Today Tembua is talking about translation and culture with Paul Grant, a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin. Mr. Grant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
PJM: Mr. Grant, can you give us a short summary of your dissertation topic?
PG: I am looking at relationships between Germans and Ghanaians before and after World War One. German missionaries went to Ghana (Africa's Gold Coast, as it was then known) to convert the natives, but ended up being deeply shaped by West African visions of friendship, loyalty, and community.
The British deported all the Germans from Ghana during WWI, but once at home, these deportees behaved very differently than their compatriots, and some of them paid dearly for their failure to show sufficient loyalty to Germany. They were too few in number to make any immediate difference in the Nazi years, but after 1945, when Germans needed new leaders, a disproportionate number of them were former missionaries--people who knew that there was more to life than nationalism.
PJM: How has your research intersected with language issues?
PG: Cross-cultural conversation hinges on translation. Translation can change meanings, especially when deep human problems like grief, love, anger and community are involved.
When German missionaries started translating the Bible into the language of Twi, they began to discover all the ways that German religion was not culturally neutral. It was rather the outcome of centuries of "translation" of what was originally a Hebrew-Greek religion into a central European world, with very different concerns.
PJM: Can you expand a bit on the concept that translation can change meaning? At Tembua our job is to move meaning accurately between languages. That is the core of translator training.
PG: Translation is, of course, a term covering a broad field of language activities.
In the context of pre-colonial Ghana, for example, translators usually had well-defined and immediate problems to deal with-things like property disputes and the like. These problems are challenging enough, especially when the language itself was only being reduced to script for the first time.
But things get more complicated when matters of the heart like love, parenthood, faith, healing, and death are involved. When we are talking about healing, for example, translation can involve radically different visions of health and wellness.
To finish reading the interview: Paul Grant