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« CLOUDBURST - dictionary of natural catastrophical hazards »

« CLOUDBURST - dictionary of natural catastrophical hazards »

“Dictionary of natural catastrophical hazards” — and interdisciplinary geology & languages project

Natural hazards have been around since natural life, and it is humankind’s job to deal with natural processes across the globe, wherever and whenever they arise. These processes are usually classified into environments (maritime, coastal, terrestrial), elements (water, fire, earth, air), phenomena (wind, snow, lava), events (earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones, floods and tsunamis, avalanches, rockslides, landslides, volcanic eruptions, wildfires) or even thematic issues (climate change processes, for example ice caps, glaciers, drought, heatwave). These classifications are done in the language of the classifier— observer, victim, scientist, practitioner—and the terminology used will be rooted in their respective native languages, which means that they will draw on different linguistic and cultural worldviews to describe a natural hazard observed, suffered, expected or feared. However, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, in its non radical version, holds that a native speaker can only see the world through the prism of their native language, and so cannot cognize something that their native language has no cognate for. As these worldviews are complex and culturally hermetic constructs, they tend to continue to exist and evolve on parallel trajectories. In terms of perception, then, not everything can get spoken, and in terms of communication, then, within what does get spoken, not everything can get understood. Just like for natural disasters, humankind has learned to live with it, overcome it, and get ahead.

Connections get made, but without any real pattern, as need or chance dictates. Communication in the sphere of risk, hazard, resilience and prevention does get through, as best it can, with the resources at hand and with shades of success, but the real bridges for shared communication, like glossaries, dictionaries, bilingual or even trilingual handbooks, are hard to find. In today’s world of globalized connections, dataflows and networks, we feel that working on a tool designed to address this gap would be a valuable and promising endeavour. Even the most basic comparison of terms iin French, English Spanish and German—terms like risk, danger or life-threatening— demonstrates how far perceptions diverge, and so how far linguistic and cultural misunderstanding are likely. Any successful written and oral communication hinges on a solid knowledge of the meaning and connotations of the words and expressions employed. However, a firm conceptual grasp is often hampered by the absence of equivalent constructs (there is no French term for cloudburst) or the presence of false friends ( hazard in English vs. hasard [which means luck or chance] in French). Our objective here is to facilitate that grasp : by devising a dictionary of natural hazards in four languages, encompassing not just the core terms and concepts but also the linguistic definitions and inter-cultural explanations needed to contextualize them. Our rationale is that a firm understanding not just of the words but also the nonequivalences, semiotic gaps and their potential repercussions is the key to sharper and more efficient use of the lexicon.

As part of this publication project—which is framed to help address challenge 4 of the Clermont-Ferrand-led I-Site initiative “CAP 20-25” —we intend re-appraise and reimpel current research on risk management in disaster-vulnerable zones. Work will begin in four languages (French, English, Spanish and German) before later expanding out into eight other languages spoken in the countries and regions most engaged by the issues being addressed (Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Indonesian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian).
The work will be a collaborative effort between French and foreign researchers, targeting broad diffusion within the scientific community but also reaching out to a wider audience, including lead players in the social, economic and political communities. Any reader interested in geological, biological and human heritage will be able to find information they need inside. The added value of the dictionary will stem from the fact that it builds bridges between two sets of viewpoints : between different geographic zones, and between natural scientists and social scientists. Ideally, there is complementarity and efficiency to be gained if contributors can work in interdisciplinary pairs. Their specialist areas will be
– either in geology and meteorology : specialization in volcanology, slope stability, earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, droughts, hazard, risk
– or in foreign languages and cultures (specifically English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Greek, German, Indonesian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian) : specialization in interculturality
Workgroups can be based on the contributors’ own proposals or via the coordinators. As a first step, please send a scientific research cover letter proposing the term set to be defined and translated along with a CV listing your publications.

Under a negotiated contract with Springer, we aim to deliver a multi-authored, multi-lingual practioner dictionary for terminology in natural disaster and management within two years of the start date of this project.

Provisional timeline :
send-out of cover letters : 01/08/2018
project launch : 01/09/2018
publication : 2021

contacts :

Michaël GRÉGOIRE, Assistant Professor (tenure-track) in Spanish linguistics, University of Clermont Auvergne, Faculty of Languages, Cultures and Communication, Laboratory of Language Science Research (EA 999) – email :

Andrew HARRIS , Associate professor (tenure-track), University of Clermont Auvergne, Earth Physics Observatory—Clermont, Magma & Volcanoes Laboratory (UMR6524- CNRS) – email :

Dana MARTIN , Assistant Professor (tenure-track) in German, University of Clermont Auvergne, Faculty of Languages, Cultures and Communication, Laboratory of Communication & Societies Research (EA 4647) – email :

Benjamin VAN WYK DE VRIES, Associate professor (tenure-track), University of Clermont Auvergne, Earth Physics Observatory—Clermont, Magma & Volcanoes Laboratory (UMR6524-CNRS) –

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