UCT project aims to have SA’s geological record translated in local languages
Cape Town - A project by UCT’s geological sciences department is translating segments of the country's geological record into South African languages, starting with Xhosa.
Called Reclaiming the Rocks: Ukuthetha ngezifundo zomhlaba ngesiXhosa, it is led by Rosalie Tostevin, a lecturer who also runs the ancient life and environments laboratory.
It aims to better represent the diversity of languages in South Africa and help connect those who have historically been excluded from scientific discourse.
Tostevin said despite English being a first language for less than 10% of the population, it dominated scientific discourse.
She said people engage more and understand better when the conversation is in their native tongue. The project also aims at producing a geological dictionary in Xhosa, providing a tool to transform geology departments, museums and public outreach events.
Master’s student Batande Getyengana, who leads a team of student translators, said he was excited about the project. Getyengana said not many high school pupils know what geology is about.
“By translating the country's geological record into South African languages it will help most of them from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Tostevin said the country’s geological record was exceptional and relevant to daily lives.
“Millions of tourists are drawn to Table Mountain every year, vineyards depend on the fertile soils of the Bokkeveld shales, and the economy is built on gold, mineral and diamond deposits. The rocks also hold the story of life on Earth - from the first traces of life to the rise and fall of the dinosaurs,” she added.
Tostevin said she would compile summarised versions of the country’s geological record while Getyengana and fellow students would work on translating it.
“There will also be discussion groups to develop translations for technical terms where necessary. The longer-term goals include taking these new resources out on the road and introducing them to schools and communities,” she said.
UCT spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala said during the first semester in 2020, Tostevin surveyed the geology department. The survey confirmed an impressive diversity of languages spoken among students and staff and indicated students’ interest in helping with translations.
Shabalala said the project was already receiving international recognition and is a recipient of the European Geosciences Union’s public engagement grants.
“These grants are awarded to outreach projects that aim to raise awareness of geosciences outside the scientific community,” she said.
Shabalala said the grant would enable the project's team to create lasting resources that could support outreach in South Africa for years to come.
“And as the outreach branch of Reclaiming the Rocks: Ukuthetha ngezifundo zomhlaba ngesiXhosa begins, work on the department's broader transformation project will continue simultaneously.”
She said that would include new artwork for the department's entrance hall, featuring students explaining in their mother tongue why they love geology.