Interpreting saves native languages

Do you know that there are 28 minority languages in Argentina. Unfortunately, as in many parts of the world, the majority of these languages are under threat.

Quechua, Guaraní, mapuche, toba, do these terms mean anything to you? Do you know that there are 28 minority languages in Argentina? 15 of them are native and only two are used at an institutional level. Unfortunately, as in many parts of the world, the majority of these languages are under threat because the speakers are forced to integrate. In order to preserve this heritage, there are two options: defense and promotion.

Defend and Promote

Defending a language is granting it official status, recognizing its people, increasing its representation in public and other bodies of civil society and expanding its media visibility thanks to translators and interpreters.

Promotion is offering citizens the opportunity to practice their dialect in all situations and train these same translators and interpreters to allow speakers of the language to speak more comfortably. How can you push indigenous people to practice their language when the authorities in their country do not understand it? Around the world, there are measures taken by different organizations, such as the Association of translators and interpreters (AATI) Argentina, to promote indigenous languages and train new interpreters.

The role of languages

International institutions make the preservation of endangered languages a mission on a daily basis. According to the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the languages spoken by ethnic minorities in each country should be respected and honored without discrimination.

They constitute a rich invaluable wealth of world heritage, and it is therefore appropriate to highlight them by offering the possibility for speakers to express themselves in their mother tongue. Moreover, the fact that television personalities such as Evo Morales, who come from minorities are able to take up positions of responsibility attests to progress.

Previously, many young people were forced to learn Spanish to be able to attend school. However, for several decades, the right to bilingual education is recognized by Argentinian law. Thanks to this reform, young students can teach themselves their language for future generations. A first step towards a long career in interpreting for some, maybe? The training of interpreters allows institutions to offer personalized attention to citizens so that they can express themselves in the language they know best.

Training obstacles

It goes without saying that this project is far from obstacle free. A language qualifies as a minority because it is practiced by a limited number of speakers, therefore the number of future potential interpreters is also restricted.

Although monolingualism has become the exception in Argentina, not everyone has the skills required for the job. Knowledge of a language is not enough if it is not accompanied by solid training and hellish learning efforts. In addition, the profession being quite unknown and sometimes grueling, means that it is difficult to motivate young people to become involved.

Finally, interpreting services are above all necessary where the jargon is very precise, and sometimes technical, such as education, health and the law, and there is no equivalent to new Western concepts.

Although recent years have been marked by a revival of speakers of minority languages, the struggle for their survival remains far from complete. The role of interpreter is crucial and it is essential that this profession becomes more visible and recognized.

More workers rights will be recognized, more young people will be motivated and strive to defend their heritage. In addition, political and economic factors should not be underestimated in this context but, unfortunately, indigenous people – usually – represent the poorest class in society.

Translation into English: Chloe Findlay

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This article has been written by Gaelle Hardy

Graduated from the University of Liège (Belgium) in interpretation, Gaëlle completed her internship at Cultures Connection in Argentina.