How language problems bedevil the response to crises (2)

16 November, 2018

Dear All,

I do agree that complications in communication between two people or more due to a language barrier whether written or spoken might cause a disaster and confusion as it happened at Babylon in the Bible when people were building the tower to reach heaven.

For instance in Zambia where there are 73 dialects and 7 official languages including English which Zambia has adopted for use at places of work, parliament conferences, workshops, schools, hospitals etc. To some people language barrier has caused disharmony or death among some people. For instance a case in point and at a more lighter note. Two friends on a long journey were stranded at some point, their

vehicle broke down. Their languages where quite distant from each other in terms of understanding (i.e.encoding and decoding) a message from one another person.

It happened between this two friends that after sorting a mechanical fault, Mr. X who was inside the vehicle trying to drive but wanted a signal from his friend under the vehicle confirming that everything was okay. His friend who was under the vehicle said "ensha". This term for the person under the vehicle meant that he had fixed the problem according to his mother tongue while under the vehicle but for the drive his friend the term "ensha" meant drive on. To cut the long story short, Mr. Z was ran over by his friend Mr. X due to language barrier. The "ensha" term for Mr. X Meant 'drive' while to Mr. Z it meant it was fine please as a sign or respect in his society. --nsha is suffix for sir, or madam for Mr. Z while for Mr. X it simply means drive.

In hospitals euphemisms have to be used for instance in most Zambian languages, it sounds offensive for a health worker to tell a patient saying "undress" because the message could be misunderstood for sexual suggestions and it would be considered inappropriate especially if used to a woman or an elderly person.

Therefore, translators, interpreters, should be careful as they try to communicate in another language whether at linguistic or language levels, there is always a discordance in one way or another between two people.

Best warm regards,


HIFA profile: Kenneth L Chanda is Associate Consultant and Lecturer at National Institute of Public Administration where he is lecturing in Records Management. He is co-author of The development of telehealth as a strategy to improve health care services in Zambia. Kenneth L. Chanda & Jean G. Shaw. Health Information & Libraries Journal. Volume 27, Issue 2, pages 133139, June 2010. He recently retired as Assistant Medical Librarian at the University of Zambia. Masters degree in Development for Commication, patient advocate. klchanda AT