In the News

newsThis page provides a sampling of news articles, commentaries, pod casts and other resources that are pertinent to the Language, Culture and Justice Hub.  The most recent items appear at the top.

Why Deaf interpreters are a crucial tool during the pandemic (by Alison Stine, The Guardian, 7 January 2021). "Conveying updated information to everyone in the time of Covid is a matter of life or death, as the Trump administration learned recently after losing a groundbreaking federal lawsuit to the National Association for the Deaf, which ensured that a sign language interpreter must be present in Covid briefings and visible on the live feed from the White House. The Trump White House did not include its first sign language interpreter on a Covid briefing until 11 November, a full nine months after the pandemic reached America."

Thousands of Afghans and Iraqis are under threat for helping Americans: now they hope Biden will help them resettle in the United States (Washington Post, 30 December 2020). "[A]bout 17,000 Afghan translators and others who helped U.S. forces or diplomats ... are seeking special visas to resettle in the United States. With immediate family members who would come too, those applications represent an estimated 70,000 Afghans. The number for Iraqis is estimated at about 100,000. Many claim harassment or death threats, and the danger may increase as Trump plans to withdraw additional U.S. forces from war zones where Americans have been deployed for nearly 20 years."

The Fallacy of Equal Footing in Simultaneous Interpreting (by Janis Palma, Proteus, Fall/Winter 2020 issue). "For decades, judiciary interpreters have been taught that the mere act of transposing words from one language to another, or perhaps equivalent messages within the equivalent registers, will place those non-English speakers 'on an equal footing' with their English-speaking counterparts. Of course, only the most competent interpreters can perform such an act. A pivotal corollary to this proposition, however, is that it's immaterial that neither the English-speaking nor the non-English speaking defendant can understand the concepts behind certain words or phrases used by lawyers and judges, simply due to the nature of frozen legal language and legal proceedings in the U.S. system of justice." You can read many interesting comments about this short article at the link above.

Between Elitist Conversations and Local Clusters: How Should We Address English-Centrism in International Law? (2 November 2020), by Justina Uriburu, Opinio Juris). "The choice of language significantly determines the way in which international law is made, interpreted, and applied, what knowledge is produced by scholars, and the participants of the conversation."

Brexit and the politics of English (29 October 2020, by Robert Phillipson, Language on the Move).  In the European Union, multilingualism is increasingly giving way to English language dominance – despite Britain leaving the Union. Even so, English language proficiency continues to be a source of anxiety for continental European politicians. At the same time, they are finding it increasingly difficult to trust the traditional owners of the English language.

Trump Virtually Cuts Off Refugees as He Unleashes a Tirade on Immigrants (1 October 2020, The New York Times). "The Trump administration said it would cut its already rock-bottom refugee admissions still deeper into record territory for the upcoming year, as President Trump returned to his anti-immigrant themes in the closing month of his re-election campaign."

Why French Politicians Can't Stop Talking About Crime (17 September 2020, The New York Times). Despite the fact that crime is declining in France, politicians are using rhetoric that warns of a country “turning savage” — the “ensauvagement” of France — as they vow to get tough on crime and combat the “separatism” of radical Muslims.

Often, It's Not What You Say But 'How You Say It' (7 September 2020, NPR). University of Chicago Professor Katherine Kinzler is interviewed about her new book on language. "...language is really seen as something that can mark and unite and divide social groups beginning really early in life. [Children's] minds are processing the social world and starting to divide people into categories. And then that's a space where it's really easy for society to layer prejudice and stereotypes on top of what kids are learning."

'Culture is language': why an indigenous tongue is thriving in Paraguay (3 September 2020, The Guardian). "Elsewhere in the Americas, European colonial languages are pushing native languages towards extinction, but Paraguayan Guaraní – a language descended from several indigenous tongues – remains one of the main languages of 70% of the country’s population."

Dispatches from a Racialized Border: The Invisible Threat (27 July 2020, by Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Just Security). "We carry the border on our skin, in our language, through our religion. Anyone on the other side of that border — whose skin is Black or Brown; who speaks to their loved ones in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, or Farsi; whose house of worship is a mosque or a temple — is readily dehumanized as a national security threat."

The Biases We Hold Against the Way People Speak (21 July 2020, The New York Times). This is a review of Katherine D. Kinzler's new book Why You Talk the Way You Do - and What It Says About You. She makes the following observation: “Linguistic bias is part of our basic cultural fabric. It is so ubiquitous that we don’t even think about it. It’s sanctioned by the law, it’s allowed by culture, and it’s practiced so frequently that people do not even realize when it is happening. Linguistic discrimination is seen as normal and typical, and because of this, it flies beneath the radar.”

The Specter of Caste in Silicon Valley (14 July 2020, The New York Times). Indian immigrants from Dalit backgrounds are rising up against caste discrimination at their workplaces in the United States. For more on caste discrimination, see the March 2020 Spotlight commentary by Hub member Rajesh Sampath.

Freedom of Expression and the Ban on Arabic in [New South Wales] Prisons (8 July 2020, post by Hub member Alexandra Grey from Australian Public Law blog). A recent NSW Supreme Court judgment "provides a rare insight into Australian judicial thinking about freedom of expression, racial and linguistic discrimination and what it means, legally, for English to be determined to be our “de facto” national language."

Lack of Interpreters at Unemployment Office is Illegal (7 July 2020, Honolulu Civil Beat). "More than two dozen nonprofits and immigrant advocates say Hawaii’s unemployment office is violating state and federal law by not providing much-needed interpreter services to help laid-off workers who can’t speak English access unemployment benefits."

Missing posters and 'fake' tweets: Pandemic communications strategy for multiculutral Australia slammed (16 June 2020, SBS News). The government of New South Wales has been accused of fabricating social media activity as new research shows problems in how Australia is communicating vital COVID-19 information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Why it's important to use indigenous languages in health communication (9 June 2020, a blog post from Language on the Move). Gregory Haimovich and Herlinda Márquez Mora report on an ongoing project that aims to provide bilingual services in Nahuatl and Spanish in rural Mexico during the COVID-19 crisis. 

To Give up on Language is a Sign of Privilege (2 June 2020, a blog post from the Political Language in Multilingual Societies website). This is the opening address by Yuliya Komska for the April 2020 conference entitled "Antifascist Language in Multilingual Societies: Debating Ways Forward."

RSI Considerations for Interpreters (7 May 2020, from Lourdes de Roja's "A Word in Your Ear" series). In this blog post and video, conference interpreter Maha El-Metwally highlights the special challenges associated with remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI), which is taking center stage during the coronavirus pandemic. She notes that RSI is more fatiguing than in-person simultaneous interpreting, and the added responsibility of dealing with interpretation technology from home only adds to the stress. Educating clients about the role they can play in optimizing the experience is a must with RSI. 

Judges told to stop using "beyond reasonable doubt" because jurors don't understand what it means and ask if "they are satisfied that they are sure" instead (Daily Mail, 26 April 2020). Official guidance for the judiciary in the UK is to avoid a phrase in use in British courts for over 200 years to ensure that jurors understand the standard of proof.

Under India's caste system, Dalits are considered untouchable. The coronavirus is intensifying that slur (CNN, 16 April 2020).

In Argentina, a Bid to Make Language Gender Neutral Gains Traction (The New York Times, 15 April 2020). A growing number of Argentines, including President Alberto Fernández, support "a movement challenging the longstanding rules of language and working to make the Spanish used in Argentina more inclusive."

Le Covid-19 expliqué en langue des signes par deux Ornaises (Ouest France, 11 April 2020). Two special educators have created a video using sign language and animation that explains the coronavirus, named "Coco le Virus", and the measures necessary to slow its spread, for children with hearing impairment and other kinds of disabilities. View the video here.

We are not 'at war' with COVID-19: concerns from Italy's 'frontline' (Humanitarian Law and Policy Blog, 09 April 2020, by Adriano Iaria). "Hijacking the language of conflict in stemming a pandemic may, in the long run, affect the dictates of the public conscience in peace-time as well as war-time and, ultimately, our capacity to serve our mission to protect human dignity."

For Non-English Speakers, Difficult Language Barriers Become Dire Amid Outbreak (WBUR/National Public Radio, 07 April 2020). "It’s difficult enough during normal times not to speak the dominant language. But some observers say that during a deadly outbreak, it could be a matter of life and death." This news item describes current challenges in Massachusetts, where one in 13 residents struggles to some degree with a language barrier.

Hospitals Have Left Many COVID-19 Patients Who Don't Speak English Alone, Confused and Without Proper Care (ProPublica, 31 March 2020). "Even in normal times, those who don’t speak English have worse health outcomes for a range of routine procedures and can struggle to gain access to interpreters... Those gaps are magnified in times of crisis. ProPublica spoke to 11 New York City health care workers about their experiences caring for coronavirus patients who didn’t speak English. While their employers ranged from top-tier nonprofit facilities in Manhattan to safety net hospitals in Brooklyn, they all described broken communication and hastily improvised stopgaps."

The Role of Dragomans in the Ottoman Empire (originally published by Elvin Abbaseyli on the AIIC website on 22 May 2015, with the latest translation made available on 21 March 2020). "The Sublime Porte and Western diplomatic missions in the Ottoman Empire needed individuals fluent in both Western and Oriental languages who also mastered the cultural differences and codes of behavior of both Ottomans and Westerners. In Europe, such individuals were known as dragomans.This fascinating article about "the founding fathers of diplomatic translation and interpretation" has become the object of its own translation campaign, the #DragomanChallenge. The text is now available in 15 languages, with the most recently added version in Italian.

Coronavirus meets linguistic diversity (Language on the Move blog, 4 March 2020). Commentator Li Jia describes the growing range of languages used to communicate inmportant information about the coronavirus in China. She notes "the increasing visibility and audibility of linguistic diversity in China, both online and offline," particularly in reference to minority languages. She has also observed the growing recognition that English cannot be the only foreign language used to communicate important information to non-Chinese residents. Indeed, "many foreigners are actually struggling to understand either English or Mandarin."

The power of words: the dangerous rhetoric of the "terrorist" (ICRC blog, Humanitarian Law and Policy, 4 March 2020). Commentator Ellen Policinski describes how dehumanizing language is often used in relation to "terrorists," despite the lack of legal clarity around what actually constitutes an act of terrorism. Such rhetoric may create a sense of exceptionalism, meaning that counter-terrorism efforts could justify the use of tactics otherwise deemed unacceptable, including war crimes and torture. 

Fears over unregulated interpreters following law firm rejection (The Law Society Gazette, 2 March 2020). The UK’s only independent, voluntary regulator of professional interpreters working in the public sector is concerned that law firms are employing unregulated interpreters to provide translation services. It is unclear whether the latter are security-vetted and have agreed to abide by a code of professional conduct.

Coronavirus and Language Barriers: How to React in a Health Crisis (blog post from TransSpanish, 27 February 2020). "[I]t’s all well and good to issue an official warning and advice in a country in its principal language, but if not everyone understands the language, it exposes everyone to possible dangers due to lack of information, lack of awareness or pure misinformation through social media. This can exacerbate a health crisis, lead to unnecessary stress and make tensions between linguistic minorities and the majority worse."

Fighting COVID-19 with Folklore (Language on the Move blog, 27 February 2020). Contributor Gegentuul Baioud reports that traditional Mongolian fiddle stories focusing on the prevention of and the fight against the coronavirus outbreak are being posted widely online, demonstrating their adaptability and flexibility.

Drawing a line in the sand: The UN has a responsibility to protect English speakers in Cameroon (The Globe and Mail, 21 February 2020). "The Cameroonian government, led by Paul Biya, who has served as President since 1982, has signed numerous UN conventions promising to uphold human rights; yet, it repeatedly violates them without repercussions. Cameroonians are left to feel that impunity will triumph so long as the UN lacks the power or will to enforce its high-minded conventions."

An Indian politician used AI to translate his speech into other languages to reach more voters (The Verge, 18 February 2020). As social media platforms move to crack down on deepfakes and misinformation in the US elections, an Indian politician has used artificial intelligence techniques to make it look like he spoke English and a dialect of Hindi to appeal to different voter groups ahead of the Delhi assembly election.

Fighting the coronavirus in local languages (Language on the Move blog, 17 February 2020). Contributor Yu Lha summarizes and discusses the health information that has been made available in four rGyalrongic languages spoken by Tibetans in his region of China. "Since the identification of the virus, there has been a lot of health information circulated in both written Chinese and literary Tibetan. And although many people can access this information, barriers to understanding still exist within communities that speak minoritized languages."

Interpreting for Crimes Against Humanity: Giving Victims a Voice (blog of the National Association of Judiciary Translators and Interpreters, 7 February 2020). An interpreter recounts the professional experience of Hub member Ahmed El Khamloussy, who works as an interpreter at the International Criminal Court.

Sri Lanka scraps Tamil national anthem at Independence Day (Al Jazeera, 4 February 2020). "Sri Lanka's new government declined to sing the national anthem in Tamil, the country's second national language, during the island's Independence Day celebrations on Tuesday, a departure from the previous government which sang the anthem in the country's two primary languages to promote ethnic harmony in the aftermath of a decades-long civil war."

Are People Who Support the Concept of Academic Language Racist? An FAQ (Nelson Flores, published on 1 February 2020 on The Educational Linguist blog). "I am particularly interested in critically interrogating how children who engage with written texts across two or more languages on a daily basis are framed as illiterate because of their supposed lack of  a 'strong foundation' in 'academic literacy' in any language."

Interpretation Problems in Immigration Proceedings: How Grave Can They Be? (Rights in Exile Newsletter, January 2020). "The quality of interpretation and the professionalism of the court interpreter are of the utmost importance in immigration proceedings, especially in asylum or extradition cases, where the stakes are high. Serious concerns about the interpreter’s professional behavior can even cause the court decision to be set aside, as happened in a recent asylum case in the UK."

Is It the Way I Talk? Hiring Discrimination Based on an Accent is Illegal (Truth Be Out, 25 January 2020). "According to research, it takes us less than 30 seconds to profile someone based on their language, making decisions on their socio-economic class, background and ethnicity. And when a speaker’s accent differs from our own, we are more likely to unconsciously attribute undesirable characteristics to those that speak with that accent." The US Equal Opportunity Commission outlaws, however, this kind of discrimination in the workplace.

For the third time in 11 years, Rwanda changed the language used in primary schools (The Washington Post, 24 January 2020). What it means for educational equity when teachers are required to teach in a language they don't master and that children don't understand: English.

Interpretation Crisis at the Border Leads to Deportation of Mayan-Language Speakers Seeking Refuge (Democracy Now, 17 January 2020). Watch a video or read an interview with researcher Rachel Nolan, who has reported on the inadequacy of language services provided to Central Americans seeking asylum in the US, and Odilia Romero, Zapotec interpreter and indigenous leader with the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations. 

CIDH realiza visita de trabajo a Costa Rica y presenta su informe sobre Migración forzada de personas Nicaragüenses (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 14 January 2020). The IACHR presents a report on forced migration by Nicaraguans (in Spanish) which notes the rights of migrants to be informed of the process by which their claims will be evaluated in a language they understand, to access an interpreter, and to receive legal advice (see paragraph 163).

Interpreters down tools in protest at plans to open up courts register (Dutch News, 13 January 2020). Hundreds of interpreters strike against Dutch government plans to cut costs by allowing less qualified competitors to work in judicial, police and immigration services, arguing that this would affect the legal right of persons to follow proceedings in a language they understand.

A Translation Crisis at the Border (Rachel Nolan, The New Yorker, 30 December 2019). For migrants who speak Mayan languages, a grassroots group of interpreters is often their only hope for receiving asylum.

Prohibiting Caste Prejudice on Campus (Inside Higher Ed, 20 December 2019). Brandeis University pioneers the inclusion of inherited social class in its non-discrimination policy.

Experience: I'm a translator for criminals and the voiceless (The Guardian, 20 December 2019).

Pourquoi le Brexit ne sauvera pas la langue française à Bruxelles (Le Monde, 19 December 2019).

A podcast from Asymmetrical Haircuts  offers insights from a Gambian rape survivor and an ICC judge about the impacts of language and culture on testimony about crimes of sexual violence (02 December 2019).

UK's court interpreters fear cost-cutting is threatening fair trials (Financial Times, 05 November 2019).

Northwest Territories Legislature to expand translation services to 9 official languages (CBC News, 29 October 2019).

Suffering in Many Languages (Camila Dechalus and Tanvi Misra, Pulitizer Center, 30 September 2019). Limited English proficient migrants from a range of countries face challenges at the US-Mexico border. "A lack of language services, translated materials, appropriate religious accommodations and, in some cases, targeted prejudice has eroded any semblance of due process, advocates say, and makes these migrants even more vulnerable to reprisals while in detention."

Florida teen girls step up to translate Indigenous Mayan languages (Public Radio International, 23 September 2019)

Trump Administration Builds a Language Wall to Further Thwart Migrant Rights (news analysis by Aisha Maniar, Truthout, 23 August 2019)

Speak American (Melanie Brown and Hilary Parsons Dick, Anthropology News, 16 August 2019). Scholars use the notion of "language policing" to refer to the cultivation of a normative linguistic order that casts some languages as outside the realm of acceptable interaction in order to justify control of their use.

Speak English or Else You'll Be Put on Dish Duty! (Jason Sarkozi-Forfinski, Anthropology News, 18 July 2019). Faculty and staff in US universities employ raciolinguistic ideologies to police Asian students and their language.

Federal Court Issues First Ruling in Indigenous Languages (Huffington Post, Canadian press, 29 May 2019)

Anyone speak K'iche or Mam? Immigration courts overwhelmed by indigenous languages (The New York Times, 19 March 2019).  

Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences (The New York Times, 25 January 2019).