METM23 keynote

Translating in acute crises – on texts, contexts, and languages

Federico M. Federici, University College London, UK

Translation, interpretation, and intercultural mediation must be considered risk reduction tools in crises, but this position is not yet universally shared. Multilingual communication is often unplanned and organized haphazardly.

From supporting displaced people on their way to a safe destination or integrating into a new society, to informing settled residents of multilingual cities of local hazards, translators help to mitigate risks. In many instances, however, emergency services and responders refer to translation as an "issue” or “barrier”. Recently, the lack of written translations and interpretation has been held responsible for perpetuating or exacerbating inequalities. In response to this problem, international organizations and local institutions are now looking at ways in which translation can build trust and improve the effectiveness of humanitarian and disaster response efforts.

It would be simplistic to state that having access to information in multiple languages through subtitled videos, leaflets, text messages, or social media posts will automatically change the behaviour of a person in danger. However, it is surely reasonable to expect that not having that information would increase the level of exposure to risks and that providing equal access to information can give a person a better chance at safety.

In my talk, I will include a few examples of how English works as a lingua franca and a pivot language in the Mediterranean to deliver crucial information in a timely way. I will reflect on the inherent risks of this approach and present some of the types of texts that are regularly translated.
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About Federico

Federico M. Federici is Professor of Intercultural Crisis Communication at the Centre for Translation Studies, University College London, UK. From 2009 to 2014 he sat on the board of the European Master’s in Translation Network. His research on translators and interpreters as intercultural mediators and translation in crises has been published in journals like Translation Spaces and International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. He edited Mediating Emergencies and Conflicts (2016), Intercultural Crisis Communication (2019) (with Christophe Declercq), and Translation in Cascading Crises (2019) and Translating Crises (2022) (both with Sharon O’Brien). He has co-authored government briefs and reports on crisis communication policies and multilingual communication in the humanitarian sector.