Tuesday, May 01, 2007

 

Linguistic Futureshock

In this age of linguistic futureshock, it is hard to keep up, harder to be bi-lingual, and I don't know how polyglots cope. I suppose they have to be selective, specialising in a subject area, like technical terms of some sort, or slang, or new terms, or archaic terms. Or sticking to a core language, like Basic English in each language--not really keeping up.

I recently consulted an on-line vendor's catalog for dictionaries, and felt distressingly old when I read that, to make room for new words, "pantdress" and "record changer" had been dropped! I didn't feel much better when I looked at the list of terms added:
  • Botox,
  • comb-over,
  • crunch-exercise,
  • dead-cat bounce,
  • dead presidents,
  • dead tree,
  • def,
  • exfoliant,
  • gimme cap,
  • identity theft,
  • phat,
  • and
  • tweener.
Whatever.

Meanwhile, technology and the forces driving futureshock can be friendly. This week I learned of a terminology translation service provided by the European Union, called IATE (Inter Active Terminology for Europe). Enter a term in any EU language, and it provides equivalents (with indications of context-dependence) in whichever of the other EU languages as one chooses (my ability to test this is limited to a small number of languages).

In France, we are in the last stretch of a presidential election, which I have been following closely, both in the French press and in the UK and USA press. It is pretty clear that notions of left and right are very relative, lots of names of parties and ideologies are too, not to mention the likelihood that choices are not binary, or even one-dimensional. What does this have to do with what precedes?

I was about to write to friends in Seattle to ask the label or category name for "altermondialiste", when I realized IATE should be able to answer since there is a French term, "altermondialiste", and it should be in the scope of the vocabulary of a political entity such as the EU. I would not have predicted the answers:
  • globalophobe
  • globaphobe
  • anti-globalist
Looking at the construction of the word, I thought I recognized "alter-" meaning "other" (as in "alternate", or "alter ego"), and "mondialis-" which is generally "globalis-" in American or English. This could well describe those who desire and seek to bring about an equitable and sustainable global economy, but protested because they perceive that there is insufficient or inappropriate global governance for that today.

My grandmother told me, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I would tell the EU translators, "if you can't translate a constructive movement's name in positive terms, don't translate at all."


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