• Alysa Salzberg

The emotional impact of words in translation

In Canada, a committee of indigenous volunteers has been working to translate a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls into ten indigenous languages.


The translations make this information available to people who may not speak English or French well, or who simply prefer to analyze information in their native language. But this is no typical translation job.


Reporter Jessica Deer writes that many indigenous languages don’t have words for certain concepts like genocide or feminism. This means that they have to be translated in a more descriptive way. For example, in the report’s Mohawk version, the word “genocide” has been translated into ahonwanatónte a term meaning “we get rid of them”.


While the violence of these concepts hide behind standard words in English and French, the immediacy of the terms that translators have had to use gives them a strong emotional impact. Patricia Ningewance, an Ojibway translator working on the project, has even described reading the translated report as traumatic.


Read on to learn more about the impact of translating the report into indigenous languages, as well as the goals the report sets for indigenous communities.



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