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

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PANDEMIC INSIGHTS @Linguist_CIOL AUGUST/SEPTEMBER The Linguist 15 In countries where certain terms are not widely used, the English word may become the default mode of expression, with the English 'flatten the curve' widely used in India. To help its translators on the ground, TWB has put together a 186-word glossary in 33 languages, covering everything from 'incubation period' (Russian; инкубационный период) and 'asymptomatic' (Tagalog; walang sintomas) to 'community transmission' (Swahili (KE); maenezi katika jamii) and 'hand-washing' (Kurdish; destşûştin). 'Covid-19' is included because the official name of the virus is often unintelligible to the general population, but the word 'coronavirus' has been adopted in a social context. Marginalised languages Communication is particularly hindered in countries where many languages are spoken and a language 'hierarchy' is in place. In Nigeria, English may be the official language, but more than 500 native languages are spoken. Hausa is the most commonly spoken language (63 million speakers), followed by Yoruba (42 million) and Igbo (35 million). The country has complex language needs, says TWB Head of Language Services Stella Paris, yet the authorities often assume that Nigeria's 8 million Kanuri speakers can understand Hausa. Part of TWB's mission is to work with marginalised languages such as Kanuri, which have a large number of speakers but lack resources and data. Understanding, even between speakers of the same language, can sometimes be challenging. In the Rohingya language, spoken by 1.8 million people in Myanmar, for example, the word 'epidemic' isn't understood in the same way by men and women ('illness' and 'diarrhoea' respectively). The issues surrounding the current pandemic are not new, with similar challenges emerging from previous international health crises. During the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) information was available in standard French and Congolese Swahili, but words such as 'bloody', 'gums' and 'vaccine' did not exist in the local languages. "As an English speaker, one has access to a ridiculous amount of information, which is not a common practice in other countries," explains Paris. Undermining public confidence Even in well-documented languages, such as German and Spanish, communication errors can occur if translators are not familiar with new vocabulary or word usage. When 'face mask' was translated into Spanish for use in Mexico as la mascara, rather than cubre bocas, it caused some amusement. Mascara is generally reserved for masks worn by wrestlers, leading to a variety of memes, but the impact was not as frivolous as it might first appear. A similar issue happened in German when 'face mask' was translated as die Maske (used in socio-political discourse) instead of Mundschutzmaske. In Austria this wasn't overly problematic "because people know that they are in safe hands," says Sofía Absenger-Bustamante, who owns an interpreting agency in Graz and specialises in Latin American Spanish. "It is not the same in some Latin American countries. People have been living in lockdown for months, and some of the countries are not providing any aid. The people do not know what the next day will bring and it is important to deal with every assignment in a sensitive way." In this context, a translation error (as with mascara/cubre bocas) has a negative impact on public confidence in the authorities. "It is not only about understanding; you need the ability to explain it. The audience needs to understand the topic; it needs to be accurate. Giving misleading information, especially in medical terms, can be extremely dangerous," Absenger-Bustamante adds. Keeping up to date with terminology is vital. "As interpreters, we are used to continuously learning new terminology, reading newspapers in different languages daily and having close contact with professional associations and experts," she says. The Austrian association of translators and interpreters, Universitas, has published Covid-19 vocabularies to help linguists in this task, and regularly sends out information in its newsletter. The EU's terminology database, IATE (Interactive Terminology for Europe;, has also been updated. By late April, 270 Covid-related entries had been added, covering 9,020 terms in the 24 EU languages. Among the listed terms are vylučování viru (Czech; 'viral shedding'), kontaktide jälgimine (Estonian; 'contact tracing'), dispositif d'autodiagnostic (French; 'self-test kit') and confinamento (Portuguese; 'lockdown'). There seem to be two streams influencing Covid terminology: the glossary used by the health professionals on the one hand and the media/political vocabulary, which varies from country to country. How the situation will progress in the near future is uncertain, but it is clear that language professionals will have to keep on top of the relevant vocabulary in order to ensure that people are kept informed and as safe as possible. How can we be sure terms like 'shielding', 'PPE' and 'lockdown' mean the same thing across languages? CRISIS RESPONSE Residents in Goma, DRC visit a hand-washing station during the ebola crisis (top); and (bottom) a Translators Without Borders language workshop with humanitarian staff, using a new distanced training system IMAGES © TRANSLATORS WITHOUT BORDERS

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