Friday, February 19, 2016

Finding Nemo in Navajo

I am in the very early stages of an article that was inspired by the Navajo dubbing Star Wars: A New Hope into their language several years ago. The use of native languages to talk about "pop-culture" in a general or sometimes considered to be colonial sense is not something new or recent for me. On this blog close to a decade ago I was already talking about everything from science fiction to manga to Bollywood movies in the Chamorro language. I have long felt that if you care about something, but it is alien to your native language, there should be ways to bridge that gap, especially if you are in a precarious situation in terms of language sustainability. The collective I started with Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, Guagua Tiningo' is built on this idea. We believe in it so strongly we made a film to show our ideas titled Påkto: I Hinekka last year which premiered at the Guam International Film Festival and was based on the premise that you can play a full game of Magic: The Gathering in the Chamorro language. We have many more potential projects in mind, lao taigue giya Guyahan si Ken na'ya si' umeskuekuela gui' giya Hawa'i para iyo-na Ph.D.

In my Chamorro Language classes at the University of Guam, I take this on in different ways. Sometimes it comes down to finding Chamorro ways to translate certain currently common hashtags. For example, if you were to translate #hateusbecausetheyaintus, I would offer #lalaosatiguahu. Other times it will be focused or superheroes, using characters from The Avengers or The Justice League for building stories or dialogues around. In my CM102 class or Beginning Chamorro 2, I have my students do their own unauthorized mini-versions of Star Wars in Chamorro. They have to take five minutes of a popular film (usually in English), translate the script into Chamorro and then dub Chamorro voices into it. This leads to sometimes mundane and sometimes excited results. Some films translate really well others do not. Sometimes students put close to no effort into their translation or dubbing and it shows. Sometimes they take it very seriously by including other family members to act as different voices and it shows you the possibilities involved with taking Chamorro into contemporary new realms.

The article I'm working on it meant to discuss this project and its potential impact on students and whether it is effective in breaking down some of the barrier that keep the Chamorro language unlearned and unspoken in Guam life today.

Here are some articles on Navajo Star Wars and the upcoming Finding Nemo gi Fino' Navajo lokkue'.

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Translated into Navajo, 'Star Wars' Will Be
by Christine Trudeau
June 21, 2013
NPR

When Dave Nezzie met his future wife, Amanda, they quickly fell in love over a galaxy far, far away.
"I think that was one of the first things that bonded Dave and I together, was our love for Star Wars," says Amanda Nezzie. "Our children have also caught the Star Wars bug."

The family lives in Albuquerque, N.M., and one of the biggest struggles they've had living off the reservation is teaching Dave's native Navajo language to their kids.

"Rosetta Stone has something, there's an app on the iPad, and having alternatives is what we need," says Dave. "Having more resources available will help us teach the language to more people."
Enter Star Wars.

On July 3, the 1977 movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope will premiere dubbed in Navajo. It's the first time a major motion picture has been translated into a Native American language.

Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum, got the ball rolling. He approached the Navajo Nation and Lucasfilm, and the project took off from there.

"This was an idea that I felt was a way to promote our culture, promote our language, a way to save our language," says Wheeler. "There are definitely Star Wars nerds out there who can repeat that movie verbatim, and they speak no Navajo. And so when they're watching this and it's in Navajo, it's them learning Navajo."

But translating the film into Navajo was no easy feat. When dubbing a film into another language, syncing the translation with the character's lip movements is crucial to the pace of the film. Wheeler's wife, Jennifer, a professor of English at the University of New Mexico, Gallup, was a translator for the project. Some words, like "droid," she says, are difficult to translate because of how complex the words are.

"R2-D2 would be the short metal thing that's alive," she says.
So, the translation for droid? That won't be revealed until the premiere.

But in some ways, the syncing process might be somewhat easier for Star Wars because characters, like the infamous villain Darth Vader, deliver their lines behind a mask. Beyond the fun of translating phrases like "Death Star," Jennifer Wheeler says the whole project demonstrates that the Navajo language is still alive.

"This will be one historic event that will celebrate and recognize the fact that we're just part of society here, in this Western society, in this country," she says. "But who we are as Navajo people living in this century, we really need to celebrate."

Dave and Amanda Nezzie, and their kids are looking forward to sitting down to watch Star Wars in Navajo. They're traveling to Window Rock, Ariz., for the premiere, which is taking place as part of the Navajo Nation Fair. At this time, Lucasfilm has no plans for a wider theatrical release or DVD version of Star Wars in Navajo.

"I wanna hear what 'Millennium Falcon' is in Navajo. I'm very curious," says Amanda Nezzie. "And our daughter, she'll be able to speak Navajo, she'll understand who she is. And what more of a beautiful way to do that than put that in Star Wars?"

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Navajo Star Wars a crowd pleaser
By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times
July 4, 2013

The original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope premiered nationwide in1977, but the characters based in a galaxy far, far away were brought a little closer to home during the Navajo dubbed film premiere on June 30 at the El Morro Theater. "It has a lot of humor in it," said 2012-2013 Miss Navajo Nation Leandra Thomas adding that she caught herself smiling throughout the whole movie. "I've never seen any of the Star Wars movies and it made a lot of sense seeing it once (and) in the Navajo language.

The first character the audience is introduced to in the film is C-3PO and R2-D2 as they walk through their spacecraft while it's being attacked. As the first line in Navajo is spoken by C-3PO the audience erupts in cheers.

"I was very very impressed how all the recordings came together," said Geri Hongeva-Camarillo, who played C-3PO.

As the movie moved forward the crowd reaction remained high as the audience laughed and cheered as each character was introduced with a Navajo voice.

"The tone in Navajo definitely makes a big difference compared to when you listen to something in English," said Donovan Hanley from White Cone, Ariz., who attended the premiere with his mother Ann Maree Hanley. "It was very cool and good representation."

"It was nice to share this with her," said Hanley of his mother. "It's a new way of connecting the older generation with the new."

The movie is 125 minutes long and it is entirely spoken in the Navajo language. The parts that included an alien character with an alien language were subtitled in Navajo. No English subtitles were shown at the bottom of the screen during the movie.

"I think this will encourage our young ones to start picking up Navajo and learn Navajo," said the elder Hanley.

She added that the movie is a great way for the elders to understand why the younger generations watch these types of movies.

Eroina Pahe, 13 from Window Rock, said, "Most people who know Navajo and don't really know how to speak English can actually understand the movie."

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