Five options for action towards multilingual biodiversity science & policy.

By Laÿna Droz, Marcela Brugnach, and Unai Pascual.

Read the full paper here.

Thousands of languages co-exist on this planet. Yet, science and science-policy interactions at the international level geared to protect the environment are made mainly by people working together using a very narrow subset of languages, and most often only using one language (typically English). This means that not everyone can fully share and participate in the making of science- and other knowledge-based solutions for nature and for their own life.

Moreover, each language carries its own way of conceptualizing reality and representing the world. This can affect how science is done and how the socio-ecological crisis is addressed. To local people, a solution that may be found by people far away from a very different culture and who speak another language might not make sense, and may not be seen as legitimate and thus not accepted.

One approach to address this issue is to work together with people from different cultures who hold different worldviews and who speak different languages. Such a collaborative approach requires focusing on literature published in different languages. The choice of the words as well as the ways the stories are told and ideas presented also need to be carefully considered in view of multilingualism, so that diverse people can understand each other and engage in a mutual exchange of ideas and solutions. Scholars who research culture and languages can also provide advice.

Finally, texts can be translated, while keeping in mind that something is always lost in translation. Working with people who speak other languages is hard, but the effort will likely be worth it if it helps finding better (more legitimate) solutions. This is especially important for international organizations such as IPCC or IPBES, as they try to identify options (non-prescriptive solutions) and can help coordinate science-policy efforts within and across countries and multiple linguistic contexts.

To succeed in the shared task of making knowledge and identifying solutions to common environmental problems, people who live and make sense of the world in a variety of languages, as well as their work and their creativity need to be included.