Friday, December 21, 2007

Disappointed in Setswana Translations

Let me start by stating that I am not a Setswana language expert. I'm a business journalist, struggling children's book author, mother and blogger with a keen interest in communication technology and the Internet.

Setswana happens to be my mother tongue, and as I had much older paternal grandparents (born in the 1890s), I learnt their language rather than the modern version.

Many people in my village (Phokeng) also speak Setswana among themselves, with very little integration of SA's 10 other languages in their sentences, as happens in the speech patterns of many urban-based South Africans.

And I understand that language is a dynamic thing. Really, I do:-). I welcome new words that add to the vocabulary of this very old, descriptive language, enriching it for modern use and ensuring that it remains relevant.

But these summer holidays, as I work through my stack of children's books to review on this blog, I have been disappointed by the Setswana translations.

The translator(s) keep using Sesotho/Sepedi words and phrases, and at some stage I had to look through the publishing credits to make sure I was reading a Setswana translation.

"What's the difference?" Baby asks when I yell and throw the book down in frustration. "It's just little things that don't make a difference to a story. And the languages are similar and most kids reading the book won't know the difference."

My point exactly: most kids won't be able to tell the difference, which means these errors could become part of institutional learning.

And in the great scheme of business and education, it doesn't really matter, because South Africans mostly communicate in English in those spheres.

Yet, I can't help but think that I want Baby to be comfortable in the international arena,communicating quite easily and fluently in English without having to give up the beautiful language of her ancestors.

I also keep wondering why SOMEONE did not tell the publishers (of the books I've got) of the translation problems? Where are the academic language squad, which I assume is ever-vigilant about language use? Why didn't the Department of Education, language experts, teachers or parents say something so the faulty translations are recalled and fixed?

I'm not very well-informed about developments in the local publishing industry, so I don't know if I'm talking about a subject that was discussed among the publishers and language experts and resolution found. If so, I apologise for "pulling off the scab on a healing wound," as Batswana would say.

For now, I've decided to stick to English language book reviews, as they represent a fair reflection of the story the author and illustrator told, and the publisher issued.

I'm also going to write the publishers involved to let them know of what I think is a problem ( they may disagree:-)

I haven't worked with them at all ( the ones I'm contacting) and they may feel I'm just talking through my ears. Or my emails may end up in the slush pile/eaten by a spam filter, but it doesn't hurt to try and say something.

If all else fails, they are bound to bump into this post. That's why I love blogging: your voice is heard sooner or later.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you. Setswana is my mother tongue and I did Setswana 1st language up to matric. The Setswana translations are not up to scratch at all. Like you said the writers mix in sotho and pedi words and pass it off as Setswana.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymus...just a pity,the problem eminates from people who declare themselves know all. Translation has to be done by qualified translators who are trained and knows the theories & approaches of translation. Not everyone who speaks a langauge can translate it, transfer message from one language to the other is not as simple as people think. A word form an Academic and Setswana speaker also from Phokeng.

Damaria Senne said...

Thank you both for visiting my blog and for your comments. Do you have any recommendations on what can be done to address some of these challenges mentioned in the post? Is there anything that we, people who just have a keen interest in the language, can do to assist?

And Anonymous 2, you are right: people who bill themselves as translators, when they are actually not qualified for the task account for a big portion of the problem. But I believe that the employer/client who hires them also contributes to the problem. Since I published this post, I explored the world of translation a little bit, and I found out that some clients hire translators based mostly on price, and some pay such low fees that no professional with strong credentials would accept the assignment. At least, not if he/she intends to eat regularly.

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