Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Giant leap for Zimbabwean Literature in Ndebele

Thabisani Ndlovu of Witwatersrand University has translated 'Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe,' from English to Ndebele. It becomes: 'Siqondephi Manje? Indatshana zaseZimbabwe.' The translation, like the original collection of 2011 by ‘amaBooks of Bulawayo, features stories by sixteen writers: Raisedon Baya, NoViolet Bulawayo, Diana Charsley, Mapfumo Clement Chihota, Murenga Joseph Chikowero, John Eppel, Fungai Rufaro Machirori, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, Christopher Mlalazi, Mzana Mthimkhulu, Blessing Musariri, Nyevero Muza, Thabisani Ndlovu, Bryony Rheam, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, Sandisile Tshuma. The original was compiled and edited by Jane Morris.
One of the key aims in undertaking this translating is to contribute towards the development of the isiNdebele language by encouraging writers to write in this language. As such, it was a most opportune moment to translate some of the most well-written Zimbabwean stories in English, to isiNdebele.  In English, the stories are riveting.  They take one through a journey of mixed emotions– laughter, sadness and concern.  They all demonstrate immense creativity.  Some flout rules of punctuation whereas others use various forms of narration except the linear. I tried to capture all this creativity in the isiNdebele translation. Those who read the translation will be happy to know that not much was lost.  That is because, like a doctor with a stethoscope, I took a long time listening to the heartbeat of each story. As such, you will find that the language used for each story, is appropriate for the setting, content and style. It is also current language. 

Of course, some will criticise this translation, as inevitably happens with a project like this. I can almost hear some saying, “That is an English word and not an isiNdebele one,” or, “In isiNdebe, that order of letters is impermissible.”  Some are likely to say, “There are some impolite words where euphemisms should have been used.”  Here are a few examples.   All speakers of isiNdebele know “ifriji” (fridge).  No one refers to it as “ikhabothi yomqando” (cold cupboard) or any such ridiculous term.  Is there anyone who calls it “ifiriji”?  That becomes a Shona pronunciation once we insert an “i” after the “f.”  Similarly, we say “iphaspoti” and  “iplastiki.”  You will also find words such as   “hlanza” (vomit), “izibunu” (buttocks) and others like them. These words are not used gratuitously.  Using euphemisms in their place would have distorted the tone and meaning of some stories resulting in a stilted and terrible translation. That would have resulted in substandard work,  ruining the beautiful stories. Then what would I claim to be the value of the work I would have done?  In any case, words that some of us say should not be part of written isiNdebele, are words we use every day, irrespective of audience.  Let us take, “izibunu” (buttocks). It is common to hear people say of children with inadequate clothing, “abantwana bahamba ngezibunu egcekeni” (children wear worn- out clothes that show their buttocks). Likewise, “olezibunu ezinkulu ngolezibunu ezinkulu; ongalazo kalazo” (whoever has big buttocks is said to have such and the same for small or smaller buttocks) – that is how Ndebele people speak without any profanity implied in most contexts.  Why then should we change this when we write? I am thinking specifically about events and contexts in the stories contained here.  For example, an angry character should appear as such through the language he or she uses.  Needless to say the language should suit that character.  As a translator, one of my key duties is to make sure that the translation is as close to the original text as possible, having of course, taken into account the cultural context of the Ndebele people

Times change and so do people and their languages. That is how English grew – borrowing words and quickly incorporating them into the English lexicon. Some people say isiNdebele is dying.  What I agree with them is that we have a dearth of books in the language, publications of such being too few and far in between. But the language itself is very much alive and vibrant.  Current isiNdebele is not the same as isiNdebele of twenty years ago.   There are words we should accept as isiNdebele words. Examples include ‘skulufizi’, (school fees), ‘eralini’  (at a rally), ‘iklasi’ (class/ classroom), ‘ukudiza’ (to pay a bribe),  ‘drayiva’ (driver/to drive), and  ‘khastoma’ (customer).  It is a good thing to want ‘proper’ isisNdebele words such as ‘umtshayeli’ (driver) or ‘tshayela’ (drive).  But how many people use these words in everyday speech? Thus, we can enter “umtshayeli” in the context of driving a vehicle as old use or an archaic word, and next to it, indicate the recent and most widely used form, “drayiva.”  For a language not to die and for it to be appealing even in its written form, it has to be a language that people are familiar with, not stilted and archaic. I am not implying in any way that all old words should be thrown away.  All I am saying is that words must suit the specific contexts in which they are used. We should, by the same token, be aware of new unavoidable vocabularies. People speak of “istayila” (style), “ukungena  ku-intanethi” (surfing the net), “ukuhlaba ijini” (wearing jeans). All of this is isiNdebele proper.

People of the Mthwakazi nation, I think I have said enough.  A language that grows is one that is in constant and creative use, whose lexicon evolves with time. In its written form, such a language should reveal the creativity of the people who speak it and in particular, the novel ways in which those people capture experiences.  Once this is achieved, it will inspire other writers to be even more creative. I hope this translation will not only inspire writing in and reading of isiNdebe, but also pride in speaking this colourful language with a rich heritage.
Thabisani Ndlovu                          
Johannesburg 2013


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