Tag Archives: words

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.

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podcast #44: Haruki Murakami’s fans, confessions of a kanji-holic, and kwassa kwassa

This week, we check out a claim that with the aid of a supercomputer, it’s possible to predict which words will become extinct in a few centuries.  The word “dirty” apparently doesn’t have much staying power.  Nor do “guts” and “throw”.  If the computer says so. Me, I’d prefer to see the back of “alcopop.”

southNext is a report on the extraordinarily devoted fans of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. I was inspired to report this story a few years ago when I tried– and failed — to get into an auditorium at MIT where Murakami was appearing. After chatting with other people in the queue, I realized that Murakami commands a massive, and massively diverse fan-base. So, I waited until one of his next all-too-rare appearances, in Berkeley, CA, where he sold out a 2,000-seat hall. After recording a few interviews in the foyer, I was stripped of my recording gear and camera, and told that I could collect them at the end of the evening. (A student at the MIT event got into trouble he snapped a picture of the writer at the MIT event. ) I didn’t have a problem with any of  this – I’d got my interviews and anyway, my story was about Murakami’s followers, not the man himself. And – strange as it may sound coming from a US-based journalist — I respect his desire to control and limit his public image.

murakami1 foreign3Murakami writes in a non-literary Japanese style, as author of Japan-America Roland Kelts told me. He also throws in so many English words that some older Japanese have trouble understanding his prose.  It’s also rare that in a Murakami story you come across a situation or a person that you could characterize (or perhaps micharacterize) as quintessentially Japanese.  His stories speak to people all over the world, in more than 30 languages.

That’s followed by a conversion with blogger Eve Kushner. She’s a devoted fan of those Japanese characters known as kanji (and, as it happens, she’s also a devoted fan of Murakami).

Finally, Vampire Weekend‘s Ezra Koenig on his favorite phrase out of Africa: kwassa kwassa. It’s Africanized French.

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