Love Your Indigenous Linguist!
30 September is UN International Translation Day which celebrates language professionals worldwide who enable knowledge sharing, make commerce and trade possible, and facilitate dialogue between nations and communities.
This year International Translation Day recognizes the importance of indigenous languages, not just to the people who speak them, but to the rest of the world. With language loss accelerating and the majority of the world’s languages at risk of disappearing by the end of this century, the UN is dedicating International Translation Day 2019 to “Translation and Indigenous Languages”.
To highlight the role of translators, interpreters, and terminologists, GALA has identified four members of our community who are dedicating their professional lives to making sure speakers of all languages have a chance to participate in the cultural and political life of society and have equal access to health care, education, and information. Read their stories here and help us celebrate all indigenous linguists today.
#LoveYourLinguist in 2019 means #LoveYourIndigenousLinguist.
Anna Sixkiller - Language Keeper
Anna Sixkiller grew up speaking only Cherokee at home. In school, however, Cherokee was not welcome, and students were punished for using it. She struggled at first to understand the teachers, but eventually developed full proficiency in English. But when she married a Cherokee man she decided that she didn’t want her children to suffer like she had and as a result only her oldest child speaks the language fluently, while her younger two became “passive speakers”, understanding the language, but not speaking it.
Over the years, Anna began to develop a greater appreciation for her ability to speak Cherokee and greater awareness of its value for her community. She ended up taking language and linguistics classes at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and began working as a translator for Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma nineteen years ago. Since then she has translated a variety of content, from cooking recipes and medical information to software applications. She has even appeared in YouTube videos telling the story of how she grew up as a monolingual speaker which is a rare thing these days. While she enjoys her work, she finds deeper meaning in it than most translators: for Anna Sixkiller, the Cherokee language is part of her identity - without it, she would not be whole.
Asked about her legacy, Anna mentions her work. Her hope is that her translations and the glossaries she has developed will be useful for her community over decades to come and will play a central role in keeping the language alive and her people flourishing.
Luyanda Mbali - Language Custodian
Luyanda grew up in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa speaking isiXhosa as his first language. From a traditional family, he is capable of conversing in a respectful manner with the elders, but can also hold his own in the more casual registers that are common among city dwellers. He became aware of language as an object of study when his religious community began the process of translating sacred texts into isiXhosa. Luyanda intuitively grasped that word-by-word translation wasn’t going to do the texts justice and his curiosity about translation was piqued.
After graduating from college, Luyanda decided to join the language industry and has worked as the lead translator and terminologist for ST Communications for the last 8 years. But his true vocation is larger than being a for-hire translator: he sees himself as a custodian of the language and its advocate, not only towards outsiders, but also towards those who speak the language natively like him. As a successful urban South African, he has often observed how the faces of those less educated than him light up when he speaks in isiXhosa. "Being educated and successful does not mean you have to speak English", says Luyanda; on the contrary, he sees his use of isiXhosa in everyday contexts as an important contribution to making sure his language increases in status and will survive into the next century.
Jagila Jarafu - Trailblazer
After completing her studies in Mass Communication at the University of Maiduguri, Jagila Jarafu decided to dedicate her life’s work to taking down barriers to communication. A Marghi speaker from Borno State in Nigeria, she knows first-hand of the difficulties people in internally displaced persons camps face in her state. Many of them are Marghi speakers like herself who were forced to flee their homes when Boko Haram first began terrorizing people in that state. Living marginalized existences in the camps ever since, they don't have information to help them make decisions about their own lives. After doing consulting work with the International Rescue Committee, Jagila began working for Translators without Borders as a translator for Marghi. The fact that she can communicate in the language of the camp residents gives her instant credibility. “Who are you?” is not a question she ever hears. Instead her linguistic competence immediately marks her as an insider who camp residents confide in and share their complaints with.
Beyond her translation work, she has been able to positively impact the camp communities by communicating key messages about the prevention of cholera outbreaks, for example, and how to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse. She sees her biggest contribution in being able to train other volunteers and translators, thereby multiplying her efforts. Thinking beyond the immediate needs of camp residents in Borno State and shaping a program that will impact the lives of other people in crisis situations through Translators without Borders is what drives her forward.
Michael Corden - Conduit
A native of Australia, Michael Corden decided to work in a cross-cultural context after spending seven months at a large medical mission in southern Ethiopia when he was a young man. Following seven years of nurses training and work, as well as theological and linguistic training, he was invited by Torres Strait church leaders to help them translate the Bible into the Torres Strait Creole, now commonly known as Yumplatok. He moved to the Torres Strait in 1986 to learn the language, help develop an orthography, and support the Islanders in their translation work. The many years of involvement with that community helped him develop a good understanding of the language and the culture of the people. He became an interpreter purely by accident. During the Federal Court hearing in regard to the Torres Strait Sea Claim, interpreters for Torres Strait Creole were needed and Michael was recommended. He became a NAATI-accredited interpreter and has worked as an interpreter for Yumplatok ever since.
While the work isn’t steady, it has been fulfilling. As an example, he relates the case of a 9 year old Torres Strait girl who had been sexually assaulted by an older male relative. Michael was asked to attend a preparatory meeting with the complainant and her lawyer just prior to them going into the courtroom before the judge. The girl was asked to go through her testimony in her native language and in the process it became clear that she had in fact been assaulted on two occasions by the same male, not just once as per the charge being brought. Her lawyer quickly went before the judge seeking an adjournment to have the charge extended. This was an important point for Michael in his career: helping the young girl press the correct charges in court by being able to communicate with her in her native language was a concrete way in which he felt he could positively impact the lives of Yumplatok speakers.
Thanks to 2M Language Services for facilitating this conversation.