The Linguist

The Linguist 54,5

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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not necessarily spoken fluently by everyone, particularly in rural areas; the languages of wider communication such as Hausa (in the North), Yoruba (in the South) and Igbo (in the East); and the local languages. Pidgin English, a local variant of English, is also gaining popularity, particularly among the urban youth, thanks to the prominence of the country's acclaimed 'Nollywood' film industry. Barriers to communication As I trod the research path, interviewing 14 practitioners and two translators in the healthcare prevention sector, I found that difficulties in communicating with multilingual audiences for development work goes well beyond translation. The issues are numerous: 1. Literacy. Some of the target audience may be illiterate. Unicef estimates the literacy rate in Nigeria to be 51.1%, 6 although this rate is not uniform throughout the country. Some may be able to read but not in the language being used. According to one interviewee: 'Most [Muslim] Hausa speakers will read Arabic, but not Hausa written in Arabic characters.' Nor will they be able to read Hausa in Latin script. 2. Lack of language codification. The language being used, 10 The Linguist Vol/54 No/5 2015 FEATURES I n September 2014, an Ebola-infected patient from Guinea made his way to Senegal despite a ban on travel from countries affected by the virus. The issue was perceived by many as one of poor communication, because although the message had been sent out loud and clear, the receiver had apparently failed to understand the severity of the message. Similar issues exist in Nigeria, where the eradication of polio is said to be testing healthcare workers' efforts because "ongoing political, cultural and religious objections hinder vaccination efforts, resulting in persistently low immunity in the population and, consequently, a high incidence of [the] disease". 1 What can be causing such noise in the communication channel? Polyglossia (the technical term for 'multilingualism' or 'many languages') is more the norm than the exception in most parts of the world. Polyglossia in a community does not mean, however, that its members will speak all the languages equally fluently. Language use is, moreover, often context-dependent. Multilingual communities "have different languages that perform different functions during interaction". 2 Language choice in polyglossic communities reflects what the linguist John Gumperz refers to as code-switching: a "change of code represent[ing] a style which depends on social norms and may express solidarity and group membership". 3 I decided to explore polyglossia in the area of communication for development for my MA research project, and chose Nigeria as an extreme example of a multilingual country. With more than 500 languages, 4 Nigeria is the third most multilingual country in the world, after Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. 5 It was important to consider the former colonial language (standard English), which is used for official purposes but which is Communication interrupted How can development agencies get their message across to multilingual communities? Abigail Schteinman Leffler investigates in Nigeria

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