Monday, September 27, 2010

Hiatus Extended...

because I've had a very bad bout of flu and I'm still under the effects of the flu itself and the medicines for it.

But there will be something posted these coming days about Medical Interpreting.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Church Interpreting in Nigeria

In a post on August 9, 2009, I told how I first become acquainted with church interpreting at a service on the campus of the University of Buea in Cameroon, West Africa. Since then, I’ve learned many things about how it’s done in other parts of the world, some of them from you readers (see References). Now an article just published in the latest edition of Babel, the research journal of the International Federation of Translators, brings me back to West Africa, and almost next door to Cameroon in South-West Nigeria.

To sum it up:
This work investigates and evaluates the… effectiveness of religious interpretation in Yoruba speaking areas of Nigeria. The study focused on only religious gatherings that make use simultaneously of English and Yoruba languages to communicate the message of God to the worshippers. The objective of the study is to… evaluate the quality of the output through a questionnaire distributed to members of the spiritual congregations. The level of professional competence in the interpreter will also be investigated.
The term professional in the quotation is inappropriate and betrays a prior bias as to norms, because, as the author states,
40 respondents [to the questionnaire] said that most interpreters… are selected from within the congregations where they worship. 43 out of 50 reveal that they are not paid for the job, perhaps because they are potential future preachers and regard the service as a training ground.
And further on,
Interpreters in spiritual gatherings in the Yoruba speaking lands of Nigeria are not trained interpreters. They know nothing about the rules guiding the profession. They are simply bilingual with a deep knowledge of the subject matter.
In other words, these are not Professional Interpreters. They are Native Interpreters who may or may not have reached the competence of Expert Interpreters by work experience. We are told nothing more about their backgrounds, not even their ages, level of education and years of experience.

As at my Cameroon initiation,
The interpretation [is] consecutive interpretation, where the interpreter is present in a room or in a church, close to the pastor ministering the word of God. For easy communication and to avoid confusion, the speaker often stops…, passing the floor to the interpreter for the reproduction… of what the pastor has just said.
In other words, short consecutive mode. We aren’t told whether they employ the interpreter mimicry that I observed in Cameroon, where the interpreter imitates the manner of speaking and even the gestures of the preacher. However, there’s a hint as to manner in one of the questions in the questionnaire: “Is the interpreter free to correct the preacher?”

The research instrument is reproduced in full. It’s an interesting client satisfaction and opinion questionnaire but it doesn’t interrogate the interpreters. Nevertheless, there are some interesting conclusions:
39 respondents [out of 50]… are satisfied with the quality of the interpretation from English to Yoruba… Respondents with a tertiary education carried the highest number of 37 to support that the output of the interpreter was satisfactory. On the other hand, only 24 of the respondents are satisfied with the interpretation from Yoruba to English… the interpretation is better from English to Yoruba for the simple fact that Yoruba is the interpreter’s mother tongue.
There is an additional difficulty because Yoruba is a tonal language and the tones carry nuances that are hard to render in English.

A journal assessor took me to task last year for proposing that divine inspiration is an element that should be recognised in studies of religious translation. So I was interested to read that respondents enjoined both pastors and interpreters to "seek for God's guidance" as well as to "master the subject matter and the languages."

The article begins:
Christianity and Islam… were adopted in Yoruba-speaking areas of Nigeria with the accompanying languages, English and Arabic. Today the two religions are well spread and cannot be disassociated from Yoruba culture.
Yet there is nothing further about Arabic or Islam. Muslims everywhere learn to say their prayers in Arabic, just as all Catholics used to pray in Latin; but there are other parts of religious services that may be in a local language, for instance the sermon, and there's a Yoruba translation of the Qur’an.

Despite how widespread church interpreting is in Africa, this is the first research article I’ve read that’s specifically about it, and the veteran editor of Babel, RenĂ© Haeseryn, is to be thanked for publishing it even if it has shortcomings. It leaves me hungry for more.

Image: Calvary Roseville United Methodist Church, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria.

Adawuni Salawi (University of Ado-Ekiti). Evaluation of interpretation during congregational services and public religious retreats in south-west Nigeria. Babel, 56:2.129-138, 2010.

Qur’an. The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an. Translation in Yoruba. Medina: King Fahd Complex for Printing the Holy Qur’an, 2007.

Previous posts on church interpreting: July 29, August 3, August 9, August 11, August 27, October 28, 2009; April 10, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I have to take a short break from blogging in order to finish off an article that’s long overdue.

For those of you who are involved in or interested in church interpreting, there’ll be a post some time next week with more about church interpreting in Africa.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Translating for the Fun of It

Back in the 1970s, when Bianca Sherwood and I first looked at the reports of translating done by young bilingual children (Natural Translators), one thing that struck us was that not all the translations were functional, in the sense of motivated by a need or desire to communicate information. We were rediscovering something that the famous pioneer of child language studies, Werner Leopold (see photo), had observed some years previously. Leopold was German, but he moved with his family to teach in the United States while his two daughters were still infants. He continued to speak German with his children although they soon picked up English in their new environment.
Like her sister, KL [the younger daughter] eventually realized that her father understood his children’s English, but she too continued to translate as part of a family game: “She treats it as a joke.”
To give the phenomenon a learned term, we called it ludic translation, i.e. translation as a game.

Ludic translation is not confined to children nor to Natural Translators. Native Translators and Expert Translators do it too. Here’s proof for Native Translators, i.e. people who have learned from their environment to translate to conventional standards without formal training. The examples in this instance are literary. Most literary translators start out as Native Translators, whose learning environment is the literature, including other people’s translations, that they avidly read. Today there are some university courses and workshops on literary translation, but only a few of the hundreds of practising literary translators have taken them.

A few days ago, a journalist wrote an article in The Guardian newspaper on the history of translation in English literature. He ended it by inviting readers to send in their own translations, which he then published. Not being a literary critic, I won’t comment on the quality of the submissions; but what first impressed me was the sheer quantity received within the next few days. The article drew 213 contributions to its ‘Comments’, most of which were actually translations. That’s a very large number for a literature blog. Furthermore, it’s generally considered that poetry is the most difficult genre of literary translation. People who can do it successfully, if they aren’t Experts, must be Advanced Native Translators. Nor did they go for the easy ones: Rilke and Baudelaire were favourites. “Translating is a bitch,” remarks one contributor. (St. Jerome put it more politely; he said it was a struggle.)

From which we may deduce that a lot of people like to translate for the pleasure of it. Why? For the challenge? Because, in the case of poetry, it’s a form or creative writing? Or, as in the case of Leopold’s daughter, as a game? Not that I think it’s anything peculiar to translation. Translating is a skill. Even when there’s no immediate need for our skills, we like to practice them and show our prowess.

Well, I can’t end without quoting one or two examples from this abundant anthology.

The Cat
After (a very long way after) Baudelaire
Version by Jack Brae Curtingstall

Cat, see my heart flare;
reduce your claws to hint,
and let me meet your stare
of speckled flint.
My fingers trace the charts
of your spiralled fur,
as I drink in thoughts
not of you, but her:
my girlfriend's in my brain. Her look
(like yours, vicious queen),
cold, searching, grips me like a hook;
steely, gun-metalled, mean -
then her scent, deceptive, ish -
her body dark as liquorice.

Curtingstall is a poet. He says somewhere, “I read poetry every day.”

From ‘graceandreacchi’
“Not so much a translation as a 'version' of an old favourite.”

Catullus – Carmen 85
odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

I hate and I love you. Why?
I don't know. But I feel it and
am crucified
Finally, I thank ‘smpugh’ for contributing this witty put-down from Ogden Nash:
He was once told by a lady at some event that she liked one of his books but preferred it in the French translation. "Yes", he murmured, "my work does tend to lose something in the original."


Werner F. Leopold, 1896-1984. Speech Development of a Bilingual Child: A Linguist’s Record. Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1939-1949. There was an AMS reprint. Out of print, but Amazon USA sometimes has a second-hand copy.

Brian Harris and Bianca Sherwood. Translating as an innate skill. In D. Gerver and W. H. Sinaiko, eds., Language Interpretation and Communication, Oxford and New York, Plenum, 1978, pp. 155-170. Digitised copy available free from

Billy Mills. Poster poems: Translation (Books Blog). Guardian Unlimited, August 20, 2010.

Photo: Kenji Hakuta