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Translation and Interpretation in the Black Lives Matter Movement

Flag against sky with Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter.


The Black Lives Matter movement has gained prominence in America in 2020 due to horrific events in cities across our nation. People from around the world have taken notice and are taking a stand against racism.

The Black Lives Matter movement is international and multilingual. This has created challenges for the language services industry when it comes to the translation and interpretation of these three simple words.

Akorbi explains in today’s blog.

Related Post: Is Your App Ready for Multilingual Users?

Social Media

Chinese social media fueled a debate about the proper translation of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” The most prominent translation of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter came to the characters:  #黑命貴.

Literally translated, this means “black lives are valuable” or “black lives are expensive.” Some observers took this to mean someone comes from a privileged social class. When those three Chinese characters appear on a social media post, they generally include negative comments or connotations of the original intent of Black Lives Matter.

Alternatives include phrases that translate from Chinese to English as “black lives are lives,” “black lives are the same,” or “black lives is an important issue to address.”

However, these phrases are unwieldy and don’t accurately represent what’s happening in this galvanizing social movement.

Letters Abroad

A project called Letters for Black Lives addressed the translation and interpretation issues associated with the phrase Black Lives Matter. Many first-generation Americans found they had trouble writing letters to relatives in foreign countries describing the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.

For example, in Telugu (a language in India, and one of the 170 languages Akorbi works in) the word “black” translates to “nalla.” Nalla is used as an insult in India for people considered to be too dark-skinned. Some societies and subcultures favor a lighter skin tone harkening back to traditional prejudices.

Some young people whose ancestral languages contain prejudicial words are calling for changes in how those languages are spoken. This shows that the Black Lives Matter movement is having an impact on the underpinnings of prejudice, even beyond the borders of the United States.

Young people around the world are changing the institutions and linguistics that perpetuate racism in their own communities and languages. Akorbi recognizes their impact.

Sign Language

In Los Angeles, black deaf Angelenos use a three-word phrase to denote Black Lives Matter. The hand gestures say, “Black. Lives. Cherish.” Others say “Worthy” or “Important.”

When you consider Los Angeles is home to more than 800,000 deaf and hard of hearing people, proper sign language interpretation services are vital to this community.

Related Post: Akorbi Explains the Vibrant History of American Sign Language

Translation and Interpretation Services by Akorbi

Akorbi is one of the top language service providers in the United States. We provide translation and interpretation services for a wide range of industries, including health care, legal, financial, and more. Contact Akorbi or call 1-877-4AKORBI for more details.

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