The Google Alert for “translation” was all abuzz today with the controversy over translating the Bible into Jamaican patois. Here’s hoping that the Bible Society of the West Indies reads Translation: Getting it Right before forging ahead with the project, which it estimates will take 12 years and cost US$1 million; moreover, this story highlights the issues faced by translators who work in languages that are not standardized.
For most of us, a real dilemma of word choice results when two of our trusted terminology resources conflict, or when the meaning of the source text seems to be deliberately ambiguous. However, few of us have to cope with translating from or into a language that has few/no/radically conflicting written resources. For example, the Wikipedia entry for the Jamaican language states “Because of its status as a non-standard language, there is no standard or official way of writing Jamaican Patois (for example the word ‘there’ can be written ‘de’, ‘deh’ or ‘dere’; and the word for ‘three’ is most commonly spelt ‘tree’, but it can be spelt ‘tri’ or ‘trii’ to distinguish it from the noun tree). ” By comparison, coping with a disagreement between the Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique and the Presses Pocket French-English Dictionary of Computing seems hardly worth complaining about.
An interesting side note to the issue of non-standardized languages is the role that e-mail, texting and the Internet at large play in creating written language. Until the advent of e-mail and texting, most people’s writing was done in a formal context; i.e. school assignments, letters to the newspaper editor, complaints to the gas company, etc. Today, most of us write a great deal in informal contexts such as e-mails and text messages. Here in the U.S. we can see that spoken forms of words are now, for better or worse, often used in writing as well (“See ya!” “Gotta go!” “Gonna get back to work!”). In countries where the spoken language has historically had a more formal written form, for example Swiss Standard German (largely written) versus the many variations of Swiss German (largely spoken), many young people now e-mail, chat and text in the dialects that they speak, rather than the more formal language used in schools, government and the media.