Happy 2019 International Translation Day!
On the 30 September, translators, interpreters, and terminologists around the world will celebrate International Translation Day, which is held on the same date as the feast of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators. It is a day when the generally low-profile translation community is recognised for the indispensable role it plays in connecting different cultures, bringing about peace, and facilitating development. The theme of this year’s celebration is Translation and Indigenous Languages.
The concept of International Translation Day was first promoted in 1991 by the International Federation of Translators. In 2017, the day was officially recognised by the UN and a declaration was made to express the organisation’s appreciation of language professionals.
This year’s theme echoes the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages for 2019. In an increasingly globalised world, the expansion of a handful of languages has exacerbated the loss of indigenous languages. In 2018, the UN published a concerning report, stating that by 2100, over half the languages in the world will have disappeared or become seriously endangered. Furthermore, the report estimated that, every two weeks, one indigenous language dies.
As linguist David Crystal put it, ‘while there is nothing unusual about a single language dying, we are witnessing language extinction on a massive scale.’
Language extinction is more than the loss of a means of communication; it also represents a threat to cultural diversity and identities. Moreover, research recently conducted by UNESCO suggested that the disappearance of indigenous languages has a negative impact on biodiversity conservation. Language carries traditions, values, morals, unique knowledge, and history. ‘When a language dies, we don’t always know what we lose with that language,’ said Patricia Ryan, an English teacher who has worked for many years in the Middle East, in one of her high-profile talks.
Action has been taken to rescue these valuable assets. Many countries, such as Australia, have started to encourage pupils to learn aboriginal languages. Efforts can also be seen in the media. In Kenya, for instance, people are able to access an ever-greater number of TV programmes and podcasts in indigenous languages. Tools are being produced to assist language teachers; the Pan South African Language Board has embarked on the compilation of a siSwati language dictionary. On a global scale, the UN, through the 2019 event, is demonstrating its determination to preserve endangered languages.
The translation community also plays an important role in this mission.
Greater use of indigenous languages means a greater chance of their survival. We, as language professionals, bring the otherwise rarely used languages to life and ensure that the culture and values embodied in these languages reach a wider audience. Also, our job is to promote social and political participation among speakers of minority languages, making healthcare, education, information and justice accessible to them. The theme of this year’s International Translation Day highlights these important aspects of our profession, reminding us that a language is not just a tool – it symbolises the cultural heritage and value system held by its speakers.
Alto is proud to participate in this shared movement to appreciate indigenous languages and protect the fundamental human rights of their speakers. We would also like to take this opportunity to extend our gratitude towards all the linguists who have worked with us to achieve a more linguistically diverse world.
Happy International Translation Day!