Lost in translation - Is the Patois Bible a waste?

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, September 23, 2011

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With every new rendition of the Bible it is diluted. What did the KJV's "thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ass" mean 2,500 years ago? What's my neighbour's ass now? car, donkey, meat and transport in one? Did this apply to all or just those with no ass?


Translation across centuries, cultures and languages means much is lost and things assumed based on what we now know. Abrahamic faiths — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Rastafari -- all lose authenticity as they lose touch with the Torah. We have Christianity in all flavours to suit every taste and some are the ego trips; emotional excrescences of men who do not know the roots of the Church and don't care as long as they make money. The Old and New Testament were translated from Hebrew and Greek many times. With those rendered from English versions new errors are made and old errors perpetuated. Much is lost in translation.


The Bible Society of Jamaica translated the gospel of Luke in patois but not from Greek. Millions were spent, and to be fair and open, they should name the translators, sources and all involved. The Bible is our heritage, not words on paper for academics, patois actors and playwrights to render as they like. Translators are scholars of the original languages and manuscripts, the new language, comparative exegesis, and the task calls for a sense of the spiritual, history, meditation and insight. We need assurance of the integrity of the process!


The book is titled Jiizas di Buk We Luuk Rait bout Im; to us The Book of Luke. Patois is our heritage, culture; rich, colourful, fluid; ours to use and change, not by linguists who rule how it must be spoken. No patois police! Let patois be free wherever it may be! I bought a copy in Hagley Park Plaza.


I was told it was for the poor man who speaks patios only, yet costs a day's pay! Why would a poor man buy a Patois Bible which he can't read when he can get an English Bible free; he can't read it either? The cover and paper are flimsy, but we love a well bound Bible in the front room to write our births, deaths and "run duppy".


The cover picture is patronising; better if it were a Clovis cartoon! The section in English titled "How to read Jamaican" deals with "consonants, vowels and symbols". So a man illiterate in English buys a book in patois, but as he is illiterate in patois too, the writers put the rules to read it in English, Wow!


This Patois looks like Dutch or Afrikaans and has nothing in common with Miss Lou's patois which is what we speak. Check these stanzas:


"Wha wrong wid Mary dry-foot bwoy?


Dem gal got him fe mock,


An when me meet him tarra night


De bwoy gi me a shock!


Me tel him seh him auntie an


Him cousin dem sen howdy


An ask him how him getting awn.


Him seh, 'Oh, jolley, jolley!"


— Extract from "Dry-foot bwoy" by Louise Bennett.


Now compare it with an extract from Jiizas de Buk we Luuk rait bout Im:


"1 Tiyafilas Sa, Uol iip a piipl chrai fir ait dong di sitn dem wa apm mongks wi. Dem rait it dong siem wie ou dem ier it fram di piipl dem we did de de fram di staat, si di sitn dem wa apm an we priich di wod".


— Patois Bible St Luke Chapter 1, verses 1-4. May 2010.


This can't be right! It looks like nothing we know. I will stick with Miss Lou!


FIELD WORK IN THE UK. I used a captive audience of Jamaicans and I also went to Brixton to accost some between NCB branch and the Post Office. I wore a suit with Her Majesty's ID on my chest. Many, relieved I was not Border Agency, co-operated fully. But this is informal and the experts must show us their work. Here's what some people said of "de Buk":


BRIXTON. I asked each person to read "de Buk" to me. Some said: "A wah dis? Me neva see nuttin laka dis" or "Oh this is the Patois Bible, I like it" or "A Rasta tings dis, lang time it fe cum!" Most could not read it and those who did read the instructions first and mouthed each word slowly. Most people liked the idea of the book and some asked for a copy.


CAPTIVE AUDIENCE. The illiterate ones couldn't read it. Some say "is Polish" as it looks like writing they see every day as they live with Russian, African etc. Some 80 per cent of the foreigners who speak English understand our patois. English speaking British illiterates could not read it though many use patois slang; a man with degrees read haltingly, said it used English phonetics and if I left the book he would master it in a week. Africans who spoke no English could not read it. One savvy Nigerian said the words were contractions, variations, broken English. I said it was an Akan or Twi based dialect. He said firmly "Then do not corrupt our languages further, give them a Bible in Akan!" I was quiet! A lady who translates patios says court officers understand our prisoners but details matter in Law and so "im did a badda, badda mi an mi get bex an juk juk im" she translated as " after much provocation by my girlfriend I lost my temper and stabbed her". She tells the Court the "im" is not a man and "badda, badda" is a repitition of the word "bother" which shows intense feeling and "juk juk" means multiple stab wounds. Sadly "Jiizas di buk" means nothing to these men!


The bible society has excellent motives but their "Jiizas buk" may undermine ancient churches, scholarship and mislead many. Jesus reasoned with scholars on faith and the Torah. Few apart from Jewish, Anglican, Catholic scholars can do this now. Many "faith entrepreneurs" can't read the founding articles of the faith. The unintended consequence of removing the Bible from a prayerful scholarly tradition is men now think they can do with it as they like. The "Church of Blessed Patois" coming soon to a community near you! Sadly the Patios Bible does not advance our patois, literacy or faith! Stay conscious my friend!


Mrs Enid Golding was a legend to those of us who did teaching practice and classroom observation in her school. In her day she was a reference point on "best practice" for UWI Prof Gordon Shirley. Heartfelt sympathy to PM Bruce, Trevor, Douglas and their families.




Dr Franklin Johnston is an international project manager with Teape-Johnston Consultants currently on assignment in the UK.


franklinjohnston@hotmail.com







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