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A historical overview of the activities of Prolingua

Background to founding

When Prolingua was founded, hardly a quarter of a century had passed since the recognition of Afrikaans as official language. Before that time, Afrikaans was often heard but seldom written. The status of official language held many challenges for public servants and municipal personnel who now also could, and sometimes had to, write in Afrikaans. Translation and terminology offices were established. The incumbents of positions sometimes held degrees in literature and linguistics but there was no training for translators. The first translators were expected to be trailblazers - and these they were.

The biggest problem was the lack of dictionaries. Each municipality and translation office began to compile their own little lists and they soon realised that the outcome would be chaos if they proceeded in this way. An obvious instant solution to many problems was Dutch dictionaries. Sometimes it was deceptively easy to find answers there.

Terminology was created based on sentiment: the words lexicography and lexicology were unknown. Translation was done intuitively: nobody had ever heard of theories of translation. But there was no lack of enthusiasm and diligence even though the motivation was often merely for Afrikaans to hold its own against English.

The founding

On 28 October 1950, Prolingua was founded. At that time, its name was the Transvaal Association of Municipal Translators. As the name indicated, many members were municipal officials but there were some members from other institutions. The language guys (professional women were rare) met on Saturdays and had to travel at their own costs.

At that time, the aim was, among other things, to standardise terminology and to discuss problems with translation. They cooperated with other institutions such as the Public Service (Language Service Bureau), Bureau of Standards, Provincial Administrations, the Railways and the Vaktaalburo.

First tasks

The Municipality of Johannesburg, for example, at that time, was already a little world on its own: power generation and distribution, sewerage, waste water purification, gas factories and distribution, fire brigade, bus and tram services, technical workshops, market, abattoir, refuse removal, landfills, crematorium, cemeteries, parks, road-building and maintenance, traffic control, surveying, valuations, urban planning, architects and legal advisors, accountants, budgets, meetings, administration, personnel matters, museums, art museums, libraries.

They started immediately to compile lists of terms from the most important subjects and within a few years, 18 lists of terms had been compiled that were revised regularly.

Growth

The association soon became known all over the country and on account of the interest of national institutions and municipalities in provinces other than the Transvaal, the name was changed to Association of Municipal Translators. Employers of translators became aware of the valuable work of the association and allowed their translators to attend meetings during office hours. Later on, much emphasis was placed on terminology and the name was changed to the Terminology Association of South Africa.

Dictionaries

Some of the lists of terms were refined in cooperation with other institutions and published as dictionaries: The Fire Dictionary was compiled with the cooperation of the Fire Service Institute; the Town Planning Dictionary with the cooperation of the University of Pretoria; the Life Insurance Dictionary was compiled by Southern Life Association Limited and published by Prolingua; for the Road and Transport Terms published by the CSIR and on which many experts had cooperated, use was made of Prolingua's Traffic Terms and Prolingua collaborated actively in the projects.

Shift in focus

At present, there are academic courses for translators and lexicographers. Over the years, numerous dictionaries on a variety of subjects have been published. But the conditions of translators have changed: translators often work alone in a practice or for a large institution. There are few institutions that employ more than one translator. Work is preferably outsourced to outside translators (who are working alone).

Prolingua is aware of the value of collegial contact. Prolingua is the place where you get information about your profession such as new laws that have been promulgated and new dictionaries. Here you can meet colleagues who are experts in their field. You can discuss your language problems here and share information you have with others.

And this does not necessarily happen at working meetings. Prolingua has realised that many members cannot attend the meetings on account of distance or for other reasons but could nevertheless benefit or make a contribution. We try to pass on to our members by email as much as possible of the information that becomes available at working meetings. At the same time, we invite them to participate by email and make their contributions. In this way, we involve everybody and all who are members of Prolingua benefit.


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