Friday, May 01, 2009

Translating Oasis

I've always thought it very interesting, that of all the things I write about on this blog, the posts which elicit the most comments or negative feedback are one's dealing with the Chamorro language. Its so strange, because I say some pretty negative things about the United States, militarization and have some pretty radical political and social positions compared to most Chamorros, but I don't get much feedback in that direction. Most of it is all related to me mis-using the language, abusing it, not speaking it or spelling it authentically, sabotaging it or perpetuating poor grammar or English-affect Chamorro.

Its possible, that I could simply be the worst speaker of Chamorro in the world, and all of these people are angels who are doing the Lord's work in protecting the Chamorro people from my evil damaging influence. Sina, lao hu dududa este.

One of the reasons that I think this may be the case, is that unlike issues of history, culture, politics and current events which people may not feel comfortable discussing, arguing or attacking someone on, the language seems an easy target, it seems like anyone who can speak the language or who has some knowledge about it can act and pretend to be a genius. For people who can speak Chamorro fluently today, this ability to fa'fayi is increased even further by always shrinking group of fluent Chamorro speakers in the Marianas islands and throughout the diaspora. The language is dying, it doesn't have to die, but a multitude of forces are converging and Chamorros are letting it die. Those Chamorros who are fortunate enough to be able to speak the language, hold a shred of authenticity that the majority of Chamorros do not, and sadly it goes to the head of alot of people, and then become what others call language nazis, wardens of language, but what I call language losers.

One thing which I often hear fluent speakers complain about and hear them cite as one of the biggest problems and reasons why the language is dying, is that those who are learning it and trying to speak it today (pi'ot i esta mangaiidat) aren't speaking it in its true form, but simply translating from English into Chamorro when they speak. Their thoughts aren't truly authentic, but merely translated, they don't really think in Chamorro, but constantly have to find ways of forcing the Chamorro that they know into the grammar or style of an English sentence or English slang. This is doing serious harm to the language because the real grammar is being lost and being replaced with Chamorro that is just translated from English. This is most apparent in the ways in which Chamorros translate phrases or slang into Chamorro, and how the literal translation doesn't quite work, or doesn't really make sense unless the person speaks both English and Chamorro. This is the key point in this argument is that this way of speaking Chamorro isn't "sovereign" or authentic since it requires English in order to make sense, as for people who only speak Chamorro these translations are basula, taibali pat ti komprendeyon.

First of all, I understand this argument and don't necessarily disagree with it. The influence of English in Chamorro life has already dramatically affected the way Chamorros speak. Even amongst fluent speakers, the language is already starting to decay. Prefixes, suffixes and infixes which are meant to be fluid and open in their use are not being used to form any new words, but simply being preserved in accepted, known forms. New uses are commonly rejected or told to be incorrect. For instance, the use of the word chagi instead of keke- or ke- is a clear sign of English influence. Both can communicate "to try" but keke- and ke- are an older form, which gets attached to the verb which is "being tried." Whereas chagi means "to try" meaning to "test or taste something." But chagi operates the way the word "try" does in English, as a separate word, which is not fused to the verb in question. So we can see everyday around us a clear example of how English grammar is taking over and affecting the words we chose and how we understand our language.

But most who complain about this change and focus those learning the language today or trying to speak as the culprits in runing the language, aren't really thinking very clearly about first how languages work and second how languages are acquired or how they come back to being vibrant after decaying for so long. To complain about this as being the way that people who are speaking Chamorro speak, and blame them for ruining or losing the language is ridiculous. To complain about this doesn't recognize that the language in this stage need not be the end result that their speaking takes. To complain about this doesn't recognize that, in particular for those who are trying to learn the language as adults, this process of translating from English to Chamorro when you speak is a necessary stage, there is no way to learn the language without going through it. Its part of becoming comfortable in the language, part of making it your own, learning how to use it and manipulate it, be creative with it. If you are fluent in English and trying to becoming fluent in Chamorro, that regular translation is the only way to get there.

The mistake that those language losers make however is complaining that this stage is the end result or simply the way that those people who aren't speaking Chamorro properly speak and that its usually an issue of them not learning the language naturally, or from childhood.

This is of course a stupid position, languages are social communities, the ways in which one person speaks and learns to speak, or the ways in which someone does not learn to speak have, for the most part, nothing to do with that person's choices. For instance in my case, I did not choose to not speak Chamorro as a child, it was kept from me. As an adult I did not learn Chamorro naturally just by picking it up from people, since that would be impossible, since Chamorro isn't pervasive enough for anyone to do that anymore. What I did, and others like myself are trying to do is push against the prevailing language attitudes of today, which are all tilted towards celebrating the language as an abstract concept (something that is ours and ours to preserve), and not actually enable its use as a mode of our expression or communication. We made choices to try and force the language community to accept us, even if our Chamorro was ti kabales or appleng.

The way in which someone like myself speaks however isn't up to me, its a result of my interactions with that language community. I reflect the ways in which people speak Chamorro around me, just in the way in which Chamorro children today reflect the value the language has in our lives, very little, except as a little bit of flavor, for cuss words, slang or t-shirt brands. So while it is true that many who start off trying to speak Chamorro speak in ways which are heavily influenced by English, it doesn't have to stay that way. For those who see these changes and don't like them, they should not be wasting their time sending me emails or complaining gi fino' Ingles! If they feel that the languag is being misrepresented or being misused, one strategy is to complain about it and tease people or look down on people, but a far better strategy is to lead by example. To provide a different grammatical form, put them out there so those learning can change and adapt accordingly. You have the responsibility to perpetuate the language. Complaining about how young people aren't learning the language or are too lazy or are ruining the language is attractive sure, because it means you don't have to do anything, you can just relax and enjoy your authenticity. But those who are truly interested in making our language healthy and vibrant again, it is all about putting your words into actions.

For those of you who are trying to learn Chamorro, one thing to help you through the translation stage, and help get your mind more comfortable shaping ideas or crafting sentences in Chamorro is music and translating the lyrics to English songs. There are two ways that you can do this. The first is to take lyrics, your dictionary and translate the song as sort of an academic or classrooms exercise. Listen to the song, try and find the right words to match the lyrics and the tune.

The other way in which you can do it, which as you get better will become easier, is to translate lyrics on the fly, as you are listening and singing along to a song. Take a favorite song whose lyrics you know really really well and anticipate, translate and sing along. This will help increase your fluency, make you more comfortable with Chamorro, and can also be alot of fun. Its also a way of making more personal the language, connecting it to songs or singers who you really enjoy or like.

I've been doing this for years, sometimes trying to translate the lyrics other times making up my own stories and lyrics, sometimes just to say things silly. One of my favorite band's to sing along or translate along to is Oasis.

Here's the way I usually sing the chorus to the song Live Forever.

Ilek-hu Nene,
Ti ya-hu tumungo’
Put i hatdin-mu
Sa’ ya-hu gumupu ha’

Ilek-hu Nene
Kao guaha un siesiente?
Este klasin piniti?
I pumapacha’ i te’lang-mu?

Here's the translation:

I said baby
I don't want to know
About your garden
Because I just want/like to fly

I said baby
Are there times that you feel?
This type of pain?
That kind that touches your bones?

Its not very advanced Chamorro or deep, but especially when your first starting off, its not about saying the most complex things, but just becoming comfortable, and being able to get the words out of your brain and then out of your mouth into the ears of the world around you.

For Live Forever, because the words are so simple I usually translate exactly what is being sung by the band. But for other songs, which are longer or more complex I often trail off into my own stories or adventures. For instance with the song Some Might Say, because the song is so damn long and has this weird style to it, I often can really get into telling ridiculous stories. So for instance, one of my favorite things to do is talk about Dynasty Warriors or historical figures from the Three Kingdoms Era of Chinese History.

Sa’ gof matatnga Si Guan Yu, ya ha na’suha Si Cao Cao tåtte para Wu
Lao umåburidu Si Ca Cao sa’ mismo yu’ taotao Wei!
Ya chumålek Si Liu Bei, ya umachiku gui’ yan Zhang Fei!

Because Guan Yu is so valiant, he chased Cao Cao all the way back to Wu
But Caocao became confused because he's actually from Wei
And Liu Bei laughed/smiled, and he and Zhang Fei kissed each other!

If you've played Dynasty Warriors before or know about that period of history then you'll know who those people are, and why its silly or funny. If not, then it sounds like some weird children's song.

Lastly, one of my all-time favorite Oasis songs, to sing, to listen to and to karaoke and play Rock Star Band to is Don't Look Back in Anger. Here is how I usually sing along to the chorus. Its close to the English lyrics, but still with some differences mixed in.

Nangga ha’ guenao guatu
Sa’ ti apmåm i suette-ta siempre u fåtto
Masakke’ i ante-hu
Lao mungga ma atan båba yu’ nai ta’lo!

Wait there where you are
Surely soon our luck will come
My soul is stolen away
But don't give me those angry looks again!


charissa said...

Amen Miget! Thanks for posting this- very insightful and thought-provoking.

charissa said...

By the way, hows the feedback on the Mangga translations? Someone told me that the most hits you get are for your manga comic translations. I dont know how accurate that it, but I believe a lot of the great ideas you put forth bare some weight as well (an understatement). Keep them coming.



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