Languages are a beautiful thing. I have always been intrigued by languages and the cultures they unfold. I was so passionate about languages that at age 18 I set a goal to be fluent in 5 languages by age 25. Well… things did not go according to plan. I just turned 33 and I am only fluent in 2 languages (English and French). I can barely understand 3rd grade Spanish with a few scattered medical terms. I have a vocabulary of 50 Italian words and I definitely am not fluent in Arabic which was also one of the languages I had planned to learn. I was feeling pretty sad about not meeting my language goals until I remembered that I spoke Pidgin and Franc-Anglais really fluently bringing my grand total to a whopping 4!
However, I remembered my upbringing and I could hear my teachers from the British system of education say, “Pidgin is not a language, it is a dialect”. At that point I started researching the differences between a language and a dialect.
Oxford dictionary defines a LANGUAGE as:
The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. A system of communication used by a particular country or community.
Whereas a DIALECT is defined as:
A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.
It seems in the colonial era, the ‘powers that be’ decided that the countries being annexed were not “civilized” enough to have a language system and therefore these languages were dubbed “dialects” and this erroneous label has been wrongly promulgated though the years.
What most people don’t know is Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Romanian were once considered dialects of Latin.
Meet Durante degli Alighieri also known as Dante
He was a major Italian poet who was very controversial because he decided to publish his works in Italian which was a language mostly spoken by commoners. During Dante’s era, most literary works were written in Latin which was accessible to only educated audiences. Dante defended the use of modern day vernacular in literature thereby setting a precedent that other writers soon followed. As such, Dante has been credited in playing a critical role in establishing the national language of Italy.
Now let’s focus on one of my favorite languages, Pidgin which comes second only to Franc-Anglais. PIDGIN is the lingua franca for English speaking West African countries. Check out this recent article by BBC who started an initiate to create a service in Pidgin. They are just now recognizing what we have always known, pidgin is an awesome LANGUAGE!!! It is estimated that over 200 million speak Western African Pidgin English between (Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Liberia.
Learning about this Dante and his controversial prompted me to start a project that I had been putting off months. I have always wanted to translate classic text in literature and science into Pidgin. Imagine listening to the “To be or not to be” speech in Pidgin. I can only imagine it sounding like an Osuofia scene by Nkem Owoh (for those of you not familiar with the name, this is a Nollywood actor). If I could describe Pidgin in one word, I would call it “juicy”. It rolls off the tongue with such ease that once you learn it, you cannot unlearn it.
My goal is to create a body of work that can be of value to some groups that may be marginalized because they may not understand English or French well enough to understand the text to its full extent. I am very excited to start this project and here is list of potential works to be translated into pidgin.
- The old man and the medal — Ferdinand Oyono
- Dedication — Wole Soyinka
- Okwonko’s speech (Things fall apart) — Chinua Achebe
- To be or not to be (Hamlet) — Shakespeare
- Newton’s Laws of Motion — Sir Isaac Newton
- Marc Antony’s soliloquy (Julius Caesar) — Shakespeare
- The Raven — Edgar Allen Poe etc, etc, etc….
I am open to suggestions for new works. I am excited to get started. Of course I am open to submissions of original works in pidgin as a guest author.
I leave you with a quote by Robert Frost: “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”
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