Street names, Bible translators and locavore language

When it comes to naming a street, you can go with the bland: Bella Vista Ave. Or not: Mugabe St (which has been among several contentious new street names under consideration in Durban, South Africa.)  In the Palestinian city of Ramallah, some recently named streets celebrate “fallen matyrs”, including American activist Rachel Corrie, who died in Gaza in 2003 in disputed circumstances. Israel too, memorializes  its “freedom fighters” from the early 20th century.

You might expect arguments over street names in Israel/the occupied territories and South Africa: these are places with profoundly traumatic recent histories.  But wherever there are streets — or other things to name —  there are heated debates over what to call them.  Why, some ask, name a new federal government building after Ronald Reagan, a small-government president whose administration tried to prevent such statist expansionism?

Also in this podcast, a conversation with Bob Creson, President and CEO of what appears to be the world’s largest Bible translation organization, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA.  According to Wycliffe, about two hundred million people lack access to the Bible in their native tongue. So, with the help of technology and donations, Wycliffe has set itself a deadline: it aims to have at least started translating the Bible into every language by 2025. Nearly all the languages that Wycliffe is currently working on are oral languages only: Wycliffe’s field translators must first design a writing system for any of these languages before committing a translation to paper.  So in those cases, the Bible will likely be the first book to appear in that language, and that culture.  The act of introducing the written word and an outside religion to a group of people who hitherto knew neither is, depending on how you look at it,  freighted with promise or fraught with peril. More on this in future podcasts.

Wycliffe, by the way, is named after 14th century theologian John Wycliffe, who translated parts of the Bible from Latin into Middle English.

Finally, language journalist Michael Erard makes the case for using only artisanal, locally grown and sustainably packaged words. His satirical essay first appeared in web magazine The Morning News.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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6 responses to “Street names, Bible translators and locavore language

  1. Pingback: An American family, an Indonesian tribe, an oral language and its first book « the world in words

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  4. Alae CST229 NVCC

    Naming street names is obviously a touchy and controversy subject; especially in a region in turmoil. The Palestinians have as much right to name a street after Rachel Corrie as Israelis do in naming their streets. It is a double standard when naming a road or avenue after people that were members of the Irgun goes by unquestioned, but naming one after an anti-Israel activist is somewhat unwise.
    When translating the Bible to various languages, the meaning of the original message is virtually diminished. When translating a work to a different language, especially in terms of religious scriptures, the meaning becomes lost and does not have the same effect as the original language in which the books were written. This can result in a different understanding of the original message because grammar and connotations vary from language to language. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, studied and wrote extensively on how discrepancies arose in biblical texts when scribes (ancient writers of the Bible) made copies by ink and pen. In the same sense, when translating to a different language today, the possibilities of various meanings and disparities are endless. Thus, this Endeavour by Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is one of considerable effort and requires much accuracy if they are to translate the book into all the present languages in the world.

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