Language Attitudes

The Jamaican Bible translation project continues to stir up controversy.  These two quotes are from the Jamaica Observer.

There are two kinds of lies: when we lie to others and when we lie to ourselves. If we say we are “cool” when we are really angry inside, we lie to ourselves and a heart attack could kill us. To tell others to study patois is to destroy their future; we lie to them, we know it and they know it. The patois debate is a diversion to disguise our failure to educate poor people. Patois has no history or artefacts to explore; no ancient ruins or writings to translate. Patois is a means of speech evolved by people deprived of instruction in their native languages and the languages of their masters. If the British had encouraged English, there would be no patois. If our schools were good at teaching English, there would be no patois. Patois is powerful but not versatile, and it allowed Bob Marley to become the only black man to feature in the Oxford Book of Famous Quotes. (read more)

And a response…

… it is language that comes first, since it is the marker that defines a people, who make and later write their history and leave their monuments to posterity. When the ancient Greek peasants sang the songs and recited the tales which, centuries later, were written down and called The Iliad and The Odyssey, they did not do it in an “ancient” language – it was merely the everyday language of farmers, shepherds and fishermen. A language doesn’t suddenly emerge as “ancient” – the songs of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and many others will only be “ancient” to generations far in the future. (read more)

Language is a contentious issue and one which can quickly give rise to strong opinions as these two quotes show (read the full articles if you want to really see the invective fly). Because of this, questions about Bible translation often have emotional or political overtones. Translating the Scriptures into a minority language may end up giving that more respect and attention than the political authorities or educated elite might wish. These decisions are not easy ones to take and it isn’t always comfortable to be a Bible translator.

HT Bertram

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3 replies on “Language Attitudes”

I make that particular mistake so frequently (langauge for language) that I no longer notice it! But I have corrected it (I hope). Thanks Ben.

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