Monday, September 05, 2011

Your word is a stone is an egg

One of the challenges in translation is the fact that a word in one language can have multiple meanings in another. This is something that was highlighted last week during my language learning session with Bahiti. We were going through the Shiyeyi picture dictionary that was published a few years back and he was pointing out to me the definitions that weren't adequate. For example, the Shiyeyi definition given to go with the picture + English word "egg" is the word ldiyi. Bahiti explained to me that, yes, ldiyi means "egg". But it also means "voice/word". The Setswana definition for "egg" is lee but lee, unlike its Shiyeyi counterpart, does not also mean "voice/word". The Setswana word for "voice/word" is lentswe. But lentswe also means "stone".

This is also an example of why a translation from something other than original languages can create a problem, especially if it then gets retranslated into yet another language. A Shiyeyi speaker who understands Setswana and translates into Shiyeyi from a Setswana Bible would have to choose which meaning of lentswe was intended in passages that contain that word. An English translator from Shiyeyi would then have to select the correct meaning of ldiyi. Imagine the difference that would be created with just one wrong translation choice in the transition from Setswana to Shiyeyi to English in Psalm 29: "The Lord's egg strikes with flaming fire!" Go ahead, read the whole chapter with "egg" in it replacing the word "shout" (in the NET Bible); it's good, clean fun!

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