Creating the Language of HIV/AIDS

REPMASCI President Bamba Youssouf  (Photo: Yacouba Soro/US Embassy)

Is the message about HIV/AIDS getting through?  In many places in Cote d’Ivoire, as in much of Africa, it can be lost in translation.  In Cote d’Ivoire, there is a rich diversity of local languages that in many cases are the main or the only language spoken by much of the population.  However, when it comes to communicating about modern maladies such as HIV/AIDS, many of these languages lack the vernacular for communicating ideas about sexual health and treatment options.  So despite myriad information on HIV/AIDS in French available in the country, much of it has not been reaching vulnerable segments of the population.  Therefore, in order to make sure the message is getting through, PEPFAR in Cote d’Ivoire supported the creation of innovative lexicons for talking about HIV/AIDS in sixteen indigenous languages.

Working with REPMASCI, a coalition of Ivorian journalists, actors, and artists, PEPFAR provided a $25,000 grant to assist with the production of these lexicons on HIV/AIDS.  Through combining words, applying new meanings to old words, and creating new ones, committees of linguistic experts were able to literally give local populations the words with which to talk about HIV/AIDS.  For example, in Abbey, the new word for HIV/AIDS is m’piaharêlê orogba, literally translated as a sickness of blood, while in Baoule, n’zissikoklo, mean to die slowly from a disease.  With this PEPFAR-supported program, it is now possible to communicate more effectively about the problem of HIV/AIDS, how to treat it, and ways of preventing its spread.  The lexicons will be translated into Abbey, Aboure, Abron, Adjoukro, Agni, Attie, Baoule, Bete, Dan, Ebrie, Gouro, Kroumen, Lobi, Senoufo, Malinke, and We.