OED and The Climate Connection: Natural language

OED and The Climate Connection: Natural language

The Climate Connection (#TheClimateConnection) is a new podcast series from the British Council which explores the relationship between the climate crisis and language education. In partnership with Oxford University Press, and featuring a selection of our editors, the podcast explores the origins of climate-related language, in both English and other languages.

In the seventh episode of the series, Oxford Global Languages Editor Tressy Arts examines the ways climate-related terms embed themselves in languages around the world. 

As a Global Languages editor, and a foreigner myself – I am Dutch – I know a lot of people who speak an awful lot of languages, and I think I have written to them all, and every time I got the same reply – we don’t really have any interesting terms. All the words that are used when talking about climate change are direct equivalents of the English terms, like in Dutch ‘klimaatverandering‘ and in Arabic تغير المناخ (taghayyur al-manaakh) – both literally mean ‘climate change’ – or English loan words are used.

Tressy Arts, Oxford Global Languages Editor

Most climate terms used all around the globe are English words which were imported into the local language as loan words, or literally translated.

That in itself is very interesting. Because, for example, if we look at another large international issue, Covid-19, we see that there are many new terms in most languages that have nothing to do with English. The fact that the same is not true for climate change words reflects the fact that the discourse on climate change is still dominated by the international scientific community, which speaks English, and journalists writing about their observations, rather than the speech communities themselves. The subject has not made its way into everyday language, despite the fact that there is a large awareness of climate change overall, and climate-related words regularly made it to word of the year in many languages in earlier years, like (atsui, hot) in Japan in 2010, incêndios (wildfires) in Portugal in 2017, and klimabrøl (climate roar) in Norway in 2019. One particularly interesting word of the year is the German Heißzeit from 2018. Literally it means ‘hot time’, and thus refers to global warming, but it’s also a kind of pun, analogous to Eiszeit, ‘ice age’, so it’s kind of the opposite of that: ‘heat age’; which serves well to emphasize that this is a crisis with an immense and lasting global impact.

Head to the full podcast to find out more about climate related words that have entered the OED, including climate change, as well as global climate-related terms, such as the Swedish flygskam, Romanian sustenabil, and many more.

You can listen and subscribe to the podcast in the following ways:

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts – just search for ‘The Climate Connection’ and subscribe, or paste the RSS feed URL into your podcast platform: https://feeds.captivate.fm/the-climate-connection

Listen on Spotify: http://spoti.fi/3vUC3xp

Listen on Apple: http://apple.co/3eEss8p

Listen on Google: https://bit.ly/3y4gAUG

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For more on climate change research from Oxford University Press, Oxford Open Climate Change is a broad reaching interdisciplinary journal that aims to cover all aspects of climate change, including its impacts on nature and society, as well as solutions to the problem and their wider implications.

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.