The Language Barrier Cripples Asian Bioethics
- Dena Hsin-Chen Hsin
China Medical College, Taiwan
Road, Taichung 40421, Taiwan
Program in Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba
Science City, 305-8572, Japan
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12 (2002), 211.
attended the Fourth Asian Bioethics Conference held on 22-25 November 2002 in
Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea. More than a hundred people attended
the conference, and 54 papers were presented within the three days conference. The
opening ceremony, closing remarks, dinner parties, welcome and farewell parties
were held during this period. Success and fullness were the common conclusions
of the final result. However, I want to ask whether everyone was satisfied from
the information of bioethics debates by using only one language - English?
than half (N=34, 63%) of the papers were from Chinese, Korean and Japanese
speaking countries. There were six papers from countries where English is a
minority language (Thailand, Israel, Iran, German and Turkey). There were 12
papers from seven countries where English is, or has recently been, an official
language (Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines).
we considered the total attendance, with domestic Koreans or people from nearby
countries, then, the population of persons for whom English is not their major
language will more than 90%. We have to ask how many people understand the
talks and debates held during the conference? While to follow slides in English
is not so difficult by at least half the people, many people are crippled by
the language barrier to speak out their own point of view or to start a dialogue
or debate. From talking with people and understanding my own frustrations I
think it is true that a lot of key people from the majority countries did not
donate their thinking and ideas during the discussion sections.
raises a number of questions for international conferences, that I would like
English native speakers to consider.
Should English ability alone
decide the quality of bioethics talks?
Can the goals of the Asian
Bioethics Association be achieved by accepting diverse voices through only one
language - English - as a communication media?
We cannot say that those
people who can speak or express in English very well can represent the majority
voice of their culture.
People who were invited
to attend the conference (with generous financial support) may not have had the
most effective results from this conference as they would have if they could
have used there own language.
resolve the question of the language barrier is always a big task for the organizers
of international occasions and activities. Persons from all the non-English
speaking countries are striving to make an effort in their English ability to
improve their communication efficacy with the global world. However, for global
bioethics communications, a better interaction is not only the duty of one side
(non-English speaking countries); it should be a target of the Association and
associations like the Asia Bioethics Association should be more alert to this
situation than totally international ones. At the moment, I have no idea about
how to resolve this very difficult problem. I also understand that simultaneous
translation cost a lot, which cannot be afforded by a non-profit organization.
However, a more open attitude to reconsider the priority of our blessed mission
is what we are learning through bioethics. Thus, a serious concern about this "fly
in the ointment (or you may say critical)" talks should also be respected.
lack of English has also been discussed in this journal before by Frank Leavitt
("Whose English language", EJAIB 10 (2000), 185). He also said that English is changing through the
contributions of non-native speakers to become easier. Yet English is a
handicap for people in many regions of the world, and we hope that more of the
diverse journals and publications from Asia, in their languages, can be made
on-line and available like EJAIB. Please
forgive me for my language barrier (and thanks to Darryl Macer for checking my
English). I hope with all my heart
that I may express these kind of diverse ideas in my own language someday, but
then, I wonder if you could read it?
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