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The Changing Nature of the English Degree: Creating a Future the Past (Literally) Can’t Understand

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Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today, many young Americans communicate using a hybrid language comprised of English words, acronyms, emoticons and jargon that has proven incomprehensible to older web users. Furthermore, the methods people have historically used to communicate (letters, phone calls, face-to-face visits, etc.) are slowly being replaced by less personable alternatives like text messages, email and various social media platforms. Though the digital age has proven highly innovative, many linguistic experts (and people over the age of 40) complain that ‘Online English’ has done nothing but create a generational gap.

In recent years, the English language has undergone a significant transformation due to increasingly widespread Internet access on a global level. ‘OMG (oh my God)’, ‘LOL (laughing out loud)’, ‘CUL8R (see you later)’ and other web-based colloquialisms have transcended digital media and become part of the common vernacular. Terms like ‘text’, ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ have taken on new meanings, while others (i.e. ‘unlike’ and ‘de-friend’) have organically derived from online activity. Commas, apostrophes and other punctuation marks are rarely utilized. Many have argued that ‘webspeak’ is not even technically English, anymore.

But interestingly, not all language experts are opposed to these changes. Anne Trubek, an associate professor at Oberlin College, recently noted in Wired Magazine that English scholars did not emphasize proper spelling until the 18th century. She also adds many of today’s common grammatical errors are done out of necessity (and not ignorance), since the appeal of texts, tweets and other platforms comes from the ability to send a message very quickly.

In addition, a recent study by professors at Slovenia’s University of Maribor noted that the evolution of English has actually slowed down when compared to centuries past; popularity of words in the 16th and 17th centuries, for instance, was particularly fleeting. According to Colin Schultz of Smithsonian Magazine, these findings contradict the notion that texting and Internet language are desecrating English. “Languages change, it’s just what they do,” he told redOrbit.

However, there is significant evidence that ‘webspeak’ is alienating older generations. According to Generations on Line, nearly half (47 percent) of Americans over the age of 65 cannot use the Internet; comparatively, 15 percent of the same population could not use the Internet in 2000. The strange technology and unfamiliar equipment plays a significant role, but the language used on the web can be just as confounding for inexperienced users.

This problem is certainly not exclusive to elderly individuals, either. As writer Diana M. Weber recently posited, vocabulary and jargon derived from texts and tweets often form a barrier between parents and adolescent children. “Cyber slang and acronyms are replacing the inherent need for real conversation and human interaction,” she noted. “As this generation cultivates an encrypted language understood by their peers exclusively, parents are less in tune with who and what their kids are involved in.” She adds that communication in part rests on the ability to share colloquialisms, non-sequiturs and other specialized uses of a given language – and thanks to webspeak, many adults have no idea what their kids are trying to say (often to the detriment of their authority as parents).

So far, the most effective solution seems to be outreach. The aforementioned Generations on Line is merely one example of organizations attempting to educate older Americans about the Internet. Other countries have also implemented measures to make their elderly citizens more ‘web literate’. Great Britain’s Nominet Trust, for example, conducts comprehensive studies to determine the various barriers between old people and online engagement, while New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation annually holds texting workshops for elderly cell phone users. These measures are not solely promoted for practical reasons; according to a study by the Phoenix Center, spending time online may reduce depression in elderly people by as much as 20 percent.

As society transitions toward complete digitalization, it is key that our elderly counterparts are not left behind. We live in an age of great communicative capabilities, and arguably no one appreciates these progressions more than men and women who wrote letters, listened to radio programs and only used the telephone on special occasions.

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Alexa Russell, author of online resources for students interested in enrolling in undergraduate English degree programs, writes here about how the evolution of English, spurred by the widespread use of the Internet, makes intergenerational communication increasingly difficult. Although this article discusses the importance of understanding a language on a personal level, there are broader consequences to changes in English, as evidenced by Terminology Blog’s post about how many languages the International Committee of the Red Cross must communicate in every year.

Translation (and terminology) in the African languages

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by Anja Drame

New study highlights the state of the art for translation and language industry in the African languages

Common Sense Advisory has published its study about the need for translation in Africa. The study was conducted in 2011 in cooperation with Translators without Borders, and received quite an impressive feedback of more than 300 translators in the African languages. Almost 77% of the responses came from people living in Africa, the rest from the various regions in which Africans form a large Diaspora. However, as Common Sense Advisory stresses, the regional distribution is somewhat heavy on South Africa, followed by Kenya, Cameroon and Nigeria.

The results are interesting. One of the major findings is the high level of training and education received. More than half of the respondents are university graduates and one Third have a Bachelor degree. But with the large Diaspora and the various possibilities of language related studies one can conduct in South Africa this is perhaps less surprising. What I find most surprising is the fact that 46.3% claim that African language translation is their prime source of income. On the other hand, the lack of organization and trade union representation is felt as severe as payment morale appears to be low and political repression an issue.

Most translators work also as interpreters which makes a lot of sense if one considers the high place of oral communication and the relatively low literacy rates in the continent.

There was also a result that is interesting, although hardly a surprise for terminologists. A majority claims the lack of equivalents for terms in the major languages is an immense problem. Common Sense Advisory uses the terms cancer and clinical depression as examples from the heath sector, where translation and interpreting has such a strong and directly influencing place.

Of course we are aware of many projects addressing exactly this lack, both from governmental and public side and private initiatives. This is the case especially in South Africa with its elaborate language policy, but not only there. However, it still seems that the lack of access to and information about available sources is a major problem, especially for those translators with limited access to the Internet (although the study suggests that more than 80% are online while translating). And these are just responses from professional and educated translators and do not count the numerous translators who do the job while actually being employed as administrators, logisticians, nurses, etc. These people will hardly know where to find and how to access online resources. I can tell because I have worked with them in the field with an International NGO. And they do an impressive and tremendous job!

As for their future, African translators expect an upward trend with South Africa joining the economic bloc of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), making it BRICS. The expectation is an economic rise and the new trade partners creating additional demand. Generally, research shows that the translation market in Africa has been growing steadily. But it comes along with the fear that this demand will create a blooming of unqualified service providers which ultimately damage the reputation and industry. There are experiences all over the world with this problem and surely some action needs to be taken. Be it through organization and representation, quality assurance measures and partnerships. Any other ideas?

Africa is home to 2000 – 3000 languages (depending on who has counted them), belonging to only a few large language families. The major European languages of the former colonizing powers, such as English, French, Portuguese and to lesser extends German, Afrikaans and others, as well as Arabic dominate education, business and politics today. New languages such as Chinese were introduced with this country’s growing influence on Africa. Regional linguas francas such as Swahili or Hausa fight a battle against these languages. Sometimes with more success, sometimes with less.

I am curious to hear about your experiences!

Cheers, Anja

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Common Sense Advisory, Inc. is an independent research firm committed to objective research and analysis of the business practices, services, and technology for translation, localization, and interpreting. With its research for both Global Leaders and Industry Providers, Common Sense Advisory endeavors to improve the quality and practice of international business, and the efficiency of the online and offline operations that support it.

www.commonsenseadvisory.com

Download the full study:  http://www.commonsenseadvisory.com/AbstractView.aspx?ArticleID=2869

Information technologies the focus of International Mother Language Day 2011

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International Mother Language Day – 21 February 2011

by A. Drame

Linguistic diversity is dwindling fast. Already, half of the world’s 6,000 languages are endangered, according to official UNESCO figures.

While the Internet is now the major driving force when it comes to the spreading of information, knowledge and culture, it is dominated by very few languages, like English, French, Spanish or Chinese. Even languages which are spoken by millions of people, like Kiswahili, Tamil, Hindi are virtually not present in the World Wide Web.

This fact has two major effects: it promotes the dominance of these languages as de-facto global linguas francas; it also still prevents the Internet to develop its full potential as global medium and repository of knowledge and culture. New information technologies these days have ventured into the remotest places of the Earth and reach more people than ever before in history. However, lacking content in “smaller” or less dominant languages hampers the possibilities that this development could open to promote democracy, equal opportunities and development, and to prevent discrimination. All because it still does not allow access to vital information, to education and resources for millions of people with limited knowledge of these few dominant languages.

The neglect of “smaller” languages in the new technologies has yet another adverse effect. While technological development and the evolution of the Internet proceeds ever more rapidly, those languages which miss out to follow suit now, risk to lose more and more of their functions ever faster. With increasing “monolingualisation” and simultaneous permeation of the Web to various social and geographical regions, even languages which may seem healthy and strong today may lose their ability to evolve and develop further through this medium.

At the same time, many contributions from speakers of other languages will not be heard now and in future. Many ideas and innovations that can best be expressed in a person’s mother tongue will thus be lost. The result is a true pauperization of our emerging knowledge societies.

The true danger is that the process reinforces itself to the advantage of some and on the costs of many others. And once gone it is hard to revive.

UNESCO set the theme for this year “The information and communication technologies for the safeguarding and promotion of languages and linguistic diversity” to highlight the new technologies’ enormous potential for safeguarding, documenting and promoting the use of mother languages.

TermNet supports this effort and, therefore, calls for joint efforts to promote linguistic diversity in the new media for the mutual benefit of all.

8 million words – the ICRC’s need for multilingual communication

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Under the heading of MULTILINGUAL COMMUNICATION, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stresses the importance for communicating in various languages in its Annual Report 2009

ICRC Logo

“In keeping with its mission, the ICRC communicates with a wide range of stakeholders at the local, regional and international levels. In 2009, some 8 million words were processed at headquarters using internal and external resources. The ICRC’s language staff and their external partners edited, translated and proofread a broad variety of public communication materials, including media products and materials for the ICRC website, publications, donor documentation and public statements, and documents of a legal and operational nature.”

The ICRC’s Annual Report 2009 describes the harm that armed conflicts inflict on populations around the world, and what the organization is doing to protect and assist them.

In 2009, the ICRC distributed 88,515 tonnes of food to 4.07 million people. Its water, sanitation and construction projects benefited more than 14.2 million people – the majority of whom were women and children – while the number of patients treated at health facilities supported by the organization was close to 5.6 million.

ICRC delegates visited around half a million detainees in 74 countries and four international courts, and handled almost 509,000 Red Cross messages, enabling family members separated by hostilities and other crises to restore contact. Around 143,000 of the messages were exchanged between detainees and their families.

The Annual Report is an in-depth country-by-country account of the ICRC’s operations in 2009. One section covers activities carried out at the Geneva headquarters, while operational statistics and a statement of accounts appear in a separate section. The report contains a current list of countries party to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.

Source: Annual Report 2009 of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

WSIS Forum 2010: Turning Targets into Action – towards 2015 closes tomorrow

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The year of 2010 marks a turning point for assessing the progress made towards WSIS implementation during the past five years and for proposing new strategies to ensure the achievement of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) goals by 2015.

The WSIS Forum 2010 is currently held (10 to 14 of May 2010) at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The organizers, UNESCO, ITU, UNCTAD and UNDP set-up an exceptional event: More than 800 participants have registered. Four heads of UN agencies, many ministers, CEOs, civil society, representatives from academia and other stakeholders will participate in a week full of high-level debates, facilitation meetings, thematic workshops, interactive sessions, knowledge exchanges and kick off meetings. There will also be an exhibition and several publication releases and two receptions for the participants…

(for full article go to UNESCO)

WSIS Summit is webcast. View the sessions here: http://www.itu.int/ibs/WSIS/201005forum/index.html

UNESCO will also present its WSIS mid-term assessment, a publication entitled: Towards Inclusive Knowledge Societies – A review of UNESCO’s action in implementing the WSIS outcomes at the Forum

Diversity and Global Understanding in Vienna

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Working in the context of the United Nations means experiencing cultural diversity and multilingualism. The workshops seek to promote greater awareness of the importance of efficient communication tools and “a common language” spoken when people from diverse backgrounds work together.
We will look into the realities of diversity in the UN system, as they manifest in the field. We will seek to explore the full range of what diversity means for the UN’s working procedure and explore the modes of diversity in real-life situations of working together on
the ground.

Register here

Hence, since deficits in effective internal and external communication, intercultural competence and diversity management have been identified as problematic the question must be asked as to how specially targeted initiatives, tools and policies in this field have
the potential to improve such communication and therefore the performance of the United Nations System and civil society in its support.

Our objective is to deepen the international debate on questions relating to cultural diversity, particularly (but not exclusively) its effects to the working environment of the UN organizations and its peace operations.
Existing infrastructure, ongoing activities and common practise are discussed by the workshop participants and new research proposed in a series of presentations by scholars and practitioners. Thematically the focus is on the benefits of diversity
management, terminology, education and shared communication tools.

An update:

The programme for the Diversity and Global Understanding workshops (31 May – 2 June, in Vienna) has been all but finalized. Have a look below and come join us at the UN Vienna! Participation is free of charge but registration is an absolute must. Places are limited, so it’s strictly first come first serve!

Register here!

Monday, May 31, 2010
4 pm – 6 pm Registration
6 pm – 8 pm Reception by the go4diversity Project

Tuesday, 1 June 2010
9 am – 9.45 am Keynote speech:  Gerhard Budin, UNESCO Chair for “Multilingual, Transcultural Communication in the
Digital Age”; University of Vienna
10 am -12.30 p.m. WORKSHOP I: Diversity and Diversity Management
(Moderator: Gabriele Sauberer)
Gabriele Sauberer: “Diversity, social responsibility and diversity management in the context of peace”

Esra Killaf (MA17)

René Hudribusch (Ministry of Defense and Sport): „The effects of masculine & power cultures on worksplace bullying in the Austrian Armed Forces (and their relation to UN Resol. 1325)“

Lakshmi Kumar (The Orchid School): „Connecting worlds: raising intercultural insights for global-centric leaderships“

1.30 – 3 pm WORKSHOP II:   Go4Diversity: Global Education, Migration, Inclusion and Science
3.30-5.45 pm WORKSHOP III: Terminology – its role in UN peace policy
(Moderators: Anja Drame, Julia Harfensteller)
Anja Drame: Introduction – terminology policies and communication

Klaus Mak (LVAG, Austria): „ProTerm“ and process-oriented knowledge management

Valens Bimenyimana (PIH, Senior Translator/Interpreter) „Rwanda’s terminology and language policy needs“

Mekki El Badri (UNOV, translator for Arabic) „Translators and terminologists at the UN Vienna“

Julia Hafensteller: „Potential and Role of Concepts in Organizational Policy“

Wednesday, 2 June 2010
9 am – 9.30 am Keynote Speech: tentatively: Gabriele Eschig, Austrian Commission for Austria (about UNESCO and Diversity)

9.30 am – 12.30 WORKSHOP IV: Global Education
(Moderators: Reinhard Mitschke)
Reinhard Mitschke: Report about the COMSIC project (Collaboration Competencies for Media Supported Intercultural Groups)

1.30 pm – 3 pm WORKSHOP V, continued:

Kent Kille (College of Wooster): “Interactive Global Education: Active Learning and the Center of Diversity and Global Engagement.”

Jamie Arbuckle (former Canadian UN Peacekeeper): „Intercultural communication among agencies: intra-agency relationships, agencies as cultures“

3.30 pm – 5.45 pm WORKSHOP VI and Practical Training: Fostering global understanding through new ICT tools and ways of communication
(Moderators: Henrike Paepcke)
this one is all about wikis, social networks, blogs, Twitter, etc.

Managing Diversity in the Global Arena

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In view of the ever increasing imperative of recognizion and management of linguistic, cultural and other forms of diversity within the international policy arena and the global agenda, TermNet expands its cooperation with organizations in this field. It has therefore become an organizational Member of the Academic Council of the United Nations System (ACUNS) in early 2010.

ACUNS is a professional association of educational and research institutions, individual scholars, teachers, and practitioners active in the work and study of multilateral relations, global governance, and international cooperation. ACUNS focusses special attention on the programs and agencies of the United Nations system and other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations that play a role in managing common problems on the global agenda.

The Annual Meeting 2010 will take place in Vienna from 3-5 June with the motto „New Security Challenges“. TermNet, in cooperation with the UN Studies Association, organizes a free 3-day workshop on „Diversity and Global Understanding“ (31 May – 2 June) in cooperation and as an pre-conference event to this Annual Meeting.

Source: http://www.acuns.org/

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