The National language of any country is among the most important identifying tools of that nation. Like a national flag, it is a symbol of national unity. Take an example of Swahili to the Tanzanians. It identifies them, and unites them. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o argued that mastering a foreign language always propels you to think in that particular language. “We can fully decolonise our mind by stopping using foreign languages” he argued.
Ngungi Wa Thiong abandoned writing in foreign languages and promoted his own Kikuyu language. Such is the passion of other people towards their native language.However, Ezekiel Mphahlele and Chinua Achebe argued that it is difficult to stop using foreign languages because they break linguistic barriers between nations.
Chichewa is the national language of Malawi that was declared by Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. It is one language in addition to English, French and Latin taught in Malawian schools. It is not the objective of this article to look into the merits and demerits of this decision declaring Chichewa as the national language or digging the politics behind it. The main objective is to look at how Chichewa is losing some of its words (vocabulary) because of the reckless over-borrowing of English words perpetuated by our own media houses: both print and electronic.
Translation is a process in which a text is transferred from a source language into a target language. For example, if a text is in English and you want to translate it into Chichewa, English is the source language while Chichewa is the target language. There are several processes that are used when translating a text from one language to another. The two well-known processes include coinage and borrowing.
In coinage, you actually come up with a new word which does not exist in the lexicon of the target language. A person can coin a word to suit a particular thing or event which one intends to translate if he or she cannot find an equivalent in the target language.
A good example of a coined word is “ndale”. The word “ndale” was simply coined by the late John Msonthi when he was translating Dr Banda’s speeches. Msonthi could not find a local word for politics. Coining a word is a skill; the word coined must resemble the word in the source language. So if we were to coin a word for “sugar” the word “tseke tseke” might come closer to the meaning of sugar.
Then, there is borrowing, this is the most controversial process and it is the main reason why we the authors have written this article. Borrowing involves taking a word from another language and transfers it into your own local language. This is where the problem is; too much borrowing might not be good to your own language, it might overwhelm your lexicon and some words might end up disappearing completely.
How many people would remember hearing words such as “Azakhali”,when all you hear is “Aunt”? Prominent linguistic, Professor Pascal Kishindo, has cautioned against over-borrowing arguing that it should be the last resort. You only borrow a word when you cannot translate that word into your local language or it has no any equivalent word. Malawians have borrowed words like “suga”, “tebulo”, “sopo” and “supuni” and popularise them even though attempts have been made to come up with local words like “chikombe” for spoon,and “gome” for table. Borrowing has taken its toll on our language.
The truth is that nowadays borrowing has reached an alarming rate that one wonders how many English words would actually be in our Chichewa lexicon in the next five to ten years. What is even worrisome is that the main culprits in this borrowing are our own media houses both print and electronic. The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to say the least is one of the main culprits in this borrowing. If the aim of the station is to fit in the 21st century, it is doing it at the disadvantage of our Primary and Secondary school learners.
Listening to Za m’maboma all you hear are words like ‘Hedimasitala’ ‘kampeni’ ‘sabuside’, ‘bajeti ya zachuma’,‘rumu’ as if all these words cannot be translated into Chichewa. Translation does not mean changing orthography, such as writing the word “President” as “Pulezidenti”, that is borrowing the word. Translating President means Mtsogoleri wadziko.
There are good reasons why languages are translated; one of the most important is to let people who do not understand the source language to get the message in their native language. It becomes a problem when words like “digital clear” are translated as “dijito kiliye” and you expect people to see any difference. All this is happening not because Malawi has no translators but simply because of laziness, always looking for shortcuts to maximise profits.
The sad thing is that the same language our students hear on our radios is the same they write in “Chimangilizo” (essay).Words such as “ku rumu”, “ku resitihausi” are found in their essays because they are exposed to input that is incomprehensive. Can we blame them? After all; do we not believe everything that radios stations say?
Let us protect our language and stop this over-borrowing. Borrowing must be the last resort in translation.
- Mathews Chione, 2 nd Year Law student, and Lester Brighton Chisale, 3rd Year Language student all at Chancellor College.