In case you needed one more COVID-19 related worry, here’s a consideration from Wired magazine. What about the information needs of the millions of people worldwide who speak languages such as Kodava, Marathi, Oshie, Aghem or thousands of others — languages so obscure that they rarely qualify for translation, even when the information is a matter or life or death?
In the Wired article, COVID-19 Is History’s Biggest Translation Challenge, writer Gretchen McCulloch points out that to translate information merely into the primary language of the world’s regions, it would be necessary to produce material in up to 2,000 languages — still a far cry from the world’s estimated 7,000-plus languages.
McCulloch observes that despite the daunting nature of the task, efforts to address the translation shortfall are springing up around the globe. She writes, “Adivasi Lives Matter has been making info sheets in languages of India including Kodava, Marathi, and Odia. The government of Australia’s Northern Territory has been producing videos in First Nations languages including Yol?u Matha, Pintupi-Luritja, and Warlpiri. Seattle’s King County has been producing fact sheets in languages spoken by local immigrant and refugee communities, such as Amharic, Khmer, and Marshallese. VirALLanguages has been producing videos in languages of Cameroon, including Oshie, Aghem, and Bafut, starring well-known community members as local “influencers.”
McCulloch’s optimistic conclusion: COVID-19 “is the first pandemic in human history where we’ve had an understanding of diseases and hygiene, where we’ve actually known what we needed to do to hold it off for long enough to develop a vaccine… This is also, therefore, the first pandemic in human history where we have the power and the responsibility to share this understanding, a network of linguistic care that ultimately spans every corner of the globe.”