International Translation Day 2020: Finding the words for a world in crisis
Today, on the 30th of September 2020, we are celebrating the international day of translation. It’s an important day for us and our fellow translation enthusiasts, but it rarely receives attention outside of this industry. But this year’s topic for Internation Translation Day is a little different from usual. This year’s theme is “finding the words for a world in crisis”; surely something everyone can relate to right now. Language plays a huge role in how we handle and communicate a global issue like COVID-19. With this in mind, we’ll take a look at crisis situations in (recent) history and how language and translation played a role.
History of the International Day of Translation
The International Translation Day was established by the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (International Federation of Translators). Its main aim is to spread awareness of the importance of translations in communication. This was the purpose of the International Translation Day when it was started in 1991. Oddly enough, the UN didn’t declare this day as an official holiday until 2017.
But even before 1991, translators and interpreters had already been celebrating the feast of St. Jermone. St. Jerome is the patron saint of translators – and the man who first translated the bible into Latin in 390 AD. St. Jerome is also the inspiration behind Nimus translations’ name, although it’s taken from his Dutch monniker: Hiëronymus. It is safe to say that a lot of progress has been made since this historic translation. But even now, more than 1.500 years later, translation is still the best way to share information with people from other countries and cultures.
Translators and Interpreters: Saving lives
Language can be a lifesaver – if it is understood by the listeners. We’ve listed a couple of examples that illustrate how translations are crucial in times of crisis.
1. The importance of translations during wars
During World War Two, the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) played a significant role in winning the war. They took on the dangerous task of gathering valuable information by translating intercepted signals and documents. But translators and interpreters can provide support in more ways than just the translation of communication. They are often knowledgeable about the enemy’s culture. This can enable them to effectively support war negotiations or, alternatively, provide insights into cultural aspects that may be used to predict future operations or gain a deeper understanding of the enemy.
2. The role of translators and interpreters in disaster control
War is not the only crisis situation in which translation plays a crucial role. When hurricane Irma hit in 2017, the humanitarian organisation Translators Without Borders lead approximately 200 volunteers to help spread warnings and evacuation information. In 2016, when hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, translators and interpreters acted as first responders. Not only did they interpret between international medical staff and patients, they also translated (meeting) documents and agendas for the locals. This enables the helpers to work more effectively while also providing the local inhabitants with crucial knowledge. For example, they gained insight into the future plans the international helpers have for the country. Haitians needed to know this in order to help with the efforts to rebuild the country together with their international support. In smaller-scale disasters such as the Grenfell tragedy in London and the Orlando shooting, translators and interpreters facilitated the communication between victims and the police.
3. How translators are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and infodemic
Even during this COVID-19 crisis, translators are invaluable. It is currently of upmost importance to have access to official, fact-checked documents and regulations. Misinformation and misinterpretation often pops up where the rate of literacy is low. This can lead to people basing their actions on rumours, with potentiallly devastating consequences. Unfortunately, rumours tend to be believed when they are shared by family and friends.
This is why local inhabitants are the perfect candidates to act as a mediators. We know low literacy means that written info does not reach the target audience. Additionally, interpreters might not be trusted if they are from outside the trusted local group. So for mediators to effectively convey the correct information, they should come from within the target audience’s own social circle. A familiar face is easily trusted.
Working with local authoritative figures would therefore help to deliver the message, and keep people safe. But even these people need to know what they should tell their friends and family. This is why qualified translators and interpreters with access to official sources are invaluable during the current pandemic.
The importance of translation in the event of a crisis is undeniable. When people’s lives are at stake, clear communication is needed to support everybody’s safety and well-being. The events of 2020 have proven this once again.
If you would like to support the actions of the humanitarian organisation Translators Without Borders, please consider a donation. If you would like to know more about this topic before making a decision, simply contact us. We are always happy to help.
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