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Language mistranslation or…

Lost In Translation

 

In the ‘90s when the airwaves was liberalised in Ghana, scores of private radio stations sprung up as a consequence. With talk shows everywhere, people who had been unable to publicly express their views now had an avenue to make their thoughts known. Peoples’ views on the radio were raw and unchecked. But we could allow that to pass, but only for a period of time. People had just been given that freedom, so it was understandable people would initially abuse it.

Fast forward to 2012 and politicians and “social commentators” (whatever the hell that job title is!), have not improved their decorum on radio one single bit. Apart from parading themselves as experts on every issue under the sun, their choice of words shows very little respect for each other and their listeners, and the issues they discuss are petty. They are constantly on radio at each other’s throat, and they tend to speak in a combination of English and Twi. Now that’s a very deadly combination when you think of the dangers of improper translation of words and phrases and the consequences it brings.

Not long ago a politician made pronouncements on radio that the law enforcement authorities deemed to amount to treason and was charged as such. Various supporters of this politician thronged the HQ of the Ghana Police and got in a scuffle with the law enforcers. This is not an issue you would expect people to be fighting over. It’s one for the law to decide if he’s guilty or not. I tried to understand why the supporters would go fight the police like it would cause them to release this politician.

I wanted to understand the supporters, so I used a method I’ve found quite effective. I engaged a couple of taxi drivers in conversation over a period. Three different taxi drivers from Osu to Ofankor Barrier. They all had their radios on and this particular issue was under discussion. I asked all three the same question. So why was this politician arrested? The first and third driver shocked me with their answers. They told me the politician had said if people keep beating up supporters of the opposition parties it would cause a civil war in Ghana! They argued many other politicians had said words to this effect and had not been arrested so why has this man been held up in custody? This was what had infuriated supporters to rebel against the law enforcement authorities.

But that was hardly the charge against this politician. Do I blame the supporters? Yes! But I do blame these “social commentators” even more. They have unwittingly incited people into violence. They had translated “I declare war”- from the words this politician is said to have uttered, which was “there would be war” in Twi!! These people on radio have created a very volatile situation for violence to occur with their loose translation. As the news passes from one person to the other, the meaning of the treasonable words uttered has been entirely changed. This is dangerous, especially in an election year. I would hate to wake up one morning see Ghana appear on BBC or Sky News for all the wrong reasons. Let’s watch how we translate words in-between the languages we speak.

By Maclean Arthur