The Linguist

The Linguist 52,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 5 of 35

In his own words? An Afrikaans version of Mandela's autobiography was bound to be political, but even translator Antjie Krog didn't realise she would need a new word for 'African' n important barometer of the power of a language is the number of texts translated into it, so imagine my surprise when I received the request to translate Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, from English into Afrikaans, my mother-tongue, spoken by only 13.5 percent of the South African population. I was informed that Mandela wanted it to be translated into Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and Northern Sotho. Why? I wondered. The translation of the Bible into our indigenous languages was frowned upon as a form of colonisation: a way for Western values to gain entry into the traditional heart of indigenous communities. But as we came to know the man, this request was vintage Mandela. My questions were immediate, starting with the title. 'Long Walk' would preferably be Lang Pad, but a well-known, jolly traditional song existed about a black old man (disrespectfully called outa, which is slightly softer than kaffer) walking a long road playing his tin guitar. Its title was Outa in die Langpad! So how to translate 'Long Walk' A 6 The Linguist JUNE/JULY without summoning up a happy-go-lucky outa with his blikkitaar? For a long time, I left out 'long' and used Pad na Vryheid ('Road/Walk to Freedom') as the working title, but just before sending the manuscript to the publishers, I changed it to Lang Pad na Vryheid. If it is true, I thought, that translation is first and foremost a political act to change an existing state of affairs, then the time has come to take on the outa echo and to confront it with a worthy opponent. The second major challenge appeared right in the first paragraph, where Mandela describes his lineage: he hails from the Thembu clan. The Afrikaans for 'clan' is stam, but it carries a particular primitive aura: white people have a family tree, black people have a traditional stam. Initially, I decided to use the English word 'clan', which already had some currency in Afrikaans (everyday Afrikaans absorbs many English words). However, that would signal a conscious choice to translate the whole text into mixed Afrikaans. It is important to realise that Afrikaans was, and still is, a highly politicised language: a choice of either the formal algemeen beskaafde Afrikaans or the alternative, mixed Afrikaans, would indicate not only style and tone, but a political position: who you were, where you came from and with whom you sided. Deliberately choosing a mixed Afrikaans was a large part of resisting apartheid during the 1980s, resisting everything that came towards one in That Afrikaans. So my first inclination was to translate the text into the mixed 'people's Afrikaans', also known as 'struggle Afrikaans'. The tone, in English, of Long Walk to Freedom is a mixture of the intimate and the formal – at once the friendly dignity of a boy's longing for his mother; the sharp critical tone of the intellectual argument and the formal lawyer; the sloganeering of the activist; the survival of an inmate; and the oratory of the statesman. I phoned the Xhosa translator, Professor Peter Mtuse. 'What kind of tone have you chosen? Do you mix with English?' He laughed. 'O boy! The isiXhosa of the street or formal isiXhosa? I was tempted to use words

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 52,3