Glenda Kupczyk-Romanczuk

From WikiPacifica

Jump to: navigation, search

I grew up speaking English and Polish and that has made me interested in cross cultural communication. The power of English in the world is something that I find exciting and troubling. It gives us a language of wider communication because so many people speak it, but, like all powerful media - it helps maintain the systems that benefit the powerful. There is whole way of talking about language that mirrors the way we talk about threatened species: some languages are like invasive species and they take over wherever they get a chance, threatening other languages and the cultures they represent. When a language becomes extinct, we lose possible insights abut how we might solve problems and organise communities in different ways. It is important to keep the diversity of our languages even as we enjoy being able to use English to communicate widely in the global village.

It is important to use English in a way that is plain enough so that everybody can feel included. One of the jobs that I see for myself in this project is to make issues clear and to show people that language can be used in different ways. I would like to continue the work begun by Wolfgang Sachs et al in The Development Dictionary. In that work just 19 terms are problematised and discussed and we see that language can be used as a tool to manipulate and persuade or as a tool to cover up and mystify. The Development dictionary is academic and difficult for people for whom English is a second or third language to understand. As an English teacher and a dictionary writer, I have a prime duty to make the issues clear not just for the 19 terms Sachs analysed, but for all the words we use to talk about the environment and social justice.

My background in dictionary writing began in the Pacific, where I taught for 10 years in Papua New Guinea (PNG). There I adapted a school dictionary from Oxford for the PNG context, using local examples and local expressions. I went on to write more for different school situations in PNG and for the Solomons and Vanuatu. These were all in the context of the school curriculum, so changing to the context of the environment was a huge leap for me. When I started in the Environment Dictionary project, my understandings of environment was very limited and the inter-connections between the natural environment, economic environment, political environment and social environment came to me like a flash of understanding. I really wanted to explore it in depth to show the connections between everything. to do this, I went to the chemistry department at UNE and wanted to find ping pong balls and sticks in order to show the connections between the 4500 words in the dictionary. They laughed at me and told me my chemistry was out of date, but they showed me a computer program that might allow me to do the connections graphically. I got the program, Inspiration, and started to build different connections. I tested my idea by getting out there. I went and worked with students at universities along the countries of the Greater Mekong : Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and back to the refugee camps on the Thai-burma border. The students liked the word webs because they helped them build their vocabulary and they liked the definitions because they could understand them.

The Environment Dictionary was originally conceived of by an environmentalist working with refugees on the Thai-Burma border - 'Green Steve' Thompson. He realised that you can't talk about agriculture without talking about logging, without talking about economics, without talking about corporation... and so it grew. The work of making the dictionary was funded by the heinrich Boell foundation, Novib and by OXFAM US. The volunteers involved in the orgiginal project couldn't agree on a way of presenting the words they had collected and when the team was disbanding, they put out a plea for an editor and I responded. The dictionary was published for free distribution to refugees and the activists supporting them in 2002.

Since that time, when my work commitments have allowed, I have been working on a second edition to address some of the issues left unanswered in the first edition and improve the definitions. I developed a framework of word webs and put the dictionary into a data base, but they were separate and I was frustrated about putting my ideas about demonstrating connectedness into practice. Now Lindsay has provided his expertise to make that possible. The Word Webster has gone through many iterations and thanks to many people asking me very difficult questions, I think I have now set up a way of showing the relationships between words, not just in terms of words that mean similar things, but of those affected, of cause and effect, and of ways of managing problems and supporting useful solutions.

Word Webster is now a wiki site and everyone can help improve it. The social justice agenda in all of this work is what is important for me. I want to be inclusive and allow everyone a voice.

Personal tools