Translation Industry News | 17.03.2010

Dictionaries with a difference: online glossaries for prison slang and educational terminology

Two very different dictionaries have been in the spotlight this month both in Spain and the UK. Compiled by an ex-prisoner and available online, the popularity of a prison slang dictionary has soared to such an extent that it is being used as a training resource by the government in Valencia. Whilst in the UK, an online glossary of educational terminology has been published in a bid to increase understanding of the specialised language used in the field of education.

The author of the prison slang dictionary is Jorge de la Hidalga – former business man, ex-prisoner and writer of a blog dealing with prison life. Through daily instalments, the blog provides an insight into serving time in a penal institution. The dictionary is a work in progress which started 18 months ago. Recording the slang which is commonly used by prisoners, it was created in order to enable online followers to understand the blog’s text.

Some of the words included in the glossary include ‘pecera’ (goldfish bowl/fish tank) and ‘perrera’ (kennel) which are used to describe the glass-fronted isolated rooms where prison officials work in the units. In an article published by Spanish website 20minutos.es, De la Hidalga explains the etymology of the vocabulary: ‘Some of the words originate from the Romany language; others are derived specifically from old prison vocabulary. There are other examples such as ‘guachimán’ (watchman) which come from South American Spanish and are phonetically similar to other English words’.

The popularity of this language guide has led to its inclusion on a government-backed training course in Valencia for volunteers who teach inmates the necessary skills for reintegration into the workplace. Twenty such volunteers from firms such as KPMG and BBVA have just finished training and are now qualified to assist with CV writing, how to succeed at job interviews, job seeking strategies and setting up a business.

De la Hidalga also offers advice to the volunteers to facilitate their confident integration into the prison community and improve relations with their new students. Alicante and Castellón prisons will also benefit from the programme in the future and the prison slang dictionary plays a vital part in this process.

Another dictionary which has been in headlines is the online resource ‘A Brief Critical Dictionary of Education’ created by Dr Donald Gillies from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The press release dated 4 March details how it comprises more than 1,000 words and phrases for vocabulary in an educational context and is thought to be the first of its kind. ‘Making these terms clear and accessible can help to increase understanding of educational theory and practice. The key here is ease of use – for this reason, the definitions have been kept brief’ states Dr Gillies. Some salient examples as reported by The Times include the following: Liminality – ‘a term for the experience of transition where one is on the threshold of a new experience or environment and encounters uncertainty, disorientation and a loss of identity’; and Acculturation – ‘the process of acquisition of values and customs of the social group into which an individual enters.’ It also deals with the distinctions between the terms ‘pupil’ and ‘student’.

These two resources are extremely interesting to linguists, translators and interpreters alike as they offer expert views on specialist language areas in accessible formats. It is true that both works differ in both style and content, but ultimately, their aims remain the same: communication, understanding and inclusion.


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