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Bravo for cultural diversity
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By staff reporter He Shan in Shanghai

To get a sense of cultural diversity, just stroll around the Shanghai International Convention Center, where the 18th World Congress of the International Federation of Translators (FIT) is being held. Translation professionals from 73 countries and regions with different languages and cultural backgrounds are gathering here to talk about translation, a topic which constantly conjures up an image of the legendary Tower of Babel.

At the statutory meeting of this ongoing congress, eight new associations from countries such as Iraq, India and Romania were brought into FIT as full members. FIT's growing diversity is a positive trend that reflects the goal of the organization to include associations from all parts of the world.

Despite dissent from FIT members who think the inclusion of small translation associations will undermine the prestige and authority of the international organization, most of the members gave the newcomers a warm embrace.

"I think for an organization like this, it is very important to be representative to have members from all parts of the world and from different types of organizations," said Ika Kaminka, chair of the Norwegian Association of Literary Translators, in an interview with China.org.cn. "If we are going to speak for the whole world of translators, we must represent them. So we need an organization representing linguistic minorities and cultural minorities."

Yet the problem is that there are entrenched obstacles facing minor languages and cultures across the world.

Yohannes Mengesha,Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, receives an interview with China.org.cn August 4.

"I speak Amharic, which is my language, but I can't speak it out of my country," said Yohannes Megesha, assistant secretary-general for General Assembly and Conference Management of the United Nations.

Mengesha said that the UN, which currently has 192 member states, finds it hard to replicate the EU's ability to translate documents into the languages of all member states. Cost control is the main consideration in making emulation practically impossible.

Mengesha, part of the UN's largest delegation ever sent to a FIT World Congress, gave a keynote speech about the challenges his organization faces in tackling linguistic issues.

For Ravi Kumar, a newly-elected council member for FIT, his family is a perfect example of cultural diversity. "I am a Spanish translator and my wife is a French translator. You see, my family is just a small version of FIT," he said, smiling.

As globalization comes into its own, FIT must continue to become more diverse so it can truly be a voice for translators around the world.

(China.org.cn August 6, 2008)

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