The Linguist

The Linguist 59,4 - Aug/Sept 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 13 of 35

PANDEMIC INSIGHTS 14 The Linguist Vol/59 No/4 2020 L ife has changed dramatically in a few short months, and these rapid changes have been reflected in the language we use. From 'social distancing' to 'R rate' to 'self-isolate', words have entered common usage at an alarming rate. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) made an 'extraordinary update' outside its usual quarterly publication cycle to reflect these "extraordinary times", according to its blog. The Coronavirus Corpus of COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) maps the frequency of words and phrases in online searches, newspapers and other platforms in English-speaking countries. It shows just how quickly terms that were barely in use before March 2020 have become prevalent, with 'social distancing' in heavy use from March, 'flatten the curve' peaking on 1 April and 'Zoom' in high usage since April. But what impact does this have on understanding and communication about the virus, both globally and at a local level, at a time when mutual understanding is vital? How can we be sure that terms like 'shielding', 'PPE' and 'lockdown' mean the same thing in different countries and across languages? Such challenges are familiar to Translators Without Borders (TWB). With more than 30,000 volunteers, the non-profit organisation offers language and translation support for humanitarian and development agencies, and other non-profit organisations, on a global scale. According to Paul Warambo, TWB Kenya Manager, who is based in Nairobi, issues often stem from the fact that a concept, such as 'WFH' ('work from home'), is lacking in the target language. In many African languages, the idea of 'social distancing' is non-existent. Translators into Swahili and Luo, a dialect spoken by 4.2 million people in Kenya and Tanzania, have struggled with this concept in Covid-19 materials. There is a general agreement to adapt it to something like 'keeping away from people', says Warambo. In India, the two-metre distance is described as the length of the cow due to similar issues. Sensitivity to cultural concerns and beliefs is also important when translating safety advice for local communities. For the Fula people of West and Central Africa, guidelines recommending the use of alcohol wipes can be problematic because alcohol consumption is forbidden. Spoken by 60 million people, the Fulfulde language (also known as Fula) does not distinguish between cleaning alcohol and drinking alcohol. How are vital communications about Covid-19 affected by rapidly emerging vocabulary, asks Romana Sustar Life on new terms ON ASSIGNMENT Graz-based interpreter Sofía Absenger- Bustamante in a booth prior to the Covid-19 outbreak © SHUTTERSTOCK

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 59,4 - Aug/Sept 2020