We have been working with a medical colleague in Brussels to develop controlled vocabulary for a suite of medical instruments, to facilitate the gathering and interpretation of patient data in multiple languages. This nonprofit volunteer organization focuses on saving lives, improving the quality of medical care across cultures. How perfect a petri dish is trilingual Belgium for the implementation of the translation memory software that facilitates application of such a controlled vocabulary — German, French, Dutch all actively spoken in a country the size of Rhode Island. Such a challenge to get it right, so satisfying to successfully broker agreement among French-speaking doctors in Canada, France, Belgium, about when to use the word “patient” or “person,” when to use “gender” or “sex,” so that the instruments themselves become understandable and useful to the most people, so that “standard” medical versions of complex and idiosyncratic languages like French enable the extension of health care globally. Lofty, achievable goals in today’s Skype-empowered offices.
And then this morning’s bombs in Brussels airport, explosions in the subway. Scores dead, hundreds wounded. Again. Writes our colleague from Brussels just now: “The only thing we can do at the moment seems to be not giving in to the barbarians, while not becoming barbarians ourselves. It’s a sad, sad day.”