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Department for General Assembly and Conference Management

Arabic Translation Service

The term ‘Arabic’ covers, in addition to the standard language called "Fus'ha" and used in official discourse, academic learning and the mass media, several national and regional dialects which are derived from it but differ enough to be mutually incomprehensible sometimes.  The Arabic language’s alphabet, idiomatic expressions, historical and cultural references as well as the consonantal root system it is based on, make translation into Arabic an arduous exercise.  Furthermore, unlike English, French and other European languages, the written Arabic did not undergo any change in terms of alphabet, spelling, or the meaning of the majority of the vocabulary for at least four millennia.  This specificity is compounded by the lack of a single recognized Arab authority to examine/standardize, validate and publish the new terms and usages developed in different Arab countries. 

Established in 1973 and currently comprising translators from Burkina Faso, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Senegal, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and the United States, the Arabic Translation Service has, over the years, endeavoured to make the Arabic version of United Nations documents as "Pan-Arab" as possible and equally intelligible to readers in all segments of Arabic speakers in the world.  

The new technical as well as seemingly simple terms and concepts that crop up every day in Western languages, especially English, and often appear in the UN documents, such as gender, gender mainstreaming, e-government, UN-Women, or ground zero can be daunting to the UN Arabic translator who is required to quickly find or coin equivalents acceptable to the reader in the 22 Arab Member States.   

Thanks to its successive generations of dedicated linguists, the Service has managed, in cooperation with the Arabic Translation Units in the other duty stations, to rise to the challenges stemming from the language specificities and its users’ cultural diversity. 

 

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Last Update: 21 September 2011 / Ann GETZINGER