WHO Bulletin: Public health information for minority linguistic communities

11 January, 2022

A new paper in the WHO Bulletin:

CITATION: Bull World Health Organ. 2022 Jan 1; 100(1): 78–80.

Published online 2021 Nov 17. doi: 10.2471/BLT.21.285617

Public health information for minority linguistic communities

Pierpaolo Di Carlo et al.


'Crisis and emergency risk communication guidelines1 stress that the success of a communication campaign is determined by how well its design reflects the diversity of the intended audience. Of all the options of customizing communications, translating messages into the languages that are relevant to diverse audiences is the most crucial, as this determines their reach. However, expense and time considerations tend to limit the linguistic diversity of communication campaigns to majority languages.

'The crisis and emergency risk communication approach relies on the assumption that speakers of minority or marginalized languages will understand messages delivered in a major language. We do not question this assumption. Rather, we want to raise awareness that approaches based on this assumption overlook how language choice influences the message’s reception. In many minority or marginalized groups around the world, using the language of the majority may evoke histories of domination and exclusion, which would have a negative influence on the perceived trustworthiness of the communicator. Here we argue that in exceptional circumstances such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and associated infodemic (when too much information, including false and misleading, is widely available), communicating to linguistically diverse audiences is best achieved by using different groups’ native languages and communicative styles. Reaching this ambitious goal is more realistic today than it was two decades ago...'


Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Project on Multilingualism