States when different societal voices pointed out the shortcomings and constraints for such a planned approach to human existence where the bright promises of unprecedented wealth via the consumption of new goods and services seemingly would satisfy every societal need. Intellectual voices pointed out the limits and dangers of this corporate approach in society, including Whyte in his book Organization Man (1957), while others also specifically gave voice to a new malaise towards the persuasion industries, in particular advertising, as the engines of the new Western consumer society (Packard, 1957). As a result, in the corporate marketing strategy circles this awareness and uneasiness vis-à-vis conformism led to the development of the market segmentation approach, a strategy utilized since then and defined as “an effort to identify and categorize groups of customers […] according to common characteristics” (Keegan & Green, 2015, p. 561), oftentimes based on psychographic and demographic features (as in the “cola wars” between the consumer product giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi) rather than logistic or distinctive product characteristics (Frank, 1997, pp. 23–24). In particular, the specific criticism of advertising techniques and practices raised by Packard’s Hidden Persuaders (1957), which characterized “consumer society as a gigantic fraud, a conspiracy to manipulate the public and sell items they did not need” (Frank, 1997, p.40), led Madison avenue in the 60s to “adopt a version of Packard’s critique and cast products as solutions to the problem of mass society he had done so much to publicize” (p.40), actively participating in the cultural criticism of the mass society, surprisingly not unlike the counterculture movements of the same decade. By offering products presented as tailor-made for the next-generation consumers, they adopted counterculture ideologies in their commercial messages: “Alienated by the conformity and hypocrisy of mass society? Have we got a car for you!” (Frank, 1997, p.60), utilizing narratives and symbols drawn from the counterculture movements, such as “being yourself,” “you rascal you,” “anti-status, anti-obsolescence,” “power to the people,” “women’s liberation,” “hidden persuaders exposed,” and “serious fun,” among others (p. 133–183). Unsurprisingly however, “Madison Avenue’s vision of the counterculture was notoriously unconvincing to many who actually took part in the movement” (Frank, 1997, p.120). The youth culture and creativity were oftentimes the inspiration of new modalities to communicate persuasive messages due to the “discovery” of the increasing size of the youth demographic since the 60s and their unprecedented access to disposable income (and to those who, while not part of this demographic segment, would aspire to partake of youthfulness as an attitude or a hip state of mind, and could be persuaded that this would be obtainable through consumption of specific product and services). The cola wars between Coca-Cola and Pepsi—the marketing battle to cover and conquest the niche of cool unfolding since then—constitute a relevant example, also with international ramifications. Coca-Cola has been a leading global corporation in the soft drinks and beverages market for decades, virtually unchallenged domestically by competitors until the 60s. The competitive landscape changed since the invention of Pepsi Generation, “made possible by an ad campaign that made skillful use of the subversive, anarchic power of the carnivalesque and the imagery of youth rebellion […] not just a soda but a vision of its consumers as impudent insurrectionaries, sassy upstarts flouting the dull, repressive mores of the past” (Frank, 1997, p.169), as in the “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation” advertising. Indeed, cool became the new communication battleground to challenge the long established market leadership of Coca-Cola, which in turn developed a campaign also inspired by counterculture movements, “It’s the real thing,” proclaiming “multicultural harmony; peace and love under the aegis of the universal product. Starting from opposite sides of the American cultural divide, Pepsi and Coca-Cola had somehow met in the middle: the counterculture was now all-American” (Frank, 1997, p.179). This specific commercial (named “hilltop” by its creators and so referred to by advertisers since then) also constitutes an example of the foray of hip consumerism outside the American borders, followed by ever-changing “Pepsi generation” advertisements linked to different spokespersons for global audiences in the decades that followed, relying on popular culture icons arising in the Anglosphere (such as Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, among others) and reaching untranslated—just like global music hits—locally situated consumers. It is worth noting, however, that it is not uncommon for these commercial attempts of connecting with and shaping popular culture to fail to convince their intended target. Sometimes they might even generate backlash, as did the recent Pepsi Cola advertising campaign featuring Kendall Jenner, a Caucasian woman, reenacting scenes borrowed from the Black Lives Matter movement, which generated public uproar in social media outlets. The company, in order to manage the aftermath of this communication misstep, issued in a statement an apology indicating that “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding” and acknowledging that they “missed the mark” and as a result were “pulling the content and halting any further rollout” (Victor, 2017). The cola wars have continued over the last decades in a battleground no longer limited to the American domestic market, instead expanded in a global arena. In this case, the communication strategies remained similar, with both players competing to create and occupy the image of cool in the minds of global consumers, albeit through different communication strategies, paths, and venues, drawing on images, artifacts, and content originating from different media sectors (such as music, sports, etc.). These represent examples of the utilization of communication strategies on a large scale by transnational conglomerates, appropriating the cool dimension in an attempt to reach young consumers and those who aspire to be so, not only in English-speaking countries, but also internationally, contributing as well to the international creation and development of cool being centered in the English language. Be cool and join the (Italian) navy Advertising and entertainment media content in the United States have been following, embracing, and incorporating counterculture movements’ messages for decades in order to reach and appeal to an increasingly relevant segment of the population: the teenagers. At the same time, the leading profit-oriented media and advertising conglomerates have expanded internationally in recent decades as the phenomena of globalization have provided unprecedented international opportunities and outlets for the distribution of their products. As a result, the counterculture messages originated in the Anglosphere, embedded in the media content, have been increasingly travelling internationally. In particular, the translation gap presented by the term cool crossing different semantic environments untranslated can be utilized as an entry point to shed light and analyze phenomena of globalization as they unfold, giving political and historical context to the hegemony of English as a global language. Since the counterculture movements of the 60s, it has not been an uncommon strategy for advertising executives to engage in “cool hunting” and to explicitly appropriate the term cool to promote goods, services, ideas, locations, etc. and insert it in their persuasive communication messages, as illustrated earlier. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that a 2014–2015 advertisement campaign utilizing this very term was created to promote recruitment in the Navy, with the slogan Be cool and join the Navy. There are, however, unusual features and circumstances in this specific communication, noticeable in the Facebook page of the institution which originated the advertisement, which can be considered as clues of deeper communication problematics worth investigating within Ginsburg’s (1989) historiography method framework, specifically rendering this an interesting case study in the analysis of the global diffusion of cool (M. Militare, personal communication, December 26, 2014). This was in fact an advertising campaign, in English, of the Italian Ministero della Difesa [Italian Ministry of Defense], designed to promote Marina Militare Italiana [Italian Navy] recruitment in Italy by targeting young Italian men and women. To interest and appeal to young Italians, this advertising campaign did not draw on the rich Italian linguistic and historical heritage. At first glance this is surprising, given the country’s ancient language, which predates the very existence of an Italian nation state, first as the Kingdom of Italy founded in the 19th century, then the Italian Republic in the 20th century after World War II. The first recorded documents in the Italian language can in fact be traced back to the beginning of medieval times, as Italian, originally defined as the vulgar4 version of Latin, was utilized as the primary communication tool, both in written and spoken word, in the Italian peninsula and was already the language of choice in the 14th century for literary masterpieces such as Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. The Italian language has since enjoyed a prominent role over the centuries in many semantic environments and still commands international primacy in fields such as music (as many classical instruments and the very music notation originate from Italy), food, and fashion. Utilizing the Bourdieusien notion of the linguistic market and the value of a language as capital and as commodity (see Park & Wee, 2012, pp. 124–162), an argument can be made that Italian is not perceived as a language with lesser value in the international communication landscape in its sociological, cultural, economic, and linguistic aspects. Furthermore, Italian maritime traditions can be traced back for centuries, since the ancient Romans ruled the Mediterranean Sea. Such primacy continued after the demise of the Roman Empire in medieval times, when the powerful maritime republics of Venice, Amalfi, Genoa, and Pisa, whose emblems are still notably represented in the current coat of arms of the Italian Marina Militare, were dominating the Mediterranean Sea and retaining a pivotal role in commerce flows connecting Europe with the rest of the known world. Following this tradition, the relevance of Italian sailors and explorers continued over the centuries, well after the weakening of the aforementioned maritime republics. Many of the European explorers in search of the “new world” in the 15th and 16th centuries, such as Christopher Columbus in Central and South America, Amerigo Vespucci in South America, and Giovanni da Verrazzano and Giovanni Caboto in North America, had Italian origins. Interestingly enough, however, these explorers did not leave a linguistic trace of their country of origin in the new lands they “discovered,” as all their expeditions were on commission for other European nations and funded by other European kings and queens, since there was no unifying Italian kingdom at the time, shown in Rankin’s (2014) map tracing the “lands truly discovered.” The diffusion of language was linked more to the colonial power of the states funding the conquest than to the individuals funded. It was the colonial power of the kings and queens they served that determined the diffusion of the language, not the explorers’ role in the discovery of new commercial routes: Christopher Columbus was funded by and conquered the “new lands” on behalf of the king and queen of Spain, Amerigo Vespucci for the royals of Portugal and Spain, Giovanni da Verrazzano for the king of France, and Giovanni Caboto by the king of England. As a result, there is no trace of the Italian language in the Americas colonized by European powers from the fifteenth century on, although many of the first European explorers who identified and charted the new territories were Italian. The Italian case study exemplifies the relationship between language and power (or lack thereof) in the international diffusion of a language, and how the phenomena of colonialism and diffusion of language are historically intertwined. A non-existent colonial power (Italy) exported explorers but not its language. Italy developed only later as a nation state when it unified under the king of Piedmont in the 19th century, becoming one of the last European state nations to take shape. Once unified, Italy developed a colonial approach in its international expansion of power over cultures and states, mostly in Africa, which had remained independent after the conquests led by the most powerful European colonial empires in the previous centuries. Italy then colonized (for a brief period of time) territories such as Libya and Somalia, though not without leaving behind controversies (see Ben-Ghiat & Fuller, 2005). However, there were limited linguistic consequences in the international diffusion of the Italian language. As a result of its limited colonial past, the Italian language also has limited, if any, international diffusion compared to that of English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, which were ushered in by the former colonial powers. The balance of power between languages appears again in this instance of persuasive advertising communication, and the utilization of the word cool by a local Italian governmental department brings to the fore this imbalance of power, especially when dealing with persuasive messages in advertising. In need of a persuasive message, the Italian Navy explored an unconventional communication strategy, not relying on their linguistic and cultural background. The local advertising executives decided instead to tap into the international notion of cool, utilizing the English language to communicate to the Italian youth and to focus the message on this very term, trying to capture the mystique of the foreign-generated media content to attract and appeal to their targeted, locally-situated audience. This occurrence of a hyper-local institution, in a country with deep local cultural roots and entrenched in the fabric and formation itself of Italian identity, relying on a foreign language and a foreign concept to be attractive provides a powerful example of the status of English as the international language of cool. The clue analyzed in this paper is not an isolated case (either of the use of the English language in the Italian communication landscape or of the term cool being retained untranslated outside of the Anglosphere). English terms are in fact currently utilized, untranslated, in Italy by a large number of people and organizations, both profit-oriented and non-profit, including the Italian government. For example, English has been utilized to introduce new laws (such as the jobs act, an umbrella term for a series of legislative initiatives promoted by the Italian government to deregulate the labor market in 2014–2015; a new law introducing the crime of stalking in 2009; the stepchild adoption provision in the 2016 law regulating civil unions, etc.) and to illustrate new procedures (such as the budget term spending review to monitor public administration expenses), and is currently utilized by the local media and professionals when discussing everything from the economy (such as the term spread, used to illustrate differences in interest rates of bonds issues by governments of different states) to social network practices (such as the term selfies). Moreover, this is not exclusive to the Italian linguistic ecosystem, as English is increasingly the communication tool of choice internationally for indicating something hip and desirable. Currently the term cool is being utilized in popular culture artifacts generated outside of English-speaking countries, as shown by two vastly different examples within the popular music spectrum, curiously sharing the very same title of C’est Cool [It is Cool]: Eurodance Danish-born singer Whigfield’s single released in English (Off Limits, 2011) and French rapper of Algerian descent El Matador’s song in French (ElmatadorOfficiel, 2014; drawing on the British pop group Banarama’s hit Cruel Summer, originally released in 1984). In both instances, two non-English European pop artists utilize the term cool to try and capture the attractiveness of the word in their work. The soft power dimensions of global cool The analysis of the translation gap presented by the utilization of the term cool in different local communication environments outside of the Anglosphere is a clue bringing to the fore the power dimensions of global cool. In the case of the international diffusion of the English language, both the forces of hard power (the colonial past of the British Empire and the current U.S. primacy, both economically and militarily) and soft power are in play. The successful international distribution of media artifacts from the Anglosphere to the rest of the world contributes to the creation and sustenance of the soft power of the countries from which these flows originate. In addition, the ability of the profit-oriented leaders in these industries to incorporate counterculture movements’ messages in order to reach the ever-changing teenage segment in the United States has international ramifications, as in the case of the term cool being utilized untranslated internationally, providing an additional desirable and attractive dimension to the English language. The global diffusion and the primacy of media content (music, television, movies, etc.) originally conceived and developed in English has contributed to the creation of a global zeitgeist, a popular culture climate in which the semantic point of reference is the English language, which as a result remains the language associated with these forms of communication. Within the complexities of the flow and contra-flow of the global mediascape, the international distribution of audiovisual artifacts originally produced in English has facilitated the diffusion of English abroad over the last decades, above and beyond the academic, technological, economic, and political fields where the language had already been establishing an international primacy. The global marketing efforts of Anglo-American transnational corporations have also contributed to the construction of an aura of attractiveness to goods, services, and ideas originated by them, and in the process the very language utilized, English, oftentimes draws on popular culture points of reference presented by media artifacts, as illustrated in the global cola wars between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. The analyses presented in this paper exploring the translation gap illustrated by the international diffusion and the untranslatability of the term cool—through the case study of the Italian Navy advertising campaign utilizing this very term to appeal to its young constituents deemed a clue (Ginsburg, 1989) to investigate deeper communication problematics—aim to shed an additional light on the complexities of the primacy of the English language in the 21st century international communication landscape. English has become the new lingua franca: not the new and improved version of the utopic “perfect language” (Eco, 1993), but the increasingly common semantic milieu where international communication takes place as a result of complex dynamics, including the primacy of U.S.-generated media content, the international communication strategies of profit-oriented transnational consumer products conglomerates, the global diffusion of the internet as a communication platform, and digital technology development and utilization based on signs and symbols generated in the English language. English has increasingly become the semantic environment in the global zeitgeist that comprises the elusive and sought after dimension of cool, which is also rooted in the English language and has been introduced globally through the international distribution of audiovisual artifacts and marketing strategies of profit-oriented conglomerates, as the case study analyzed suggests. This neo-Babelianism—utilizing one language globally as it was prior to biblical construction of the Babelian tower—constitutes the semantic milieu where global convergence materializes and takes shape. As Jenkins points out, global convergence is “giving rise to a new pop cosmopolitanism,” defined as “the ways that the transcultural flows of popular culture inspires new forms of global consciousness and cultural competence” (Jenkins, 2006, pp. 155–156). The new pop cosmopolitanism is rising within this neo-Babelianism environment centered on the primacy of the English language, and is at the same time intertwined with the increased soft power of nation states within the Anglosphere. The international diffusion of the English language, which includes the dimension of cool as a result of the international distribution of audiovisual content illustrated in this paper, also helps to create and sustain the soft power, defined by Nye (2004) as the level of attractiveness of a country, of English-speaking nation states. This diffusion has helped the development of Anglo-American soft power, adding another tool to their global influence in the more traditional hard power dimensions (such as military and economy). In particular, the creation and international diffusion of cool, illustrated with the translation gap presented by its untranslatability as it crosses national and cultural borders, increases the soft power of the nations in the Anglosphere, adding another dimension of attractiveness, especially for younger generations worldwide. Interestingly, while in the United States the creation of cool defined and established a dynamic of local counterculture movements against the local powers that be, when this process is reproduced internationally it could create a new foreign/local dynamic for cool counterculture rebellion, with cool being foreign-generated against power that tends to be local. The specific soft power of cool did not go unnoticed in media and public diplomacy circles around the world, and the very term has been utilized to devise or implement nation branding efforts in the Anglosphere and beyond (van Ham, 2001). Cool has become an umbrella term to create communication campaigns intended to reach and influence constituents outside the national borders. “Cool Britannia” in the United Kingdom, a New Labour campaign drawing on the international success of the distribution of British popular culture in a concerted effort to increase the global attractiveness of the country, was a prime example of a deliberate political attempt to connect primacy in the production of cool to international soft power. Similarly, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry promoted the “Cool Japan” communication campaign, also centered on its audiovisual production, with the intent to increase the international attractiveness of the country in the international arena (Daliot-Bul, 2009). The realm of cool has indeed become a distinctive communication battleground, where nation states create and sustain dimensions of soft power globally. As illustrated in this essay, its roots can be traced in the production and global distribution of audiovisual artifacts originating in the Anglosphere, while its ramifications contribute to explicating patterns of building and sustaining the soft power of English-speaking nations and beyond. The soft power of cool, however, is hard to translate and replicate outside of the Anglosphere, for it originated in the English language and has evolved over time within this specific communication landscape, as illustrated in this paper through the analysis of its untranslatability and specifically in the case study of the appropriation of the term by an advertising campaign of the Italian Navy. Conclusion: the international primacy of the English language and the global creation of cool The English language has gained in the last decades an international central role as lingua franca in different domains as a result of the acceleration of the phenomena of globalization. In particular, within the flows and contra-flows of the current global mediascape there is an increasing portion of communication crossing national and cultural borders untranslated in its original language, English. This imbalance within media flows, as a result of the primacy of the Anglosphere in the global mediascape, is contributing to the creation of a cool halo on this communication tool above and beyond the power of this language in academic, technical, economic, and political communication. At the turn of a new millennium, the successful international distribution of media artifacts and marketing campaigns originating from Anglophone transnational conglomerates is reaching locally-situated audiences at unprecedented speed, contributing to the attractiveness of the English language, which the analysis of the translation gap provided by the untranslatability of the term cool has brought to the fore. The international diffusion of the term cool analyzed in this paper aims to provide an additional dimension to understand the current global primacy of the English language as the international lingua franca in academic, economic, and technological conversations, driven also by the production and distribution of popular culture (and counterculture) globally and locally. Following the evolution and the untranslated international diffusion of cool contributes to explicating the attractiveness of English in the current international linguistic landscape, and specifically its role in creating and sustaining the soft power of English-speaking countries internationally. In this paper, however, only select cases of audiovisual content, in particular scanning the international distribution of popular music and the development of international marketing and advertising strategies originating in the Anglosphere, have been presented, and many more could be analyzed, drawn from such areas as the international distribution of feature-length motion pictures, made-for-television entertainment content, videogames, and social media platforms, whose reach is increasingly global (Sigismondi, 2011, 2017). Moreover, the arguments presented in this paper need to be empirically tested and refined, and further research efforts could shed light on the evolving phenomena by testing the arguments developed and presented here to verify to what extent these are supported by empirical studies. Furthermore, new research efforts could enrich the preliminary analyses offered and provide more analytical depth: for instance, investigating how the notion of cool is being contextualized in everyday life in non-English speaking countries. Ethnographic studies could explore how nonnative English speakers are utilizing that language in their performance or representations of cool, verifying and explicating the dynamics of the encoding/decoding processes posited by Hall (1980). For example, how cool is decoded by international audiences could enhance our understanding whether meaning is generated with dominant/hegemonic, negotiated, or oppositional codes and perspectives. Moreover, further research could illustrate potential hybridity generated in the process (Kraidy, 2005) between foreign and local, to be empirically tested, as well as phenomena of cultivation (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 2002), which might have generated expectations from international audiences over time for high-level production of popular culture in English, contributing further to the diffusion of the language in the process and adding mystique to the language. In addition, the very term cool in English is constantly being questioned (and less adopted by those who are or aspire to be so) as the risky, illicit, and subversive aspects implicit in the term are uncodifiable and tend to morph into and migrate to different terms, since languages are evolving, dynamic forms of communication, albeit moving at uneven paces in different parts of the world. For example, at the time of this writing in California, sick is the term replacing cool in the snowboarding, skateboarding, and rock climbing communities to indicate something or somebody amazing and hip. While the very term utilized to express the concept might change over time, the primacy of the English language in youth culture and its central role in shaping and defining what belongs within the realm of cool remain, however, as a result of decades of international primacy of audiovisual content from the Anglosphere, regardless of the changes in the evolving terminology defining it. It continues to attract those aspiring to be part of youth culture, above and beyond the specific age demographic, in the global communication landscape. This primacy, rooted in the production and global distribution of audiovisual artifacts originating in the Anglosphere, also has cascading effects on the soft power of English-speaking nations as they compete in the international arena. Notes 1 The roots of this term, however, can be traced back for centuries as a metaphor of moral and aesthetic accomplishment, originally within African communities and subsequently in African American communities, indicating “control, having the value of composure in the individual context, social stability in the context of the group” (Thompson, 1973, p. 41). 2 Aptly, the Spanish edition of the book, translated by Mónica Sumoy and Juan Carlos Castillón and published by Alpha Decay in 2011 as La conquista de lo cool: el negocio de la contracultura y el nacimiento del consumismo moderno [The conquest of cool: the business of counterculture and the birth of modern consumerism] leaves the term cool untranslated in the Spanish title. 3 All translations are the author’s except where otherwise noted. 4 The language commonly spoken by the people, from the Latin term vulgus [people]. References Adelt , U. 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Communication Theory – Oxford University Press
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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