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Breaking new ground: UNDP’s electoral lexicon

1.3 million women voted in the 2012 Libyan elections after a large public-awareness campaign encouraged them to participate. Photo credit: Samia Mahgoub/UNDP Libya

When the invitation came to present our Arabic Lexicon of Electoral Terminology to the Joint Inter-Agency Meeting on Computer-Assisted Translation and Terminology (JIAMCATT) conference held in New York from 8 to 10 April 2015, it seemed like perfect timing. Carlos Valenzuela, a leading senior international electoral expert and I worked on the lexicon for close to three years and felt proud to be able to present it to one the world’s main venues for computer-assisted terminology and translation.

With its 481 terms, the lexicon has some intriguing features, even for seasoned terminology professionals.  The challenge facing the lexicon team was that there was little or no significant literature on electoral management in the Arabic language. So everything had to be sourced from the ground up. Apart from being the first attempt to provide the terms and definitions of the most important concepts and components of an election process, the lexicon also provides the Arabic language variations in use in eight Arab countries.  This was done by using a custom-made online collaborative writing tool with eight reviewers in each of the countries.

Participants in the various JIAMCATT sessions were interested in the unusual mechanics of this groundbreaking work.  The particular strength of this project resides in its participatory approach: the draft was systematically reviewed by the highest authorities in the electoral field. Each term and its definition were reviewed and debated until consensus was reached. The proposed local Arabic variant was also checked and agreed.

The audiences included leading terminologists and translators in a wide variety of fields such as biodiversity, food and agriculture, regional economics, international justice, and international labour. It seems that although the Arabic lexicon was developed specifically for the electoral field, the approach could inspire people working in other technical areas where neologisms are constantly making their way into language.  

Another particularly promising development for the lexicon is its planned inclusion into the UN’s revamped online terminology database (UNTERM). Once completed, it will allow users to search the lexicon entries online and identify the language variations in use in the different countries. This technically challenging work is carried out with the help of UN terminologists and programmers and is scheduled for completion over the next few months.

From the responses among participants in JIAMCATT and a wide variety of UN colleagues, it seems that the Arabic Lexicon of Electoral Terminology is destined to grow and become a living work of reference and an important knowledge tool. This is a splendid tribute to the 102 people who made it possible.

Arab states Governance and peacebuilding Elections

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