Thursday, August 8, 2013

Science Writing In India - 2 Writing In Hindi

In the Special Focus section on Science writing in India in Current Science Sopan Joshi writes about the difficulties of writing about science in Hindi:

The world of science has developed a great bias towards English. The research comes from the English-speaking world,so the idiom is culturally English. The Hindi readership is not familiar with this idiom. For example, imagine the words required to explain plate tectonics in Hindi. For most scientific terms, there are translations in Hindi. But those translations mean nothing to the average reader. In fact, they mean very little to even the students of science. Because they are never used outside the classroom.

Each writer has to negotiate this problem on his terms, given his limitations. In my experience, using the metaphor of labour is useful. So, in a Hindi article on the world of computers, I have used the metaphor of carpentry to explain the nuance of a graphical user interface. To talk about the relationship between an operating system and computing software, I have found myself using the image of railway tracks and trains running on them. To talk about climate change and its impact on the monsoon, I have drawn from Hindu customs and mythology.

While this makes the material more accessible to a wider readership, it also dumbs down the narrative. One gets the feeling that there is no room for the beauty of complexity. Since there is very little written on science in the Hindi media, one also regrets the absence of a peer group. When you are  struggling with a choice of words, because you cannot think of words and phrases that can convey the meaning accurately and interestingly, you need peers to bounce off ideas, get feedback.

Since almost all post-high school science education in India is in English these problems do apply to other Indian languages as well.  Sopan Joshi should take heart that the Science Bloggers Association of India has put together a Hindi language science writing ecosystem which could provide him a sounding board for his ideas.

The world of science has recently developed a bias towards English, but don't forget there is a vast research literature in Russian, French, German, Chinese and Japanese, countries that unlike India have been using native languages for post high school science education.

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