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Language and Culture (By Eugene A. Nida)

ENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-200925LANGUAGEANDCULTUREEugeneA.NidaUnitedBibleSociety(EE.UU.)ABSTRACTThisarticlecollectstheplenaryconferencegivenbyEugeneA.NidaattheVInternationalCongress“Translation,TextandInterferences”onTranslationandCulturalMediation,holdattheUniversityofCordoba(Spain),inwhichtheauthorrecountsthat,alonghiscareerasatranslator,itwasofparamountimportancetoknowthevaluesofthedifferentcultureshevisitedinordertounderstandhowtheseculturescommunicatedmeaningfullywithoneanotherand,consequently,beabletohelptheirtranslatorsintheirworkoftranslatingtheBible.KEYWORDS:EugeneNida,culture,biblicaltranslation.RESUMENElpresenteartículorecogelaconferenciaplenariaqueelprofesorEugeneA.NidapronuncióenelVCongresoInternacional“Traducción,TextoeInterferencias”sobreTraducciónymediacióncultural,celebradoentreel13yel15dediciembrede2006enlaUniversidaddeCórdoba,donderelataque,alolargodesutrayectoriacomotraductor,leresultócrucialconocerlosvaloresdelasdistintasculturasquevisitóparapodercomprendercómosecomunicabanentresíy,porende,sercapazdeayudaralostraductoresdeestasculturasensulabordetraduccióndelaBiblia.PALABRASCLAVE:EugeneNida,cultura,traducciónbíblica.1.INTRODUCTIONAftertravellingaroundtheworldseveraltimesinordertohelptranslators,Ihavemetupwithanumberofcultures.Itwascrucialformetoknowthevaluesofthesedifferentpeopleinordertounderstandhowtheycommunicatemeaningfullywithoneanother.Now,IwouldliketosharewithyousomeoftheinsightsIgainedfromlisteningtothem.ENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-2009262.YIPOUNOU(CAMEROUN)InoneofmybooksImentionedhelpingatranslatorimproveatranslationoftheGospelofJohninYipounou.IdidnotspeakYipounou,aBantulanguageofWestAfrica,butIdidknowFrenchandIcouldreadilynotehowthetranslationintoYipounouwaspracticallyaword-for-wordrenderingofapopularFrenchtranslationoftheGospelofJohn.IalsoknewsomethingaboutthewayinwhichBantulanguagesorganizewordsintosentencesandsentencesintotexts,soIarrangedtomeetthetranslator,whohadlearnedYipounouasthesonofmissionarieslivinginWestAfrica.ActuallyhehadbeenaskedtomakethetranslationoftheNewTestamentintoYipounou,buthewastoldtomakehistranslationascloseaspossibletothestandardFrenchtext.Thiswasatypicalkindofmistake,andtheyoungmanfullyrecognizedtheabsurdityofsuchanapproachtocommunicating.Accordingly,hewasgladtobeabletoredohistranslationandinthiswayproduceatextthatwouldbemoreaccurate,understandable,andacceptable,becausetherevisioncouldbesomuchbetterunderstoodbythelocalpeople.3.ETHIOPIAWereceivedanurgentrequestforavisittoaremoteareainsouthernEthiopiathatcouldbereachedonlybyoverlandtravelbytruck.TheBritishmissionarieswereespeciallyanxioustohaveadviceaboutanewlyproposedalphabet,andIwastheonlynearbyetranslationconsultantwhomightbeabletohelp.Recentrainshadmadetheroadsalmostimpassable,butassoonastheroadshaddriedout,therewasdangeroffiresofelephantgrass,andthatispreciselywhathappened.Thatveryafternoontheroadaheadwasawalloffiresomefortyfeethigh.Wecouldnotgobackbecausethefirewasadvancingfasterthanwecouldretreat.Sowesimplyhadtodrivethetruckthroughthefire.Wepreparedaswellaswecouldandchosearelativelylevelstretchofroad.Therewewaiteduntilwecoulddashthroughtheblaze,throwdirtonthetruck,andputoutanylurkingembers.Finally,wearrivedatthevillageoftheBritishmission.Wereceivedahero’swelcomeandgreatlyappreciatedallthepeopledidintryingtomakeourstayashelpfulaspossiblebecauseofthetranslationoftheNewTestamentintooneofthelocallanguages.ButIcouldnotunderstandwhyoneofthemissionarieshadasix-inchwidepieceofpinkclothsewedtohisshortsinordertocoverhisknees.EventhoughBritishshortsareusuallyENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-200927longerthaneithertheFrenchortheBelgian,butatleastforonepoorman,hiswifefoundenoughpinkclothto“sanctify”herhusband'sknees.4.ZAMBUANGO,PHILIPPINESInZambuango,Philippines,IwasaskedtomakeatriptosomeoftheislandsthatlinkthePhilippinestoSabah,butIhadnoideathatsuchapartoftheworldwassoopentoanyonehavingthemoneytobuythemostmodemfleetofsmallfastboats.TheboatleavingZambuangoforSabahcontainedanumberofpeoplearmedwithsub-machineguns,andmyhostarrangedformetobemetbyguardswithhigh-poweredrifles.TheamountofillegalimportsbetweenthePhilippinesandSabahwasenormous,andIfranklycannotthinkofapartoftheworldthatseemslessopentothePrinceofPeacethanthescoresoftinyislandswherefastshipsmocktheinternationalharboursandthesmugglers’hide-outs,buttherearesomeexceptionalpeoplewhoneverthelesstrytomaketheGospelarealityinaplacemorelikehellthanheaven,andeventotranslateitintotheindigenouslanguagesforlocalpeopletounderstand.5.BAFFINLANDWhenIreceivedaninvitationtoparticipateinatwo-weekconferenceforEasternEskimo,Iwasalsotoldtobepreparedfor25to30degreesbelowzeroforoutsidetemperatures,becausethatispreciselythekindofweatherneededfortravelintheArctic.Ithoughttheareawouldincludeplentyofigloosanddogsleds,butthetownhadasupermarket,manyfinefive-roomhouses,allwithfreezingstoragespace,andspecialplacesforpoweredsleds.TheJuniorCollegewasasfineasanysuchschoolinCanada,andchurchattendancewasmorethan90percent.Thelevelofeducationofthewesternarcticpopulationisexceptionallyhigh,infact,significantlyabovethelevelofgeneraleducationinCanada,althoughEskimoswhowantspecialtraininginthesciencesgotouniversitiesinCanada,Europe,ortheUnitedStates.ForarevisedtextofEasternEskimotheteammembersallhadadvancedtraininginbiblicallanguagesandtheology.Ihadnevermetwithsuchwelltrainedparticipantsinaconferenceforestablishingprinciplesandproceduresforanewtranslation.ENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-2009286.PONAPE,CENTRALPACIFICForseveralweeksaconferenceonBibletranslationandrevisionwasheldontheislandofPonape,intheCentralPacific,withProtestantandRomanCatholictranslators.Thiswasaninterestingexperienceforme,andIwassoappreciatedbythelocalpeoplethattheycelebratedtheirnewlyfoundsenseofonenessbyinsistingonaseriesofbanquetstoproclaimtheir“newoneness”.Accordingly,towardtheendoftheconferenceourhostsinsistedonshowingtheirsenseofonenessbyhavingaseriesofbanquetsinwhicheachoftheparticipantsreceivedasmuchastenpoundsoffood,forexample,steamingshellfish,roastedsquid,juicysteaksoffish,deliciousportionsofroastedsweetpotatoes,pineapples,breadfruit,bananas,coconuts,andendlessdrinksofcoconutjuiceontablesfloodedwithtropicalflowers.Butnothingwaswastedbecausepeoplewhopreparedandservedthebanquets,arrangedtotakehomewiththemanythingthathadnotbeenconsumed.7.BURUNDI,EASTAFRICAFivemissionsinEastAfricajoinedforaone-dayconsultationtosettleproblemsoftranslationthathadbeenundertakencooperativelybyfivedifferentmissionsinBurundi.Yearafteryearrepresentativesofthefiveleadingchurchesmet,andfinallytheycametogetherforameeting,inwhichtheyhopedtoresolvesomeofthedifficultissuesoftheologyandlanguage.Iwasgivenveryshortnoticeofthemeeting,butIdideverythingpossibletobepresentintimeforsomeofthecriticalissues.WhenIarrivedtheeveningbeforethejointandfinalmeeting,Iwasamazedatthelistofitemsontheagenda.Infact,IwassoimpressedbythenumberandseriousnessoftheagendathatIstayedupbeyondmidnightstudyingtheissues.Representativesofthefivemissionsmetthenextmorningat9a.m.TherepresentativeofthePentecostalChurchesdeclaredthatheandotherpeopleofhischurchbelievedthetranslatorsandrevisershaddoneafinepieceofworkintheirfinalreview.Althoughheandhiscolleaguesdidnotagreewitheverythingsuggested,heurgedthegrouptoconsidercarefullysomeoftheespeciallydelicateissues,forthiswasnotthetimetodelaycrucialdecisionsthatneededtoberesolvedinordertohelppeopleunderstandandappreciatewhathadbeendone.Otherrepresentativesadoptedthesameattitude,andthemeetingbegan,buttheseintroductorywordschangedradicallytheunderlyingtensionsthathadcrippleddecision-makinginthepast.OthermembersontherevisionENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-200929committeebegantovoicesimilarconcerns,andIwasamazedbythewayinwhichrepresentativesofthemissionswereapparentlychangingtheirearlierjudgments.Byfouro’clockdecisionsontheagendawerecompleted,andlikeasurprise,earliercontentionsrapidlydisappeared,andwithinafewweeksarevisedtextwassubmittedtotheBibleSocietiesforpublication.Buttherewasalsoatragedyinwhattookplace.ThedecisionswereallmadebythemissionariesandnotincooperationwiththelocalBantuChristianleaders.Thiswasreallytheirlanguage,theirrevision,andtheirsymboloffaith.Fortunately,theAfricanleaderswereabletoriseabovetheevidentsuperiority-complexofthemissionaries,whodidnotfullyappreciatethefactthatthelocallanguagebelongedtothelocalpeople.8.CHIHUAHUA,MEXICOIbeganmyworkasaspecialistintranslatingbyfirstlearningthelocalIndianlanguage,butIhadrealdifficultiesingettingbread,meatandfruitinthelocalplace,twodayshorsebackfromChihuahua.Infact,Isoonbecameweakfromlackofnutritiousfood,andtherewassimplynoplacethatIcouldbuyfoodwithouttravellingbyhorsebackforaday,andeventhenIwasnotsurethatIcouldhireahorse.Theplacewasespeciallydifficultbecauseitsnowedalmosteverynightandgotincreasinglycolderdaybyday.MygoodIndianfriend,Ricardo,cametomeandsaid,“Ifyoudon’tgetmoreandbetterfoodyouaresoongoingtodie.Whydon’tyouhireawomantofindfoodforyou,cookit,andmakeyourcabinintoahomeratherthantryingtoliveinarefrigerator?”Ricardowasrightaboutmydifficultiesinhavinglivingfacilities,butiftheMexicanDepartmentofEducationwouldnotsendhardwaretothecarpentertheyhadhiredtomaketheschoolhabitable,theycertainlywouldnotsendhelptome,whenItriedtoexistinwhatwasmoreofaiceboxthanacabin.Accordingly,Ricardoasked,“Whydon’tyougobacktotheendoftherailroad,whichisonlytwoday’shorsebackriding.Thereyouwillfindstoreswhereyoucanbuywhatyouneed,andmaybeyoucanarrangegoodfacilitiesinanearbyschool,butyouwillfreezetodeathifyoucontinuewhereyouare”.Itookhisadviceandreturnedtotheendoftherailroad,andbegantolookforaplacetostay,butIcouldn'tfindany.Accordingly,threeweekslater,IboardedthetrainwithmywrinkledclothesandmyscribblednotesonthelinguisticstructuresofthelocalIndianlanguages,andIwasonmywayhomeinGardenGrove,California.ENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-200930Iunderwentonetestafteranother,andIcouldonlybereassuredthatwiththepropermedicine,foodandrest,IwouldbewellenoughtostartmystudiesinlinguisticsattheUniversityofMichigan.9.TETELCINGO,MEXICOIwasgatheringdataformyresearchinlinguisticsandhadwithmesomefineyoungmenfromdifferenttribes.Iwasespeciallyinterestedinproblemsrelatingtoexpressionsaboutsicknessanddeath,butsuddenlyweheardpeoplescreamingfromneartheirrigationtank.Apparentlysomeonewasintrouble,soIandmyhelpersranasfastaswecouldtoseewhathadhappenedinthehugetank.Evidentlysomeonewasinserioustrouble,andsoweimmediatelyjumpedintothewater,whichwasaboutthreemetersdeep,butmostofthepeoplethathadgatheredontheedgeofthetankrefusedtogetintothewaterbecausetheywereafraidthatevilspiritswouldthendrownthem.Wefinallyhadtoremoveallthewaterfromthetankinordertofindthevictim’sbodydeepinthemud.Butpeopleinthevillageweresofrightenedaboutthespiritofthemanthattheydidn'twanttobeevennearthetank.Wehadtokeepinmindthebeliefsofthesepeopleinordertohelpthemtotranslateintotheirlocallanguages.InMexico,Imetanumberofremarkablepersonswithunusuallinguisticskills.Forexample,therewasacompletelydeafwomanwhohaddevelopedawrittenformofherownlanguageandtaughtittoallthewomenofhertown(howIwishedIcouldhavestudiedhersystemofsymbolsandreasoning!).InMexico,IalsohadtheopportunityofmeetingabrilliantIndianinterpreterwhoonatleastoneoccasiontranslatedfrommemoryaforty-fiveminutespeechdeliveredthepreviousday.10.CENTRALAMERICAWhenastrategicleaderofagroupof“outlaws”inGuatemalapassedaway,heleftwordthatoneofhisfollowersshouldcontactnearbymissionarieswhocouldprayforhissoul.Theoutlawhadgreatrespectforthehonestyandintegrityofthemissionaries,andbecauseofthemissionaries’honestlives,hewascertainthatGodwouldblesstheoutlaw’ssoulonitswaytoparadise.Figurativelanguageisoneofthemosteffectivewaysoftalkingaboutmentalandemotionalstates.Forexample,inMiskito(Honduras)peaceis“havingonlyoneheart”,butindecisionmaybeexpressedas“therearebutterfliesinmyheart”,whileinTarahumara(Mexico)beingconcernedisENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-200931expressedas“histhinkingshuthismouth”.AndinChontal(Mexico)uncertaintybecomes“Whoknowswheremyheartwentto?”11.NORTHERNECUADORMissionaryfriendswhomIhadbeenhelpingtosolvesomeoftheorthographicproblemsintheraredialect,inwhichtheyhadbeenworking,letmeoffataregularstopsothatIcouldcatchabustothecapitalofEcuador.ButIwasshockedtoseealmostahundredlocalIndiansdeaddrunk.Ihadheardaboutsuchcelebrationsinhonourofalocalsaintbutthiswasoverwhelming.Icouldnotbelievethatpeoplewouldsellthemselvestosuchsenselessness.TheonlypersonwhowassanewastheownerofthestorespecializinginvariousalcoholicdrinksandsoIintroducedmyselfandaskedhimifIcouldaskhimsomequestions.Hewasapparentlyhappytohavesomeonetotalkto,andhekindlytriedtosuggestthepossiblereasonsforsuchbehaviour:povertyandlackofeducation.Infact,hesaidthatthepeopledidnotreallyknowtheirownhistory.Accordingtotradition,earlierresidentsintheareahadworshippedthefivemountainpeaksontheeasternhorizon,andhenamedthemformeandtriedtoexplainthewaytheyhadbenefitedthepeople,butonlyatthepriceofhonestinterpersonalrelations.12.THAILANDAmissioninThailandstronglyurgedmetoacceptaninvitationtovisitanareawheretherewasconsiderabletensionovertheissueofspeakinginTongues,aformofspeechconsistingoflongsequencesofconsonantsandvowelsthatparallelthepatternsofspeechinactuallanguages,butwhichlacklinguisticstructurestypicalofmeaningfullyrelatedwords,phrases,andclauses.Iwasprobablyfoolishtoacceptsuchaninvitation,butIwantedtobehelpfultothosewhowantedtoknowmoreaboutwhatsomepeoplecalled“Tongues”or“thelanguageofheaven”.TheplacewhereIwasinvitedtospeakwaslargelycontrolledbyastrong-mindedwomanwhodidnotwantanydiscussionofTonguesandwhowaspreparingwithoutanytechnicalassistanceaneworthographyforthelocallanguage.Infact,withoutanyprofessionaltraininginlinguistics,shehadworkedoutanewsetofsymbolsforoneofthelocallanguages,whichshealoneclaimedtospeak“correctly”.Infact,shetriedtoemploythesameorthographyforbothTonguesand“normallanguage”,andshehaddesignatedENTRECULTURASNúmero1.ISSN:1989-5097.Fechadepublicación:27-03-200932aparticularmid-weekmeetinginwhichshewascertainthatGodwouldrevealby3a.m.therightmannertowritebothformsoflanguage.Iwaspersonallyveryinterestedinstudyingthephenomenon,andIfounditverysimilartothepracticeofTonguesinvariouspartsoffundamentalistandfringegroups.Thestagingoftherevealedorthographywasquitefascinatingbecausetheleaderofthemissionseemedtoinstinctivelyknowhowtomanipulatetheaudience,especiallyatthepreordainedtimeof3a.m.Thistimeforpresumedsupernaturalrevelationsinvolvedamasterfuluseoftiminginparadingevilspiritsaroundadarkenedroom.Thediversityoflanguagesandculturesmakestranslationintolocallanguagesaverydifficulttask,buttranslatorsneedtounderstandthatbehindthewordstherearepowerfulculturesthatmustnotbeignored.

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