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Lost (and found?) in translation: key terminology in disaster studies

Ksenia Chmutina (Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Neil Sadler (Centre for Translation and Interpreting, School of Arts, English and Languages, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK)
Jason von Meding (Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)
Amer Hamad Issa Abukhalaf (Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 12 March 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

Disaster studies has emerged as an international interdisciplinary body of knowledge; however, similar to other academic disciplines, its terminology is predominantly anglophone. This paper explores the implications of translating disaster studies terminology, most often theorised in English, into other languages and back.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors chose six of the most commonly used (as well as debated and contested) terms that are prominent in academic, policy and public discourses: resilience, vulnerability, capacity, disaster, hazard and risk. These words were translated into 54 languages and the meanings were articulated descriptively in cases where the translation did not have exactly the same meaning as the word in English. The authors then analysed these meanings in order to understand implications of disaster scholars working between dominant and “peripheral” languages.

Findings

Findings of the study demonstrate that many of the terms so casually used in disaster studies in English do not translate easily – or at all – opening the concepts that are encoded in these terms for further interpretation. Moreover, the terms used in disaster studies are not only conceptualised in English but are also tied to an anglophone approach to research. It is important to consider the intertwined implications that the use of the terminology carries, including the creation of a “separate” language, power vs communication and linguistic imperialism.

Originality/value

Understanding of the meaning (and contestation of meaning) of these terms in English provides an insight into the power relationships between English and the other language. Given the need to translate key concepts from English into other languages, it is important to appreciate their cultural and ideological “baggage”.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank all the friends and colleagues from around the world who have helped the authors to compile the material for the paper and the participants of the “Lost in Translation” session at the 8th International i-Rec Conference in Gainesville, Florida, 2019, for the rich conversation about disaster language translation. The authors also want to thank the reviewers who provided insightful and supportive comments and constructive critique that helped the authors to fine-tune the authors’ argument.

Citation

Chmutina, K., Sadler, N., von Meding, J. and Abukhalaf, A.H.I. (2021), "Lost (and found?) in translation: key terminology in disaster studies", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 149-162. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-07-2020-0232

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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