There’s delicious irony in the leap that some translators make from describing “what is” to demanding “what ought to be.” They end up acting like overprotective parents of a prodigal son who, running away in a postmodern age, might catch something awful like AIDS and die young or worse bring it back home with him. Or they act like a possessive lover of a most-cherished beloved who, having changed her epistemological clothes in the bathroom, is sure to get propositioned by someone with a foreign accent and darker skin (and maybe cigarette smoke and alcohol on his breath). Or they just pretend there’s no smoke and mirrors in Plato’s cave.
I could name names, but what purpose would that serve? That might start a snake war. Let’s just hear their would-be natural English to get on with things.
“Also John is very much a second language speaker. This really hit me between the eyes as our church has studied I John over the last couple of months. His Greek is wooden and flat. It lacks subtlety. He often can't find the bon mot. He talks in approximations. In translation, in a perfect world, he'd sound that way in English, too.”
“But I am not interested in translation of a book which is not really recognised as canonical by anyone, but in translation of the New Testament. Paul is clearly not inventing the word, even if he is using a somewhat rare one. . . But actually I intended to exclude quotes from all older documents, not just strictly LXX ones as I specified before.”
“In English these are both weak rhymes further vitiated further by inviting an unfortunate rhythmic pacing. The device is one entwined in historic usage with light or comic verse, and profoundly inappropriate for the subject matter.”
“But is this the place for creativity of expression - not in the sense of using language creatively at all, buth rather the sense of creating new idioms that have not necessarily existed in English before this point?”
“This passage is particularly difficult (I think) among passages in Aristotle in its resisting attempts to render it in ordinary English. . . the translation is less accurate than necessary, or unnecessarily misleading . . . E.g. ‘the ways children go wrong’ suggests Aristotle has in mind different types of going astray (types of bad upbringing), but I don't think such a suggestion is carried by τὰς παιδικὰς ἁμαρτίας.”
The subtitle of this post is “Trying Translational Tyrannies.” Our witnesses in this trial are native American Indians using English, the Chinese using English, African Americans or Brits using English, and their women using English. Natural English is what they’re using. All of them. This kind of English, by the non-native speaking and non-Anglo-centric, makes a strong case against all kinds of imperial and colonial westernisms started by Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander, and perpetuated by Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson (not to be confused with Francis Schaeffer, John the Baptist, or William Jefferson Clinton).
(Now this very paragraph you’re reading here is parenthetical. Let’s define our terms carefully. When we say “postmodern,” and when we’re using natural English to say it, we’re following Webster who says it means what Jesus said in transliterated translation as the original Greek-root-form of his first “ought”: meta-noia. Of course, Jesus’s cousin was the original user of this English word when dunking believers and punching out the Pharisees. He called them “bastards” which Matthew translated into natural Greek as “brood of vipers”; and that started a snake war. So we must feel the powerful contrast between this word and another: para-noia. Funny thing is, and who would’ve thunk it, meta-noia is the translation equivalent of para-ble, “not” para-noia. Webster’s second definition (because there’s always more than one) is this: “2. meta-noia – to think afterwards. from pre-postmodern French. See Blaise Pascal’s Pensées and Michel Eyquem de Montaigne’s Essais, not to be confused with Locke’s Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul or Bacon’s Essays.” When we say “epistemological,” and when we’re using natural English to say it, we’re acknowledging that Schaeffer named it and that Barack Hussein Obama is calling for it, anew. Amen and amen. When we say “smoke and mirrors,” and when we’re using natural English to say it, we have to answer questions about whether we inhaled and whose face we see—so we Anglo-centric folk may be able legally to “object.”)
We first call to the stand one William Apes (aka William Apess by the literary postmodernists who can’t stand the N-word either because the modernists find it in the texts of MLKjr.). Apess is a Pequot. Lo and behold, he speaks English too. And is a Christian, an evangelical no less. Except his gospel, the same gospel of the Anglo Jesus, is this: “I felt convinced that Christ died for all mankind—that age, sect, color, country, or situation make no difference. I felt an assurance that I was included in the plan of redemption with all my brethren.” By “situation” Apess clearly also means “sex.” He was not able to go to the AA meeting that day because us white folks had not yet admitted anonymously that our lives had become powerless and unmanagable; so Apess lets Aunt Sally George, Mary Apess, Hannah Caleb, and Anne Wampy write and speak their testimony for themselves. They’re all women, lest you missed that. They all use natural English. One of them says: “I wish I could talk like white folks, me would tell everybody how I love Jesus.” But since us “white folks” use such unnatural English, and because so many of us are “men,” Apess writes for us “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man,” a translational guide. It’s not just for the British either: “As the immortal
Next, we call Elias Boudinot (aka Galagi’na Watie). Boudinot is a Cherokee. Lo and behold, he speaks English too. And is also a Christian who stood on the same stage once with Apess and delivered a speech entitled “Address to the Whites,” because women were in the crowd too. Boudinot also knows Greek, Hebrew, and Latin and translates the Bible from those languages—by passing bypassing English, natural or not—right into Cherokee. Too bad the Cherokee Nation has been on reserve for some time and they have to use natural English only now.
Next, we call to the stand many of Richard A. Rhodes’s friends. (He’s going to say I’ve gone postmodern with this post, to which I must reply Guilty as charged, but then let’s listen to them.) They are Ojibwe (aka original people or “Anishinaabe”). Lo and behold, they speak English too. They tried to tell Eugene Peterson that that’s not what “indefinitely” means, but he used it anyway as his natural English for Eli’s natural Hebrew for God’s natural tongue, in I Samuel 2:27, when he (and he and He) says: “Therefore—this is God's word, the God of Israel speaking—I once said that you and your ancestral family would be my priests indefinitely, but now—God's word, remember!—there is no way this can continue.”
Next, we call Lydia H. Liu. She is a woman (mark that). And she’s Chinese too. Lo and behold, she speaks English as well. The oddest thing is this, she can’t be postcolonial. (Yes, I know we didn’t define that term. It wouldn’t make sense to us white anglo-centric folk anyway. Except for Hong Kong, or
Next, we call Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Equiano is also British or American, depending on which birth or baptism certificate you look at (the real one or the imagined). Lo and behold, likewise, he speaks English. At first a slave, he once had to rely on “those numerous and respectable persons of character who knew me when I first arrived in
Next, we call Ishmael Reed. He’s a literary mulatto. At least that’s what I called him in a paper I wrote, which won an award (and a bit of cash) this month (which means Reed propelled me into the ranks of professional writer). A few other things to note: he really is a postmodernist although he’s an antifeminist. (What must irk him the most about that is this: Gloria Naylor is with him in my paper, and I’ve written another in which Phillis Wheatley, Barbara Christian, Paule Marshall, Gayl Jones are all as translingual as Reed is.) Reed uses natural English to translate natural Yoruba (which he’s studied for fifteen years now with Ade Amoloran).
We’ll rest our case (and expect silence in the peanut gallery) with the first three paragraphs of chapter VIII (“Ojola-Ibinu Ti Ise Olori Ejo Aiye Gbogbo” or “Ojola-Ibinu, the King of Snakes everywhere”) of D. O. Fagunwa’s Igbo Olodumare [The Forest of God]. Reed translates the whole chapter into natural English as “Snake War.” It’s as precious as non-literary canonized scriptures for the lover. For the natural Yoruba, you have to go elsewhere (and you must find elsewhere those anglo-centric translations):
Some hunters are lost in Igbo Olodumare; they find refuge in the home of Baba-onirungbon-yeuke.
Baba-onirungbon-yeuke was a wonderful host to those of us hunters who were stranded in the Igbo Olodumare. He provided us with all of the comforts of forest living.
We would bring wild boar to him and he would cook it for us. He prepared yams for us that were as crispy as those one would find in a Thai restaurant. At night, the forest women would dance for us and perform on their instruments. We swam in pools that had escaped man’s invasion. We avoided coffee and strived on green tea. All of us, who were in our middle age were beginning to feel many years younger. Why, he said, would we want to return to the city and its crime, pollution, noise and other corruptions? Women, who, unlike these forest ones, were only interested in using a man as a pack mule to buy them jewelry, cars, and clothes. He did not have a kind view of city women. Said they were addicted to airport novels and getting their nails done and shopping for weaves.
He invited us to stay there with him in the forest. We could grow our own food, hunt and make our own clothes and provide for our own entertainment, sparing us the music and films of carnality so rife in the urban areas. The forest, he said, not only provides man’s needs but is a great teacher, a great university. But we told him that we had been away from our families for months and that we had to return to the city to meet our responsibilities. He was of course disappointed but said that he would help us find our way back home. With this remark we discovered that he knew more than he had let on. And that in these forests of beautiful women, birds and animals, this hunter was lonely for the company of men. This is why he had done everything possible to prolong our stay. . . .