Translating New Realities: Animal Ethics and Veganism
Neologisms are key to language evolution, serving as witnesses of ever-changing societies worldwide. As global consumption of meat and dairy products is dropping in Western countries, new terms related to animal rights and ethics emerge, requiring a good dose of carefully attuned creativity.
Since British animal rights advocate Donald Watson and his wife Dorothy coined the term ‘vegan’ in 1944,(1) by contraction of the word ‘vegetarian’, several new terms and concepts connected to the vegan lifestyle have appeared and often pose challenges for translators. In an interview , Watson explained how the term was immediately accepted and rapidly became part of the language. Veganism (2) refers to the practice of abstaining from the use of animals for food, entertainment or clothing. This lifestyle is not a new concept, with a long list of well-known vegan figures (3), from Pythagoras, Da Vinci, Gandhi to Edison and Nietzsche. Yet, veganism is undergoing a rise in popularity, which can be explained by greater awareness of the environmental impact of meat and dairy production (4), increased personal and public health concerns (5) and better understanding of animals’ ability to suffer and rights (6). This evolution of habits can be seen in various parts of the world and terminology and ideas connected to the movement are still translated without unified consensus at times.
In French, ‘veganism’ brought neologisms that seem to be more specific than their original language counterpart. Indeed, the term is either translated into ‘végétalisme’ when referring to ‘dietary veganism’ (concentrating on the food aspect of the lifestyle), or into ‘véganisme’ which can be translated back into ‘ethical’ or ‘strict veganism’ (refusal to consume any products originating from animals – leather, down, wool). When used as adjective, ‘vegan’ is translated as ‘végétalien’ or ‘végane’. Le Robert French dictionary included the translations ‘véganisme’ and ‘végane’ in its 2013 list of neologisms.(7) Many languages seem to have followed suit during this social change in the last decades and created translations that best translate the idea of veganism.(8) For instance, in Arabic, the translation of ‘vegan’ (‘ẖuḍriyyä’, خُضري) was coined by Israeli Arab activist Sharbel Balloutine, during the vegan movement of recent years in Israel.(9)
An interesting element lies in the fact that the French translation of ‘vegan’ remains deliberately gender-neutral, taking an ‘e’ at the end of the term.(10) This can be explained by the fact that because animal rights activists strive to end oppression against other species, it only made sense to use a word that would remain identical in masculine and in feminine forms, therefore working towards the elimination of oppression of one gender over the other.
The vegan movement involves a series of terms related to animal ethics and rights. For instance, American Psychologist Melanie Joy’s neologism ‘carnism’ (the psychology of eating meat) is translated by ‘carnisme’. Another example of an easily translatable term is ‘speciesism’ (assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership) (11), which French speakers translate as ‘spécisme’.
Some terms within the animal advocacy sphere tend to be trickier, and a good example of this is ‘Neo-Welfarist’. Invented by American Legal scholar Gary L. Francione, this term refers to an individual or entity who seeks the end of all forms of animal exploitation but believes that, in the meantime, step-by-step approaches to animal welfare can lead to that goal and alleviate suffering.(12) The term ‘welfarism’ is often translated as ‘(théorie du) bien-être animal’. However, many vegans see in this translation a contradiction, as ‘animal well-being’ seems to make for an unacceptable oxymoron, and therefore prefer to translate the term as ‘welfariste’.
As a translator myself (and vegan!), when translating in the field of animal ethics, food sociology and veganism, I try to be as careful as possible to convey the right concept behind terms as they are coined. Through constant consulting with the vegan and animal activist community, I can solve terminology issues. Also, via the Proz platform, I created an English-French glossary for veganism and animal ethics, in hopes to fine-tune translations of various veganism-related terms.(13) Of course, remaining faithful to original meaning is precisely the challenge of all translators, but when the content relates to contemporary social changes, this task seems to become all-the-more vibrant!
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4)Meat and dairy production generates more pollution than all forms of transportation combined. The FAO report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” indicates that “[…] we know trillions of farm animals across the globe were found to generate a whopping 18% of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) emissions. That is more than cars, buses, and airplanes.” The production of greenhouse gasses happens in a number of ways and large amounts of CO2, NH4 (Methane) and N2O (Nitrous Oxide) happen all along the meat and dairy production line. < www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM >
5)See work by Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University Dr. Collin Campbell. < www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8038801/Bill-Clintons-new-diet-nothing-but-beans-vegetables-and-fruit-to-combat-heart-disease.html >