Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Language Barrier

Recently I was doing a little bit of fieldwork in Cyprus and having successfully mastered two words of Greek, my interest was ignited in how geological organisations deal with multiple tongues in the regions they serve.

So, the BGS

The diverse site has bountiful English language resources – as expected. But what about the other languages that are present in the UK? In Wales (making up 3 million of the 62 million people living in the UK) , 21% of the population speak Welsh, the only Celtic language that enjoys official status (BBC) yet there is no provision for the welsh language on the BGS site, nor is there provision for Punjab – the second most spoken language in the UK. In terms of interest for tourists or foreign researchers (In French, German, Spanish etc) the BGS give no provision. Although legally and practically English is the primary language of the UK should it not be, that in a multicultural, prosperous country with a world leading geological survey, that a full provision for the languages spoke in a country is provided?

Looking across the pond the USGS does slightly better, although the vast majority of the information is solely in English,  the service does offer a page of information related to earthquake risk in Spanish and a series of Asian  languages – although many of the diagrams are still in English. This is very much a token gesture; 35 million Americans speak Spanish as their primary language (over 1% of the population) with the majority in the more tectonically active southern states (34.72% of the population of California speak Spanish). The fact that the data released is one of earthquake safety clearly indicates that the USGS is utilising its resources for educating people against seismic risks – something that can only be good.

In terms of geoscience outreach, the USGS however is not doing well, for all the 36,000 pages on the USGS website having two in other languages hardly could be reprehensive of population. California is one of the most interesting geological places on earth – shouldn’t everybody be able to enjoy the State’s geology? A whole sector of the community is being ignored by the geosciences.


Bilingual Canada has, on the other hand a high amount of bilingual speakers, with both French and English widely spoken and taught (27 % of the population). It should, and does, follow that the Canadian Geological Survey should present its information in billlingual format, which it does: http://gsc.nrcan.gc.ca/index_e.php and http://gsc.nrcan.gc.ca/index_f.php.  Both sites seem roughly comparable (there is some functional differences, but the information is there) and indicate the importance to Canada for an enviable bilingual society.

So, should a countries geological survey have bi or tri language sites? Within the UK we can have a whole range of government documents in multiple languages – surely it follows that publically funded bodies should be presented in multiple languages too? If road signs are in Welsh why shouldn’t information regarding geosciences be too?  Should it not be, that Spanish speakers can enjoy their states geology in their tongue – just like their fellow citizens. 

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