The Linguist

The Linguist 52,5

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

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FEATURES A Christian interpretation From the zero option of no interpreting to the energetic performances of young 'natural' interpreters, Jill Karlik examines church services in West Africa About 24 centuries ago in ancient Israel, a big contingent of Israelites returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, where their community had mostly ceased to understand Hebrew. Ezra the Priest arranged for the Hebrew scriptures to be read aloud to them with the help of interpreters who 'made the meaning plain'. The event is recorded in the book of Nehemiah. This is the main means by which the scriptures have been delivered historically in the largely unwritten languages of Africa; and it is how they are delivered today in a group of churches in The Gambia, serving an immigrant Manjaku community originating from Guinea-Bissau. Manjaku is a West Atlantic/Bak/Nord language in which there are only a few small portions of printed scripture, and little other written usage, except some amusing slogans on the bush-taxis (with highly idiosyncratic orthography, since there is no agreed way of writing the language). My PhD study was based in a town church and associated village churches where services may be monolingual in Manjaku, or bilingual with English if the preacher is not a Manjaku speaker. In either case, the scriptures are rendered from an English version. Some of the younger generation, educated in English, gain recognition as competent interpreters within the frame of church events. I found that they meet enduser expectations by a highly communicative and lively manner, combined with the aim of 18 The Linguist faithfulness to the source text, using the community's established terminology of vernacular theology. Youthful interpreters Bandia remarks that, 'given the multiplicity of ethnic communities in sub-Saharan Africa', the practice of interpreting 'always has been, and still is, the order of the day'.1 In this multilingual milieu, all the interpreters in my study had grown up interpreting since childhood, serving the function of 'community' interpreters. I observed children as young as three acting as interpreters for visiting cousins. Reflecting on the way in which the church interpreters exploit the prosodic and textural possibilities of their language, it occurred to me that their skills deserved wider recognition. They were not just 'any available bilingual', but people who reflected consciously on language use and had gained recognition as having a particular competence in interpreting. Wilss comments that one of the common problems in translation and interpreting courses in higher training institutions is that the students are past the optimal age for acquiring new cognitive skills.2 The same is noted in relation to Bible translation training courses. It raises a question as to whether there might be some way of helping young 'natural' interpreters benefit from appropriate training from an early age, at a time when they are most receptive to developing their cognitive skills and gaining wider terminology readiness. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER Teachers are often unaware of the interlingual communication skills of young interpreters sitting in their schoolrooms and, worse, they may disparage the minority languages in which those skills have been honed. This is where religious settings serve a useful function in identifying and encouraging gifted young interpreters. An interesting experiment in promoting mother-tongue literacy in four different faith settings in the London area, Becoming Literate in Faith Settings (BeLIFS), suggests that the same might be applied to the development of interpreting skills. The zero option I noted a decline in interpreting practices in a group of churches in Guinea-Bissau from which the Gambian immigrant group (and probably their interpreting practices) had originated. Whereas the town church in the Gambian group had introduced bilingual services in 1998 to meet the needs of Manjakus attending in increasing numbers, the town church in the Guinea-Bissau group had ceased having the services interpreted in 2000. Even in bilingual village services where the sermon was rendered into Manjaku, the scriptures were not. There were doubtless other contributing factors in the differing postcolonial situations of the two groups, but two particular events occurred in Guinea-Bissau that were conducive to the decline in interpreting: the civil war of 1998-2000, when the country divided on

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