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English, as we at the BJO would be the first to point out, is a perfectly splendid language, but it does have one drawback: roughly six billion people don’t speak it. As a first step in addressing the non-anglophone sector of the ophthalmological world, BJO Online is introducing a new feature: BJO in Translation.
The language barrier has remained surprisingly impervious to advances in the medical journal model. Readers and contributors from around the world still accommodate themselves to the hegemonic languages of the major journals. This was understandable in the pre-digital age, when the printing and distribution costs of the traditional print medical journal precluded the publication of multiple versions in multiple languages. But with the wide adoption of electronic publication over the past decade, such considerations have been obviated. Page limitations are meaningless in cyberspace, added costs of paper and printing are now just a matter of added megabytes, and fast distribution is available to any place on the planet with internet access. The opportunity is at hand for our new translation project.
BJO in Translation now features editions in Chinese and Portuguese. Each month, the abstracts for all of the issue’s articles in clinical science and laboratory science are available in translation on the Chinese page and the Portuguese page of BJO Online. Online access to the abstract translation pages is free of charge; the main points of the article can be read in the Chinese and Portuguese abstracts and links to the full text English article are then available to subscribers.
The BJO in Translation Chinese edition is edited by Alvin Kwok in Hong Kong. Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with approximately a billion speakers using the leading dialects. The BJO Chinese page uses the simplified version of traditional Chinese characters developed in China’s 20th century language reform, which is the official text used by speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, and other dialects. There are an estimated 22 000 ophthalmologists in China, with only a minority fluent in English. Most Chinese ophthalmologists are trained in a “Western medicine” educational system, but others are trained in schools of traditional Chinese medicine. Developing countries in Asia, like China, have a large load of preventable blindness. In a country of 9.56 million square kilometres with a population of 1.2 billion, nine million people in China have cataract blindness. To keep abreast of advances necessary to address the eye care needs of this huge population, a small portion of ophthalmologists are able to go abroad to receive training or attend conferences. But for the vast majority without this option, peer reviewed ophthalmological journals represent an important means to keep updated on advances in the field. Journals available in libraries have been integral in enhancing the practice of ophthalmology in China for the benefit of patients.
The BJO in Translation Portuguese edition is edited by Daniel de Souza Pereira and Jonathan Lake in São Paulo, Brazil. Portuguese is the eighth most widely spoken language in the world, with between 190 million and 210 million speakers in Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe islands. From its Romance origins Portuguese reflects numerous linguistic influences including Arabic, Galician, Castilian, and French, giving rise to considerable variations in pronunciation and structure across its wide, non-contiguous geographic scope. Nevertheless, the language is mutually comprehensible across all regions where it is spoken, so despite the distinctly Brazilian accent of the BJO Portuguese edition, it targets readers in Portugal and other countries. The potential audience for a Portuguese version is significant; in Brazil alone there are approximately 11 600 ophthalmologists, with 53 training programmes producing 360 new ophthalmologists per year.
The BJO in Translation continues our mission to emphasise the international scope of the British Journal of Ophthalmology, and to reaffirm the initiative of the BMJ family of journals to provide free online materials to readers and institutions in the developing world. It’s our hope that the BJO in Translation will continue growing to incorporate other languages and expanded content. Only 6497 languages left to go.