The role of Bible translation in enhancing Xitsonga cultural identity
Maluleke, Mbhanyele Jameson
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The Vatsonga are an ethnic group composed of a large number of clans found in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Xitsonga (the language of the Vatsonga) is spoken in all four of these countries. In South Africa alone, Xitsonga is a language spoken by over two million first language speakers and is one of the official languages of the country. This study investigates the ways in which Bible translation has enhanced Xitsonga cultural identity. The focus is on the 1929 and the 1989 editions of the Xitsonga Bible. The research question is: In what way(s) did the Xitsonga Bible translations recreate, rearrange and reshape Vatsonga cultural identity? The theoretical and methodological frameworks for the research are Nord’s functionalist approach to translation studies, Descriptive Translation Studies and Baker’s Narrative Frame Theory. The theoretical background of the concept of identity and the relationship of language and translation to identity will lead to a detailed examination of the socio-cultural framework of the Xitsonga Bible translations. The social, cultural and linguistic features of Vatsonga cultural identity are described, especially their cultural identity prior to the arrival of the missionaries. The historical framework of the Xitsonga Bible translations are described from the earliest encounters with the Portuguese to the pivotal arrival of the Swiss missionaries in the latter part of the 19th century and their early efforts to translate the Bible into Xitsonga. Extensive archival materials are also examined for the insights that they can provide on the historical, ideological and theological background of the Xitsonga Bible translations. Both the 1929 and the 1989 Xitsonga Bible translations receive a thorough examination and analysis using the analytical methods of Descriptive Translation Studies and Frame Theory. Frames examined include the organisational frame which includes the translation process, the translation teams, the prestige of the translation and social pressures accompanying the translation. The linguistic and translation frames, which include translation strategies, the use of loan words, the derivations of new words, and explicitation, will also be examined. The major findings elucidate the ways in which the two Xitsonga Bible translations enhanced cultural identity. The first Xitsonga Bible translation (1929) played a role in empowering and legitimising colonialism and paved the way for submissive colonial faith within the Vatsonga society. The translation made extensive use of loan words from neighbouring African languages, especially Sesotho, as well as from the colonial languages spoken in South Africa (English and Afrikaans), but not from French (the language of the Swiss missionaries). In this way, the translation enhanced the vocabulary inventory of Xitsonga by expanding the range of items which can be described in the language. Some indigenous words referring to traditional religious practices and practitioners were avoided, thus promoting the colonial Christianity of the missionaries. Most importantly, the 1929 version united the diverse sub-units of the Vatsonga people around a single translation of the Bible. Thus, the 1929 translation assisted in the creation of identity through the unification of its readers around a single translation. In contrast to the 1929 Xitsonga Bible translation, the 1989 Xitsonga Bible translation strengthened the cultural identity of Xitsonga by utilising not only indigenous cultural terms of Xitsonga, but also by utilising and coining natural Xitsonga equivalents, and by utilising Xitsonga first-language speakers as translators. The 1989 version also differs from the 1929 version in its Dynamic Equivalence approach through the direct influence of Eugene Nida. The standardisation and simplification of the orthographic system for writing Xitsonga and the harmonisation of dialectal variants served to strengthen and unify Xitsonga as a language, thus further strengthening cultural identity.
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