Author Archives: Jonathan Pyner

About Jonathan Pyner

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Chinese Project Promotes Local Dialects, but in What Capacity?

Geopolitics

Surveying a wide swath of regions, Chinese officials aim to preserve and promote local dialects. The country’s human rights record, however, stands at odds with the recent measures.

Home to hundreds of dialects and ethnic minority languages, China has begun a project to preserve language resources and protect the record of the region’s rich linguistic history. The Chinese Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission began conducting surveys in 2015 to determine the state of local dialects around China. The survey has found that at least 100 local dialects are endangered, prompting the National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy to put forth proposals to protect endangered languages and promote inheritance of dialects.

The project stands to become the largest language preservation project in the world. As of this month, the project has collected more than 10 million entries for 123 Chinese dialects and ethnic minority languages after surveying the language resources of over 1,700 locations. Along with the language surveys, the NPC has made a call to promote local dialects in schools, though apparently in the form of

In terms of the spoken languages, much of the world associates Chinese language with either Mandarin — often referred to as “Putonghua,” or common tongue, in Mainland China — or possibly Cantonese, the predominant language spoken in the southern Guangdong province. The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the rise of television and film media prompted the Chinese Government to enact policies that would make Mandarin the predominant language for mass broadcasts, most mainstream media, and most educational disciplines. Mandarin is often a second language, and an increasingly necessary language to learn. 

However, while Mandarin is the official language of the country, the linguistic diversity of China is immensely diverse. Besides Mandarin and Cantonese, both distinct from one another, 14 million people speak a dialect commonly referred to as Shanghainese, and Shanghai is made up of even more languages. Language is not tethered to region, either. Hakka is a cultural language of the Hakka people, who live among several provinces. 

In statements for a 2005 New York Times article, one linguist from the Fujian province in China said, “We have an expression, that if you drive five miles in Fujian the culture changes, and if you drive 10 miles, the language does.”

Similarly, a professor of linguistics said in the same article, “No one can clearly answer the question how many dialects there are in China. The degree of difference among dialects is much higher than the degree of difference among European languages. In Europe they call them languages, but in China we share a culture, so the central government would like to consider that one language is shared by many different peoples. It is simply a different definition.”

Needless to say, the project of collecting records of all these languages will be a massive undertaking, not to mention pressing. Many of the measures to promote Mandarin since the Cultural Revolution have resulted in a sharp decreases in opportunities for speakers of local languages to maintain their own dialects, especially with laws requiring Mandarin instruction in many K-12 educational disciplines. In fact, just in August this year, ethnic Mongolian communities in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (IMAR) — located in China’s north border with Mongolia — staged mass school boycotts in response to a new curriculum that would scale back education in the local Mongolian language.

Likewise, in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), many of the local dialects are in danger due to similar educational policies as those in IMAR. In its report on China’s “Bilingual Education” in TAR earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch suggested that “TAR authorities are using a strategy of cultivated ambiguity in their public statements while using indirect pressure to push primary schools, where an increasing number of ethnic Chinese teachers are teaching, to adopt Chinese-medium instruction at the expense of Tibetan, such as allocating increasing numbers of ethnic Chinese teachers who do not speak Tibetan to positions in Tibetan schools.”

Considering the threat many of these languages face due to Chinese language policies, one might see the creation of a language preservation project as an attempt to make up for human rights abuses that necessitated such preservation measures in the first place. Furthermore, the cultural erasure occurring in many of the autonomous regions begs the question of whether these recent measures are meant to protect people, or rather simply to preserve language as artifact while the cultures themselves go extinct.

While the project to survey, protect, and promote local dialects in China is still new and will likely evolve in upcoming years, human rights advocates stress that such measures must be complemented with active cultural preservation as well. In her Atlantic story on Chinese repression of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, Yasmeen Serhan writes, “Safeguarding a culture requires more than simply maintaining a historical record of its existence. Cultures, after all, can’t be placed behind glass like museum artifacts; much like the people who inhabit them, cultures are meant to grow, adapt, and evolve.”

Preserving and promoting local dialects and ethnic minority languages will thus require not merely the collection of documents, but an even more more massive undertaking: promoting the cultures themselves. The project has so far resulted in a rich collection of language data and resources, and likely a better understanding of China’s broad swath of cultures and languages. How this information will translate to policy, or reform, still remains a question.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Emsi Language Services Industry Overview Projects Growth

Language Industry News and Events

An exclusive Emsi report outlines several variables around the language services industry, including salary, job growth, job training, and demographic breakdown.

Emsi, a data modeling firm based in the United States, recently gave MultiLingual a look at its third quarter 2020 data set on the US language services industry, providing a status of job postings as well as the industry’s projected growth over the next two years. The industry has seen steady growth over the past few years, although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a disruption and re-organization in demand. Here are a few takeaways from the report.

As of 2019, translators and interpreters made up over 40,000 jobs in the US, with average annual earnings of over $50,000. The report projects growth of over 19% by 2022, though these numbers depend on region. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area’s southern regions exceed the national growth average at around 23%, whereas the San Diego region projects a slower rate of 14%, according to the report.

Most jobs are found under the category of “Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services,” making up almost 40% of jobs in 2019. The “Other” category represented over 20%, while “Education and Hospitals” at the local level followed at around 17%. Both population size and region play a role in job rate with California, Texas, and New York leading.

The job demand remained steady between early 2017 and 2020, but Emsi reports a rise in demand in 2020, corresponding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and health-related language services. The past couple months have seen a return to the national average.

LanguageLine Solutions represented the majority of unique job postings with over 20,000, and Soliant Health, Inc had over 6,000 postings. The top three job titles are bilingual interpreters, interpreters, and sign language interpreters, and the top hard skills for job postings are language translation, pronunciation, and language interpretation.

Among both industry and language-specific occupations, age demographics spread fairly evenly among people between 19-64, with the highest concentration of those 25-34 years of age. Furthermore, women make up around two-thirds of the industry, with well over two-thirds of those holding language service occupations. White workers also hold most industry positions at 70% but hold less than 50% of language occupations, with Hispanic or Latino workers representing the next highest demographic at around one-third of workers.

In terms of educational training, most in the industry hold a bachelor’s degree, though as many as 20% hold a master’s degree or higher. Spanish language and literature ranks highest among educational programs, with University of Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, and BYU ranking among the top schools.

Emsi data comprises a hybrid dataset derived from official government sources such as the US Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bureau of Labor Statistics. Leveraging the unique strengths of each source, the data modeling team creates an authoritative dataset that captures more than 99% of all workers in the United States. This core offering is then enriched with data from online social profiles, resumés, and job postings to give a complete view of the workforce.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Iowa Translators Persist Despite English-Only Voting Laws

Translation

As the 2020 election approaches, translators in Iowa are working against prohibitive laws to translate and distribute informational materials to multilingual communities across the state.

Iowa’s “English-only” law dates to 1918 after World War I, when Governor William Harding signed the Babel Proclamation into law, which made English the only language legally permitted in the state. Although it was repealed only five months after Harding signed it, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack revived the English-only legislation in signing the Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Act into law. The act states that all official documents “on behalf of, or representing the state and all of its political subdivisions shall be in the English language.”

According to Yale Law and Policy Review, lawmakers said the act was meant to encourage assimilation to Iowa culture, and Vilsack said the law would encourage people to learn English. However, the Review outlined the eventual outcome that led to widespread disenfranchisement, stating, “As a result, eligible voters in Iowa who did not understand English were prevented from registering to vote in state and national elections.”

Some county auditors tried to respond to the problem by translating voter forms or providing multilingual how-to videos. In retaliation, Republican US Representative Steve King sued the Iowa secretary of state in 2007 for violating the law, arguing that if someone were a US citizen, they must prove English proficiency, eliminating the need for translation, according to King.

Despite the resistance from some lawmakers, however, many translators and voter-advocacy groups persist in translating voting materials to better serve Iowa’s non-English speaking communities. Iowa-based translator Iris Tun makes videos translating information from English to both Burmese and Karen, two of the languages spoken in Myanmar. EMBARC Iowa airs the informational videos in multiple languages. Tun also translates voter registration forms at her church for free.

“Even though they become a citizen, they got citizenship, they’re really scared because a lot of people, they talk about voters, if you do something wrong, you make a mistake, the police come and get you and you can go to jail,” Tun said.

Jan Flora and Terry Potter of A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS), who translate voter forms into Spanish and distribute them to other organizations throughout the state, also expressed concern, especially going into an election during the pandemic. “In this COVID year, since it’s so complicated, and things have become so messy, what we’re trying to do is, first of all, make sure people are encouraged to register,” Potter said. “And then ultimately, that they vote whichever way they’re most comfortable with.”

“One of the terms that I found difficult to translate was the word ballot. In some dictionaries it has balota, but my experience in Latin America has said to me that didn’t ring true,” Flora said. “So we ended up with papeleta de voto, which is interpreted as a small piece of paper.”

Sue Lloyd, the county auditor for Buena Vista County, mentioned her county was notified in December 2016 of the federal requirement Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which stipulates “The law covers those localities where there are more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens in a single political subdivision…who are members of a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well.”

“I think there’s interest because I’ve been contacted by some other counties asking about the forms and what I’ve been told. And I tell them that we’re the only ones that can accept those forms for Iowa,” Lloyd said.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Telehealth Firm Amwell to Adopt Google AI, Translation Tech

Technology

Promising advances to the telehealth services industry, Amwell will integrate Google Cloud AI capabilities for natural language processing and medical transcription services, among other new services.

Since the onset of the pandemic, telehealth services have skyrocketed. A Department of Health and Human Services statistical report found that in April, about 43% of primary care visits through Medicare were via telehealth. Before the pandemic, more than 99% of Medicare-funded visits were in-person appointments. From March through early July, the agency says, more than 10 million Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth services. With broad telehealth coverage more vital than ever, though, demands for language services have risen considerably as well.

Seeing the opportunity for growth, Google recently pledged to invest $100 million into Amwell, formerly known as American Well, a company that builds technology for virtual doctors’ visits. Launching in 2006, Amwell currently works with 55 health plans, which support over 36,000 employers and represent more than 80 million covered individuals, as well as 150 of the nation’s largest health systems. It has powered more than 5.6 million telehealth visits for its clients, including over 3 million since the shutdown began.

The partnership will leverage Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to create a comprehensive virtual care experience for patients and providers that goes beyond visits and includes services like self-triage or remote patient monitoring (RPM) capabilities. Google plans to work closely with Amwell to integrate its AI capabilities into Amwell’s virtual care platform, particularly in natural language processing and medical transcription services. This could have interesting implications for the language service industry, particularly the life sciences sector.

Additionally, Amwell will move parts of its business from Amazon Web Services to Google Cloud, recognizing Google Cloud as its “preferred global cloud partner.” Specifically, Amwell will move some video performance capabilities to Google Cloud. The two companies will also collaborate on technology and work to expand Amwell’s footprint in the sector.

“With this partnership, Google Cloud and Amwell see an opportunity to improve patient and clinician telehealth experiences through technologies that can automate waiting room and checkout; provide automated language translation services; advance population health by making it easier for more patients to receive care; and assist payers and providers in routine tasks, by intelligently triaging cases and reducing clinician burnout,” mentioned a Google Cloud blog post.

The post went on to describe how machine translation is being integrated into the system: “A conversational chatbot agent is immediately available to assist you, in your preferred language, by asking about your symptoms and the reason for your visit, and provides this information to your physician before she enters your virtual exam room. During your appointment, you continue to speak in your preferred language to your physician, while cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) provides live, translated captioning of the conversation.”

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Beowulf Translated with a 2020-Style Makeover

Language in the News

Following her 2018 novelized retelling of the epic poem, Maria Dahvana Headley has written a new translation of Beowulf that adopts a contemporary vernacular and political lens.

A new feminist translation of Beowulf by acclaimed author Maria Dahvana Headly has just been published to rave reviews. Mixing many of the classic poetic and narrative strategies with a 2020 lens, Maria Dahvana Headley has exploded into the age-old task of translating the English language’s oldest work of literature.

Joining in conversations with such notable translations as those by JRR Tolkien, Seamus Heaney, and Peter Liuzza, Headley follows in the tradition of determining a unique formal proposition for the behemoth undertaking. Where the others might rely on a classic formalism, Headley takes advantage of contemporary tools to depict a new take.

One of the most apparent differences that stand out is Headley’s angle on the Anglo-Saxon word “Hwæt,” which has received a great deal of interpretation over the centuries about how best to capture a modern equivalent. The term shows up often in the epic poem as a kind of linguistic interjection or call-to-attention, signaling a speaker has an important statement to make.

Heaney translated the word to “so,” as in, “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by / and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. / We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.” Headley, on the other hand, opted for the modern slang word “Bro,” for its wealth of connotations and frequent usage in today’s vernacular.

“Bro! Tell me we still know how to talk about kings!” Headley writes. “In the old days, / everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only / stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.”

The distinctive translation decisions did not stop there. Another notable revision had to do with the character known as Grendel’s Mother. Depicted in most earlier translations as a monster, Headley describes her version of Beowulf’s chief antagonist as “a formidable noblewoman, a warrior, as is accurate to the Old English words used to describe her.”

More of a transcreation than a straight translation — one might even say the work is localized for a modern audience — Headley’s version still uses alliteration and cadence, which were present in the Anglo-Saxon original.

The recent translation follows Headley’s 2018 work The Mere Wife, which is itself a retelling of Beowulf set in 21st century suburbia and place much more emphasis on Grendel’s mother’s story. With all the disputes over the years about which words and stories receive the greatest emphasis, Headley suspected something could have been missed in earlier translations.

“This translation actually came utterly out of the work I did to write The Mere Wife,” she said in a 2018 interview. “Initially, when I started working on Mere, I was certain that I’d find a popular translation in which Grendel’s mother isn’t a monster, but a warrior. Um, no. The scholarship on this point dates to the 70s, but it hasn’t made its way into most translations.”

Besides Heaney’s version, Headley cites a number of other translations that she relied on in this project, including Meghan Purvis’s translation and Beowulf By All’s translation. However, like any translation, Headley admits, even with these texts to rely on, she still had a vision for a deep project that was all her own.

“Language is a living thing,” she writes in her introduction. “And when it dies, it leaves bones. I dropped some fossils here, next to some newborns. I’m as interested in contemporary idiom and slang as I am in the archaic. There are other translations if you’re looking for the courtly romance and knights.”

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Gallaudet University Partners with Apple and AppTek

Business News, Technology

In a moment when universities need the latest technology more than ever, Gallaudet University has announced two important partnerships with Apple and AppTek, which aim to provide its deaf and hard-of-hearing students with tools necessary to succeed in an increasingly technological world.

As the fall term commences, Gallaudet University has announced a couple exciting pieces of news for its deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Gallaudet is a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C. In a statement on Thursday morning, Gallaudet University President Roberta J. Cordano announced that the university would begin a partnership with Apple to improve access and expand academic and career opportunities for Gallaudet students.

In her statement, the president said, “Beginning this fall, Gallaudet will provide all students and faculty with an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and SmartFolio for iPad Pro to support their learning and teaching. Students and teachers at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center will also participate in this new initiative.”

Providing students better access to the most up-to-date technology, the partnership will also establish an Apple scholarship program for students of color with disabilities. The scholarship will go to students pursuing studies in information technology, computer science, and other science, technology, and math related fields.

“Gallaudet has been at the forefront of advancing education and acceptance of Deaf culture in this country for more than 150 years,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “We are honored to work together with this incredible institution to create even more opportunities for Gallaudet students and for all underserved and underrepresented communities.”

Furthermore, through the Connected Gallaudet initiative, Gallaudet students will participate in research projects to design bilingual applications. One project in particular was also announced this week, which revealed a partnership between Gallaudet University and AppTek, a leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for automatic speech recognition (ASR) and machine translation (MT).

This application aims to provide video conference participants with live closed captions and deliver more control of the user interface (UI), allowing users to enhance the readability of real-time conversation transcripts and enjoy a more meaningful flow of spoken content.

“While much of the world is relying heavily on videoconferencing applications to communicate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, commonly used applications unfortunately do not provide reliable, real-time capabilities that allow deaf and hard of hearing participants to engage fully,” said Mike Veronis, AppTek Chief Revenue Officer and Program Manager for the 21st Century Closed Captioning project. “We are passionate about and humbled at the opportunity to collaborate with Gallaudet on bridging that gap by developing new tools to give the deaf community greater freedom, control, and access to virtual communication.”

Integrating AppTek’s ASR platform, the application will incorporate the latest AI and ML technologies to enable this assistive service, which will be available to users on demand. Over time, Gallaudet also intends to incorporate multilingual capabilities using AppTek’s Multilingual Automatic Speech Recognition and Neural Machine Translation technologies.

Along with new technology and the application development project, Gallaudet University will also grant some students the opportunity to take part in the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (AWDC) through the partnership with Apple. The annual event brings together over 5,000 developers, innovators, and entrepreneurs for engineering sessions, forums, laboratories, and keynote presentations about the latest app and software innovation.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Chinese-Language Curriculum Designated As Diplomatic Mission

Language in the News

In a rebuke from American officials, a Chinese-language education group will now be designated as a diplomatic mission. The new measures follow years of controversy surrounding the group.

When it comes to learning a new language, vocabulary memorization and grammar rules make up part of the learning process. Depending on the instructor, textbook, and even political environment, language instruction can have ulterior motives. At least, that is what many academic institutions and the current administration believe of the Confucius Institutes.

In recent years, the Chinese language education group operating in the US has drawn criticism over its curriculum, which has led dozens of universities to close institutes hosted on campus. The accusations center around the organization ties to the Chinese Communist Government and suspicions that the language program is responsible for spreading Chinese Communist propaganda.

Pressure against Confucius Institutes has ramped up recently with the US announcing that it now designates the group a diplomatic mission, according to a report by the New York Times.

“The goal of these actions is simple: to ensure that American educators and school administrators can make informed choices about whether these CCP-backed programs should be allowed to continue, and if so, in what fashion,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a press statement last week. “The United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.”

Though the move will change the status of the Confucius Institutes, the new designation does not mean that academic institutions still hosting the programs will need to close them. However, the organization will now be required to give the State Department lists of employees and property holdings, along with information on all its institutes and centers.

Still, the Chinese Communist Party responded to the move, accusing the administration of further aggravating tensions between the two countries. In a daily briefing, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed the accusations had no basis. “The relevant US approach is to demonize and stigmatize the normal operation of China-U.S. cooperation projects. We strongly deplore and oppose it,” Zhao said at a daily briefing. He said China would “reserve the right to make further responses to this matter.”

Currently, the Confucius Institutes operate in about 500 K-12 classrooms and 65 US university campuses, though those numbers are shrinking due to concerns over propaganda and the interference in academic independence over issues like Hong Kong and Tibet. China considers the institutes in the same class as related organizations in the west, like the British Institute, the Alliance Françaises, and Germany’s Goethe Institutes. A notable difference, critics contend, is that those entities are not housed in universities.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Geological Sciences in Cape Town to Translate Terms

Terminology, Translation

A project at the University of Cape Town has begun to translate geological terms into the country’s official languages. The team hopes future scientific discourse will better represent the country’s rich linguistic diversity.

Speakers of South Africa’s 11 official languages may soon be able to hold academic discourse in geological sciences exclusively in their own language for the first time. A project called “Reclaiming the Rocks: Ukuthetha ngezifundo zomhlaba ngesiXhosa” began this year at the University of Cape Town (UCT), as part of the Geological Sciences Department’s effort to better represent the languages spoken in South Africa. The department hopes the project will help connect people who have historically been excluded from academic discourse about their geological heritage.

Early in 2020, UCT lecturer Dr. Rosalie Tostevin conducted a survey of the Geological Sciences Department, which found a wide diversity of languages spoken among students and staff. It also indicated strong interest among students to participate in translation projects. Recruiting a team of researchers and student translators, Tostevin hopes to transform geology departments, museums, and public outreach events.

“Despite English being a first language for under 10% of the population, it dominates scientific discourse, alienating huge sections of the population. People engage more and understand better when the conversation is in their native tongue,” said Tostevin.

Led by UCT master’s student Batande Getyenga, the team of translators will begin producing a geological dictionary in isiXhosa, a language spoken by over 8 million native speakers and over 19 million total speakers. If the project becomes a success, the team plans to expand translations into other South African Languages.

Although Tostevin will write up summarized versions of the country’s geological record for the team to translate, the team will have to work together to develop translations for technical terms where none exist. Currently, terms like “fossil” or “dinosaur” have no equivalents in isiXhosa, so Tostevin sees this process as an opportunity to generate new, more intuitive and accessible vocabulary.

The project has already gained international recognition, receiving the European Geosciences Union’s public engagement grant—a grant awarded to outreach projects that aim to raise awareness of geosciences outside the scientific community. The team plans to use the grant money to launch a new website and to compensate the geology students involved in the high-skilled translation work.

“South Africa’s geological record is exceptional and relevant to our daily lives,” Tostevin Said. “Millions of tourists are drawn to Table Mountain every year; vineyards depend on the fertile soils of the Bokkeveld shales; and the economy is built on gold, mineral and diamond deposits. The rocks also hold the story of life on Earth – from the first traces of life to the rise and fall of the dinosaurs.”

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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