Inttranet: Linguists of the year 2005
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the global network of professional interpreters and
translators, has nominated its "Linguists of
the Year" for 2005.
These honorary citations recognise the struggle -
and sometimes the personal sacrifice - of linguists
both alive and dead who were the focus for media attention
during the past year, and have increased public awareness
of the importance of linguists and languages as a
The Inttranet nominees as Linguists of the Year (in
alphabetical order) for 2005 by alphabetical order
David S.C. Chu
David W. Lightfoot
Dr. Abdul-Rahman Abd Rabu
Hussein Hanoun Al-Saadi
In memoriam: interpreters killed in the line of
The LiTgloss project
Valerie Fast Horse
leading three nominees were Noam Chomsky
(17.43%), UNESCO (13.76%) and In
Memoriam: interpreters killed in the line of duty
Carnegie Mellon University researchers and
German scientists demonstrated breakthrough technology
in human speech translation by computers. The system
pioneered by Alex Waibel, a faculty member at CMU
and the University of Karlsruhe in Germany, could
bring closer the day when communicating in a foreign
language is as easy as speaking in a native tongue.
Another prototype, which hadn't been given a name,
uses directional speakers to beam translations of
a speech to specific listeners in a variety of languages.
Assistant professor of linguistics at the University
of Arizona in Tucson
A new strand of linguistic research uses the principle
of "self organization," a concept used in
studying all kinds of complex systems, from thunderstorms
to the human immune system, and not just language.
Self-organization, in a nutshell, is when a system
evolves a large structure from repeated small-scale
interactions between its smaller elements, according
to Andrew Wedel, an assistant professor of linguistics
at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Co-ordinator of the Eluwa Sign Language Project
A team of teachers in Northern Namibia is developing
an expanded vocabulary for Namibian sign language
to allow deaf children to learn science. The Eluwa
Sign Language Project was launched at the Eluwa Special
School for deaf and hearing-impaired children at Ongwediva
David S.C. Chu
US Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
David S.C. Chu is the author of the Defense Language
Transformation Roadmap. “In today’s world,”
Chu said, “we need people with a higher level
of linguistic competence. We need more people in the
civilian and military ranks with a capacity in one
or more of the ‘investment’ languages,
such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic ( and )
Chu said proficiency must go beyond standard speaking
and reading skills to include competence in the various
dialects of a language, slang, and an ability to write.
“(Military linguists) must be able to understand
people speaking in nuanced terms or alluding to current
or historical events in a culture.”
Director of Social, Behavioral and Economic
Sciences at the National Science Foundation
At the current rate, as many as 2,500 native tongues
will disappear forever by 2100. David W. Lightfoot
is helping spearhead a government initiative to preserve
some of the dying languages, believing each is a window
into the human mind that can benefit the world at
“If we are going to lose half the world's languages
that endangers our capacity to understand the genetic
basis of language,”' said Lightfoot, who heads
the directorate of Social, Behavioral and Economic
Sciences at the National Science Foundation.
Dr. Abdul-Rahman Abd Rabu
Professor of Translation at Sana’a
“Illiteracy is a problem in society whereby
people are having difficulty accessing sources in
their own native language. Because of this, they are
going to experience insurmountable difficulties in
accessing sources. Translation would alleviate many
of these problems if the Arab world would devote adequate
time and resources to developing professional translators.”
French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi interpreter
Hussein Hanoun Al-Saadi were kidnapped in Baghdad
on Wednesday January 5 but were released unharmed
on June 11.
In Memoriam: interpreters
killed in the line of duty
It is difficult to know exactly how many
interpreters were killed in 2005. According to the
press freedom monitoring group Reporters Without Borders,
50 journalists and 22 journalists' assistants, such
as interpreters and drivers, have been killed during
the 30 months since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Because they provide the real link between people,
because they really do fix things, interpreters will
always be on the front line, making them a strategic
target in a war-torn world, and more necessary than
ever, wherever they are.
Jack Jones was once punished for speaking
his native language. Transported by the government
from his riverside home in Montezuma, Utah, at 7 years
old, Jones learned English in a Colorado boarding
school. There he was told his name was Jack; he was
warned not to speak Navajo. But the language of his
people later made him a war hero.
In the winter of 1941, the federal government recruited
29 Navajos to develop a battle code based on the Navajo
language. Jones was among 180 finalists that were
actually deployed overseas from among the 400 Navajos
originally recruited for the program. Without the
code talkers, some say the Pacific war may never have
Professor of Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute
Noam Chomsky has written an interesting, thought-provoking
article on universality in language and in human rights,
in which his examples are given “so that we
remember that we are not merely engaged in seminars
on abstract principles, or discussing remote cultures
that we do not comprehend. We are speaking of ourselves
and the moral and intellectual values of the communities
in which we live. And if we do not like what we see
when we look into the mirror, we have ample opportunity
to do something about it. “
The family of former FBI translator Sibel
Edmond moved to Turkey when she was a girl, and she
attended college in the United States. She became
a U.S. citizen and, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks,
went to work for the FBI, which was in dire need of
Middle Eastern translators. But at the FBI, Sibel
got a disillusioning look at the management failures,
case backlogs, turf battles and bureaucratic gold-bricking
that have since been confirmed by several high-level
government investigations of the government's counter-terror
The LiTgloss project
The idea behind the LiTgloss project
is to use the Web to harness the labor of far-flung
translators who are not necessarily scholars, but
who volunteer their language skills to help others
read works that they love. LiTgloss is a
collection of texts of literary or cultural interest,
written in languages other than English, and expertly
annotated so as to facilitate comprehension by English-speaking
readers. The project was undertaken with funding from
the University at Buffalo, and is now supported by
a generous grant from the National Endowment for the
Humanities. Texts are available in many languages,
and more texts are added every month.
The United Nations Organisation for Education,
Science and Culture celebrated its 60 th anniversary
this year. Among its achievements during the year,
the Organisation enacted a convention on protecting
cultural diversity worldwide. The goal of the proposed
convention, formally titled the Convention on the
Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and
Artistic Expressions, is to protect a nation's cultural
diversity and its culture from any negative effects
of globalization. It also seeks to promote a country's
ethnic traditions and minority languages.
Valerie Fast Horse
Valerie Fast Horse, IT Director for the Coeur
d'Alene tribe in Idaho helped open the tribe’s
new community technology center (CTC), which makes
broadband access and 40 computers available to members
of the tribe for free. It is the first phase of a
multifaceted plan to bring broadband wireless to every
corner of the reservation.
Among the uses Fast Horse foresees for tribal-wide
Wi-Fi broadband are streaming video and other high-bandwidth
applications, especially those which help to teach
the ancient tribal language of the Coeur d'Alene.
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