Tag Archives: Ukrainian

The Language of Disability Around the World

The BBC has issued linguistic guidelines for its journalists covering the Paralympic Games. But the guidelines only include English words—which is a problem for the many programs the BBC puts out in other languages.

According to the new rules, ‘disabled person’ is preferable to ‘person with disabilities.’ ‘Invalid’ and ‘handicapped’ are unacceptable. To describe those without a disability, the BBC likes ‘non-disabled’ more than ‘able-bodied.’

The BBC program The Fifth Floor gathered three non-English language journalists to talk about this. Do these reporters translate the approved English terms? Do they use alternative expressions that might be locally acceptable but frowned upon in English? Or do they dream up new terms that make more sense in their languages?

BBC Uzbek reporter Shodiyor Sayf has particular insight. He’s disabled—he had polio as a child. But even he and his translator have trouble coming up with the appropriate words to describe how his disability affects the way he walks.

“Not as an able-bodied person,” his translator says, then asks: “Is that right word I’m using now? Non-disabled person?…I’m really sorry!”

Sayf says until recently he simply hadn’t thought about the language of disability. “But now I’ve arrived [in London to cover the Paralympic Games]. And there are words I’ve never actually translated into Uzbek before. Now I know that those are the words I need to be using.”

Words like ‘non-disabled’ which Sayf has translated into Uzbek as ‘a person without limited abilities.’

But there’s a problem with some of the words that the BBC says should be avoided. In certain countries, words like ‘invalid’ and ‘handicapped’ are still widely and benignly used, by government officials as well as the general public.

“In our language, it’s still correct to use…invalid,” says Ukrainian journalist Andriy Kravets.

Ukraine’s lexicon is evolving though.

“There is a saying—if I translate it into English—‘people with limited abilities,’” says Kravets.

But what of places with disproportionately large numbers of disabled people, like Afghanistan? An estimated two million Afghans are disabled, most because of the decades of conflict there.

Tahir Qadiry with BBC Persian TV, which broadcasts in Afghanistan says disdain for the disabled is reflected in the language. One widely-used expression translates as ‘person with a defect.’

The news media use more respectful language, but Qadiry says it’s not always that easy to come up with the right translation.

“I know it makes sense in English,” he says. “But for us, especially in Persian when you translate it, it doesn’t make sense,”

So sometimes, local journalists reject imported, translated solutions in favour of local ones. Consider this Persian expression for ‘blind’: ‘Bright in the stomach.’ In English it sounds strange. But in cultures where the stomach is considered a focal point of the body—almost like a second brain—it works well.

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Baby talk, Ukrainian talk, and translated punk talk

baby_crying_closeupIs this baby crying in German or French?  A new study says we may be able to tell. The study was originally discussed on my sister pod, The World’s science podcast. It   concludes that we begin language acquisition in the womb. At that stage, we are, well, a captive audience to mama’s words; researchers say we pick up a bit of her accent and intonation. Then after birth, we cry in ways that imitate that accent and intonation.

А а Б б В в Г г Ґ ґ Д д Е е Є є Ж ж З з И и
І і Ї ї Й й К к Л л М м Н н О о П п Р р С с
Т т У у Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ь ь Ю ю Я я


Then it’s off to Ukraine, where the Ukrainian language (see alphabet above) is enjoying a government-sponsored revival. This comes at the expense of Russian – with the notable and ever-delightful exception of swear words: people still curse almost exclusively in Russian. Why? you tell me, please…In any case, the government’s support of Ukrainians, especially in schools and colleges has turned this into an election issue. The two front runners in next January’s presidential vote are the pro-Western Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who generally favors the promotion of Ukrainian, and the more Kremlin-oriented Viktor Yanukovych, who believes Russian should be protected.  Which leaves our Kiev-based reporter, Brigid McCarthy, somewhat conflicted as to which language to study.

nouvelle_longFinally, a conversation with the two French guys behind cover band Nouvelle Vague. Their new album re-imagines punk and new wave classics by The Sex Pistols, Plastic Bertrand and others. The singers tend to be non-native English speakers, female and young — young enough in some cases not to have heard the originals, or know about the ethos and vibe of punk. I like a lot of their reinterpretions because they’re so wildly different from the originals, yet add something that was seemingly overlooked by the original artists. It’s as if the musical code — the language — is flipped to reveal something previously hidden.  So, the vicious anger of the Sex Pistols’ version of God Save the Queen becomes a sweet, hymnal folk song. The Police’s poppy So Lonely becomes a desperate, haunting dirge. There’s a great linguistic flip too:  for the one song with lyrics in French, Plastic Betrand’s Ça Plane Pour Moi, the singer is an English woman who enunciates the French words with a marked English accent.

At the end of our interview, I offered the Nouvelle Vague guys my two cents on the punk classics they might next tackle:  anything from Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True album, Richard Hell’s Blank Generation,  Iggy Pop’s Dog Food, and top of the list:  a very early single from Adam and the Ant called Young Parisians. They should sing that one in French.

Listen in iTunes or here.

sex pistols

OK, I just need to include an image of the Pistols.

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