Monday, November 19, 2007
The website SurLaLune Fairy Tales has some good annotations describing the reasons behind the variation and significant parts and characters of the story. So, the translator, Edgar Taylor (1823) changes a significant event in the story to suit his taste or perhaps what he thought his audience would enjoy.
In the Wikipedia write-up, the contributor calls the violent act of throwing the frog against the wall, a means to undo shapeshifting.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
One of the goals of a good translation is that it achieves a certain naturalness. The translation doesn't sound like the language it came from but the language into which it was translated. When reading the Christmas story in some new English Bible translations (not The Message) I was surprised to see that several of the sentences started with 'and' or 'but'. This is very common for the source language, Koine Greek - 'kai'. But how common is this for English? Does starting sentences or paragraphs with 'and' or 'but' mirror spoken English? Is the rule prohibiting using 'and' sentence initial specifically for written English? Is it a reflection of the difference between spoken and written language, or possibly a reflection of a regional variety of spoken English?
I thought I'd start listening to people telling their stories and how they begin major sections. Well, just yesterday was a good time to listen as we had a 2 hour meeting and the presentations were interspersed with stories. One presenter told a story, where after the introduction each section started with 'and' and the last section started with 'so'. It was in the last section where the significant action happened, marked by language like 'he was stunned'. The transition in these paragraph starters marked a significant change in the story to me as the listener.
What do you think?
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
While working in Vanuatu people were excited to see their language developed as a written language. Some understand the benefits of literacy as shown on the banner 'Literacy Helps Us' (Literasi i givhan long ol pipol - Bislama). And generally, people enjoy seeing their stories written and illustrated. Mostly, people not living in the town centers don't have all that much to read on a daily basis, which affects their literate abilities. The relationship between orality and literacy within a culture is intriguing. Is the relationship dichotomous or interwoven?
Orality and Literacy is Ong’s most widely known work, having been translated into at least 12 languages. At first glance, the title suggests a variety of topics such as technology, and orality as compared to literacy, perhaps favoring one over the other. Before I go further, I would like to take the reader to the end of the book, where Ong states that being literate definitely has its advantages. Ong is concerned with the interrelationship between orality and literacy.
“Orality is not an ideal, and never was. To approach it positively is not to advocate it as a permanent state for any culture. Literacy opens possibilities to the word and to human existence unimaginable without writing. Oral cultures today value their oral traditions and agonize over the loss of these traditions, but I have never encountered or heard of an oral culture that does not want to achieve literacy as soon as possible. (Some individuals of course do resist literacy, but they are mostly soon lost sight of.) Yet orality is not despicable. It can produce creations beyond the reach of literates, for example, the Odyssey. Nor is orality ever completely eradicable; reading a text oralizes it. Both orality and the growth of literacy out of orality are necessary for the evolution of consciousness.” (Ong 2001 171)
The subtitle to this book is ‘technologizing the word’. In order to understand what Ong meant, he urges the reader to consider that writing in itself is a technology, using tools such as styles, quills, pencils, pens and computers. Ong notes that
Even though writing is ‘completely artificial’ according to Ong – in fact Ong states, “There is no way to write ‘naturally’”, Ong praises writing as such. “Like other artificial creations and indeed more than any other, it is utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials.” (2002:81)
This statement on technology being internalized makes me think of playing a musical instrument. There are some songs and etudes that I play from kinesthetic memory, and when I think about them too much, stumble. Yet Ong states that:
“The use of a technology can enrich the human psyche, enlarge the human spirit, intensify its interior life. Writing is an even more deeply interiorized technology than instrumental musical performance is. But to understand what it is, which means to understand it in relation to its past, to orality, the fact that it is a technology must be honestly faced.” (2002:82)
Orality and Literacy is a seminal work on this topic taking the reader deep into the inter-relatedness and polarities between the two concepts. Ong explores the history of literacy and the change from orality to literate cultures and how literacy brings a way of thinking not conceivable by primary oral cultures. He is very careful to distinguish between intelligence and cognitive processes or ways of thinking, by no means insinuating that oral cultures are primitive and unintelligent, rather exploring how the two cognitive processes differ and interact.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
While living on Epi Island in Vanuatu, we learned some of their stories, such as how Lamen Island arrived in its present location, having floated over from Malakula Island. They say you can see the hole in the reef where it once stood. Knowing the story, especially in the Lamen language, helps Lamen Islanders identify with their group. It's a shared story of their past.
Even in Vanuatu identity is layered. One can be called 'Man Vanuatu' as being a citizen of Vanuatu, or 'Man Epi' as being from the particular island called Epi. Epi has at least 5 languages though, spoken by around 5,000 people. So, 'Man Epi' is not enough to identify oneself in that situation. Someone might speak the Lewo language and then is probably not 'Man Lewo' as you'd expect, but identified by the village they live in. People there know what language is spoken in what village. After that, people are identified by their clans and families.
We had a good discussion on language and identity, and shared stories that mark that group. What stories identify you and your group? It can be a difficult question to answer, but one worth asking.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Then I was thinking after listening to some children retell a Bible story they had just heard in church, about storytelling or retelling a story as an assessment tool for comprehension. In one way, this would help the teller see what impressions the story made on the audience, and in another possibly show what the listener understood or didn't understand.
In the field of sociolingusitics, questioning people about stories they've heard is a useful way to assess how well they might understand another language variety. This method can take a variety of forms, answers to direct questions on short stories or a retelling of the story.
So, I did what I usually do, and search Google to see what others have written on the subject of storytelling and assessment and found this e-article on the subject of using storytelling as an means of assessment by George Rooney called 'Storytelling and Contextually Based Design Techniques for Needs Assessment'
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
"Customary law, trimmed of material no longer of use, was automatically always up to date and thus youthful – a fact which paradoxically, makes customary law seem inevitable and thus very old (cf. Clanchy 1979, p. 233). Persons whose world view has been formed by high literacy need to remind themselves that in functionally oral cultures the past is not felt as an itemized terrain, peppered with verifiable and disputed ‘facts’ or bits of information. It is the domain of the ancestors, a resonant source for renewing awareness of present existence, which itself is not an itemized terrain either. Orality knows no lists or charts or figures.”
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
"In all cases, verbatim or not, oral memorization is subject to variation from direct social pressures. Narrators narrate what audiences call for or will tolerate. When the market for a printed book declines, the presses stop rolling but thousands of copies may remain. When the market for an oral genealogy disappears, so does the genealogy itself, utterly."
Friday, May 11, 2007
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
I'm finally reading through Walter Ong's book 'Orality and Literacy' and wish I had done so years ago. It would have helped me to appreciate some issues that we recognized while living in Vanuatu, but wished I had understood . We lived in Vanuatu since 1991, spending several years on rural Epi Island and several more in the 'urban' center and capital, Port Vila. During that time we ran many training events dealing with language development, literacy and translation and learned that our 'normal' mode of training wasn't working with people from Vanuatu. While people from Vanuatu are not what Ong would call 'primary oral' cultures, probably the majority operate in an oral mode. Because we were intent on making our training fit the trainees, we recommended that trainees learn in groups and be the sole speaker of their language in the course. We also learned that not all needed to write what the group had learned, but one could serve as the scribe. In this way, the small group could process orally what they were learning.
Had I read 'Orality and Literacy' I think I might've appreciated repetitive stories more than I did. When meeting Vanuatu friends, we'd hear what was happening since our last meeting, then we'd hear the same story a couple more times before we departed. I don't know how normal this is for mostly oral cultures but I would imagine it would be fairly normal. It's a device for helping people remember the story and provides continuity. Ong states on page 40
"Since redundancy characterizes oral thought and speech, it is in a profound sense more natural to thought and speech than is sparse linearity. Sparse linear or analytic thought and speech are artificial creations, structured by the technology of writing.... With writing, the mind is forced into a slowed-down pattern that affords it the opportunity to interfere with and recognize its more normal, redundant processes."
Even when I read the word 'redundancy' I get a negative connotation as my educational experience taught me to be concise, being educated from a mostly literate culture. Had my childhood been in a mostly oral society, redundant probably would've been good and normal.
More on Ong later, thanks for dropping by.