Language access inequality undermines human rights03/10/2023
“Exequatur” and the vital role of translation06/10/2023
Last Saturday was the 30th of September, the day of the translator, the day of St Jerome, who is said to have sat down and translated the entire Bible into Latin. While many people may not think of translation as an integral aspect of day-to-day life, it in fact serves a vital purpose without most people realising: from spreading peace and inclusivity, to sharing the vast depths of knowledge that our world has to offer, the profession of a translator contributes enormously to our ways of life and the ways in which we see the world. Today we reflect on 30th of September, and the ways in which translation has had an impact on us all.
Harbouring International Peace & Diplomacy
When most people think of international peace agreements, they probably think of world-class diplomats and the biggest names in international politics coming together to sign peace pacts, treaties, and giving powerful speeches in front of the glistening lights of the world’s media. However, behind the scenes translators work day and night for peace treaties and settlements to be translated thoroughly in a manner which is technically and culturally accurate and sensitive. The importance of translation was even recognised in the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, with the unanimous adoption of resolution 71/288, highlighting the great importance of translation to harbour international peace and cooperation. As Alison Rodriguez, President of the International Federation of Translators (FIT), correctly points out in her article, since communication is paramount in diplomatic discourse. Having significant documents such as peace agreements in a culturally and technically sensitive manner helps to avoid and even ease any diplomatic tension between state and/or nonstate actors. For instance, as certain phrases may mean one thing in one language and something else in another, imprecise translations may lead to confusion and even stoke international unease between actors. Therefore, through their linguistic expertise, translators play a vital role in making sure that there is clear communication through state and non-state institutions around the globe, further uniting us all.
Setting the Stage for a More Inclusive Society
The profession of translation is also vital for strengthening the inclusivity and accessibility of a society. Take Braille, for instance. While Braille may not be the first thing that comes to mind when there is a conversation about language, it is a very important language within its own right, with approximately 340,000 people in the UK being registered as blind or partially sighted, and therefore may require Braille for them to better understand the world around them without relying as much on others. For instance, some visually impaired people may need certain documents such as tenancy agreements, divorce papers and employment contracts translated into Braille for them to better understand the contents of said documents without having to rely on another person reading the document out loud. Not only does this make everyday life more accessible for the visually impaired, or make it easier to be included in society, but also give them a sense of empowerment and individual autonomy by being able to read things and understand the world for themselves. Yet, as has been illuded to earlier in this section, there is a process, and a mechanism by which this linguistic livelihood liberation is granted: translation. Ultimately, for the alphabetical version of a written text to be converted into Braille, someone qualified in the field needs to translate it. Therefore, in this sense translators also play an immense role in making society more inclusive and accessible to those who otherwise may not access the world in ways so many others in society do.
Not only is translation important to inclusivity in this sense, but also the in that it enables the respect of multiple cultural identities in countries or regions that speak more than one language. While many countries such as India, South Africa, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland etc. are multilingual, we are going to use the examples of Wales and Spain. When you go for a drive in Wales, for instance, you will notice that road signs are written in both English and Welsh. This is a result of long running campaigns steeped in a desire to preserve an aspect of the Welsh cultural identity which many in Wales fear has been and will be increasingly eroded by the growing anglicisation of language in Wales. Therefore, the inclusion of the Welsh language in roads signs, as well as in other public services adds to an atmosphere of linguistic, and by extension, cultural equality and inclusivity between an English-speaking majority and a Welsh-speaking minority.
A similar concept can be applied to Spain’s Basque Country. When one visits the region, like in Wales, one notices that road signs, hospitals, police stations etc incorporate the Baque Language in their day-to-day practices as well as Castilian (common Spanish). Even cultural sites such as the world-famous Guggenheim Museum has the art explanations written in Basque as well as Castilian, and English, marking an important signal of equal value between these two Spanish languages when it has not always been the case. The incorporation of Basque in everyday life in this part of the world has historically been an important topic for socio-political reasons as it is seen as part of a wider effort to preserve Basque identity, an area which has historically inflamed political and societal tensions. But what do these examples have in common? They require translation. In these instances, translation provides a bridge between the practicalities for a larger linguistic population to understand society around them, and the inclusion of those who otherwise may feel excluded in their own communities.
Throughout the history of human civilisation, unimaginable amount of works and knowledge have been produced and articulated from all corners of the globe, written in thousands of languages to progress humanity, the human condition, and to better understand life itself. From literary works from authors such as Shakespear, Esquival and Strapi to scientific studies produced by Volta, Shiung-Wu and Archimedes, humanity’s knowledge about the world has expanded exponentially over time. However, what do these names have in common? They spoke different languages. In order for countries to understand the findings and the works of those from others, these texts needed translation at one point or another. Without the translation of these works, billions of people around the world would not have been able to access such pools of ideas and understanding of the world around us. Without the translation of these texts the advancement of human civilisation around the globe would have developed much slower. Without the translation of these texts, we would be living in a totally different world. Furthermore, without translation, internationally significant cultural texts such as the Qur’an, the Torah, and the Bible not would have spread in the way that they were. Just as in the examples above, for better or for worse, these texts changed the world forever, and without them, we would arguably have a completely different perception of reality.
Throughout time, translation and translators around the globe have had an enormous part to play in harbouring peace, internationalism, and crating environments where everyone feels included in society. Furthermore, translation not only has contributed to the advancement of human civilisation, but also how we as human being on this floating clump of rock in space that we call our plane perceive, process, and experience the very existence of our lives and of the natural world that surrounds us. So, if ever you come across someone making a dismissive remark about translation and its importance as a profession, just remember that through time translators and translation has provided us with a helping-hand or two.