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Lost in Translation

Home > Brisbane > Public Lectures | Books and Writing
by Antonia Ostbye (subscribe)
I am a freelance journalist and PR practitioner living in Brisbane.
Published October 10th 2011
Antonia Ostbye writes from the Brisbane Writers' Festival.

Languages...you speak it, you write it and even sing it. But most importantly they differ because they come from your culture and this is what makes them unique.

Losing language, losing knowledge session
Experts: Wade Davis, Andrew Westoll, Susan Hawthorne led by Faith Baisden


To date there are over 7000 languages in the world but as ancient cultures slip away or stay hidden on our radar the languages disappear as well and our knowledge of the world is smaller.

This year at the Brisbane Writers' Festival, three experts in linguistics took to the stage to discuss this 'loss of culture and knowledge' with great passion and as an observer in the audience I was left hanging to my chair.

I personally had no idea this was happening and I was once again reminded that culture needs to be looked after and cherished because culture is knowledge.

Of the 7000 languages in our world today, 50% are likely to disappear in our lifetime. Preserving and appreciating cultural and linguistic diversity is among the central challenges of our times.
Experts Andrew Westoll, Wade Davis, Susan Hawthorne led by Faith Baisden discussed these challenges in great detail and convinced the audience by the end of the session that this is an important issue, we all have to think about.

Wade Davis began the discussion and his main points were that the process of documenting and protecting languages had to be improved in order to have cultural diversity.

I think the reason why we are so concerned about language losses because it is an indicator of this created trend, which is the erosion of cultural diversity," Wade said.

Andrew Westoll, a journalist and author followed but instead of saying what was wrong, he used his own experiences as a journalist to convey his message that with languages - you have to use it or you will lose it.

He got the audience to sing a traditional morning greeting from a village in the jungles of Syria.

Susan Hawthorne was the last expert to talk and she, too, used her own experiences as an author and linguist to note how difficult it was to research into Ancient Greek dialects, because they are her specialty.

The most interesting part of her talk was the fact that the word 'cow' when translated through early languages can mean 'queen.'

"Once you start looking there are cows everywhere," Susan said.

"I mean look up into the night sky and what do we see? The milkyway. Who put that there? The galaxies and where does the word galaxy come from? The Greek word gala which means milk. So from this I can probably say the universe was created by a cow."

Are our languages getting lost in translation? I'll let you be the judge of that.
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When: September 10, 2011
Where: Brisbane Writers' Festival 2011
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