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Pause ‘N Ponder: Lost in Translation

Last week, I posted the picture below on my WhatsApp status with the caption:

Lost in translation! I want to believe “àdádáále” and innovation are not equivalent, not in this use case. 
What’s your take? 
BTW, they need a better Graphics Designer 

WhatsApp Caption

The inscriptions on the bus reads: Centre for Eradicating Innovation and Establishing Sunnah. It generated some interesting conversations. Before you read on, you need to be familiar with Islamic subject matter: Bid’ah which is often translated as innovation in English or Àdádáálẹ̀ nínú ẹ̀sìn in Yoruba. This page provides a comprehensive explanation and of course a dedicated Wikipedia page. This piece gives an account of the conversations with my friends.

First off, it is important to respect the perspectives of other people but sometimes…🙄 However, some jumped on it like an upcoming artiste on a cover of a hit song, religious sentiments set in, those who sharpened my iron (as per iron sharpens iron), of course taking the word out of context and not forgetting the spectators (people always want to play safe when it comes to religious discussions).  

Apparently, the discussion ought to be about language use and by extension, Linguistics. Language poses various degree of complexities and ambiguities. The word innovation in this case does not do justice to what the Centre is trying to achieve. It is also an open-ended word that is subject to many interpretations in this scenario, likewise feeding happy religious bigots (NNCI) like who posted this on Facebook (I unfriended him anyway).

Moreover, have you thought about what was going through the mind of the person who took the picture? A first look at the image, I was confused, triggered and defensive at the same when I saw innovation. Not until I was able to establish the connection with the last part of the inscription.

You can only understand the inscription if you are a Muslim, understand the context or familiar with the subject matter earlier stated. My argument?
“Bid’ah” → “Innovation” → “Àdádáálẹ̀ nínú ẹ̀sìn” are not equivalent; typical case of lost in translation. Again, context and equivalence should be considered when translating from source to target language. The Yoruba translation captures the original text better with the “Sentencialization“.

Someone argued Yoruba did not appear in the title. Let’s take Sociolinguistics into account, this Centre was probably formed on a round table somewhere in Oyo State like:

“Brother Muzzamil, English name wo la lè fún organization wa yìí na?” 

Just a thought

Clearly, the Centre is not against innovation, the inscription is on a bus; a product of innovation. Besides, Islam has made significant contributions to the civilization of medieval Europe and modern civilization in general. I also ran a Google Search about the Centre, there was no link to their official website, social media pages, no details about the founders, branches in other states and most importantly, the search term only returned a few hits.

Moreover, let me take a swipe at the history of religious books, they were compiled and translated after the original receivers or originators were long gone and later passed down from generation to generation. For instance, I worked on a research that involved data from the Yoruba Bible and I can tell you for a fact that the meanings encoded in English and Yoruba texts are not exactly the same talk more of backtracking to Greek and Classical Hebrew. That might also explain why there are different versions or editions of these books. It is also important highlight that the translations were done when there were limited advancements and resources for translation. 

Dirk Roorda in his work on the linguistic annotation of the Hebrew Bible posed pertinent questions in his research paper from which I will quote verbatim:

When reading the Bible, every now and then a passage is particularly problematic and requires explanation. But what kind of explanation? Has there been a text transmission error? Is there a hidden borrowing from another text? Is there a syntactic construction that belongs to another dialect or language? Is there deliberate use of language to achieve a literary effect? Or is there a truly special meaning lurking behind the text?

Dirk Roorda, 2017

Talking about a problem without proffering a solution? Reinvention, Religious-innovation, Innovation in Islam or Un-Islamic practices would be more appropriate. The world needs more Linguists than ever, this has always been our argument in different classes I have taken in the course of my Masters degree.  

We live at a time when people watch 30 seconds of an interview and  already have an opinion, and triggered by a word without reading a complete sentence. In essence, you have to be deliberate and precise with your choice of words especially when there are controversies surrounding the topic, enters: Islamophobia.

Like that popular Yoruba saying “Yára gbọ́rọ̀, lọ́ra fèsì” (be swift to hear, but slow to respond). Endeavour to ruminating on a topic before responding. There is no crucifixion for “I don’t know” and there is no point explaining or talking what you do not understand. Likewise, intellectual humility and curiosity are inseparable, I will leave you with a quote by Angela Duckworth:

“Nobody is an expert on everything  intellectual humility is a strength, not a weakness, and one we don’t talk about nearly enough”.

Angela Duckworth

If you have a contrary opinion, write a rejoinder, we shall publish it. 

Thanks for attending my Ramadan Lecture.  

Paper cited:
Roorda, D. (2017). Practical Linguistic Annotation: The Hebrew Bible. International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 11(2), 276-288.
NNCI – No Name-Calling Intended.

Ọlájídé Ishola

Ọlájídé Ishola

A tech-savvy Linguist, lazy Writer and conservative Foodie.

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