This pidgin bible translation
September 15, 2002 1:39 PM   Subscribe

This pidgin bible translation gives me the creeps. What happened to promoting literacy by example? Sure, it's important to use language that your readers are comfortable with, but come on already. Is it any wonder that education in Hawaii stinks?
posted by flestrin (37 comments total)
Shades of The Black Bible Chronicles.
Excerpt: Jesus Raps with the Brothers on the Hill
posted by Su at 1:53 PM on September 15, 2002

The British could say the same thing about the way Americans bastardize English in American English Bibles. How can you judge the literacy level of a book in a dialect that you don't speak?
posted by rcade at 1:56 PM on September 15, 2002

axe me if i care.
posted by quonsar at 1:59 PM on September 15, 2002

Dude, I couldn't disagree with you more.

The second link you gave us seems to indicate that the problems with Hawaii's education system are related gross mismanagement on the part of the state. Further research suggests that micro-management and a culture that doesn't appreciate change might be the root cause of the problems.

Pidgin, or Hawaii Creole English, seems to be discouraged in the public education system in Hawaii. Professors at the University of Hawaii suggest that if Pidgin helps in the learning process, that it should be used. Frankly, if a Pidgin speaking Christian is reading the Bible at home, at least he is reading. Maybe she or he will read another book someday.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:04 PM on September 15, 2002

Seriously, how can one translation be any more valid than another simply by virtue of what language it uses? This thread smacks of bigotry even without the racist jokes.
posted by sudama at 2:11 PM on September 15, 2002

a Pidgin speaking Christian

Is there such a thing, really? I get the sense that this is just one big marketing ploy to sell humorous books. If that's the case, then the pidgin bible is stupid.
posted by drinkcoffee at 2:15 PM on September 15, 2002

While I am ranting, if the Pidgin Bible is the reason that Hawaii has a poor education system, how does one explain the state of Mississippi?

And, drinkcoffee, as near as I can tell, the point of the Pidgin Bible is to get The Word out to the Pidgin speakers in Hawaii. It doesn't seem like it has been adopted by many churches, though it might be popular with missionaries seeking to convert Pidgin speakers.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:24 PM on September 15, 2002

This bible translation gives me the creeps. What happened to promoting literacy by example? Sure, it's important to use language that your readers are comfortable with, but come on already. Is it any wonder that education in English speaking countries stinks?
posted by advil at 2:26 PM on September 15, 2002

If one can read the pidgin bible - is it that far of a stretch to simply understand the standard words? Ah fadda...can Our Father be so hard to grasp? I thought this book was a joke.

I thought that pidgin - was merely a spoken language - English or French or whatever is pidginized - but always a spoken - not written language.

This book comes across as cartoon ebonics at first and it really takes some even.....

Hell all I said was " WHEW! "
posted by RubberHen at 2:27 PM on September 15, 2002

Well, I understand that part of the Bible has been translated into Klingon...oooookaaay.....I don't hear any squawking about that.
posted by konolia at 2:37 PM on September 15, 2002

Also, despite its misleading name, Hawaiian pidgin is not a true pidgin but in fact a creole that originated from a pidgin. This means it is no less a full fledged language than English, Biblical Hebrew, Greek, etc. It sometimes has the perception of not being "as real" because of its appearance of being phonetically and to some extent phonologically very simple, but this is basically an illusion. The overall structure of the language as spoken by native speakers is no better understood than any other natural language, and just as studied by linguists, I would say.
posted by advil at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2002

I thought that pidgin - was merely a spoken language - English or French or whatever is pidginized - but always a spoken - not written language.

Here's Da Word, a short story collection written in Pidgin by college English instructor Lee Tonouchi.
posted by rcade at 2:53 PM on September 15, 2002

I don't mean to suggest that pidgin is evil and should be stamped out.

Living in Hawaii (non-native), though, I have a low patience for the constant sniveling about the poor education quality, while at the same time sabotaging the successful parts of the system. But that's another argument. Surely surrounding people (of all ages) with this kind of thing is not helping matters any.

I could probably use some improvement in my English skills. Would I be better off reading a classic text (of any kind), or a classic text "translated" into the way I already talk and write? Maybe it is a value judgement that standard English is somehow better than pidgin. I just can't see myself going to a professional job interview and calling the interviewer "brah".

I know, nobody is suggesting removing "standard" translations from all churches and homes in Hawaii. Still, it bugs me.
posted by flestrin at 2:56 PM on September 15, 2002

Well, after doing a little more research, I stand corrected. People really do speak this dialect! As advil said, the word "pidgin" can be a bit misleading. However -- Klingon bible? That is stupid.
posted by drinkcoffee at 2:58 PM on September 15, 2002

Rats. Preview links. Uh, yeah. Shame.
that was sabotaging.
posted by flestrin at 3:02 PM on September 15, 2002

You know, RubberHen, Brazilians can understand Spanish, so why bother writing Bibles in Portuguese?

It's not just about being able to understand the words, but also feeling that they speak to you in a special way. Thus the existence of UnivisiĆ³n and Telemundo, which broadcast (in the U.S.) to an audience, many if not most of whom can speak and understand English perfectly well, but who want to be able to watch Spanish-language programming anyway.

It's an ethnolinguistic affinity issue: Language is not just a means of communication, but also a way of creating and reinforcing ethnic identities and community bonds. Pidgin speakers - a lot of whom, I'm guessing, are also Standard English-bilingual - are going to relate to a Pidgin Bible in a different way from an English Bible. Sure, we English-speakers find it humorous - a lot of Pidgin-speakers might also - but they are also going to be able to relate to it as a message to ordinary people. expressed in ordinary people's language.
posted by skoosh at 3:15 PM on September 15, 2002

Living in Hawaii (non-native), though, I have a low patience for the constant sniveling about the poor education quality, while at the same time sabotaging the successful parts of the system. But that's another argument.

I fail to see the connection between the original links. The Pidgin Bible is not taught at public school. For that matter, it doesn't seem to be widely distributed. How does the creation of a Pidgin Bible have anything at all to do with teacher's strikes, excessive government micromanagement, high cost of living driving teachers out of your state or the recession that is destroying the system's infrastructure?

You seem to equate Pidgin with lack of education or, worse, stupidity. The Tonouchi link and the existence of writers like Lois Ann Yamanaka or Lee Cataluna suggests that a person can write strong works with a degree of literary merit in Pidgin. Surely the problems with Hawaii's school system has almost nothing to do with a Bible being translated into Pidgin.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:20 PM on September 15, 2002

flestrin, different codes have different purposes in different contexts. You probably wouldn't use your job-interview speech in a bar with your buddies afterwards. You may not use the same accent. You may not use the same language at all. Maybe (probably not in Hawaii, but maybe) you needed to speak Japanese in your job interview, but discussed it in English with your friends afterwards. That doesn't make Japanese a better or more valid language than English - even if Japanese was the appropriate language for all your job interviews. Different codes for different contexts, that's all.

If you want to practice Standard English, obviously you'd pick up Standard English versions of the books you were interested in. I want to get better at Spanish, so I bought a Spanish-language copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude, not an English translation.
posted by skoosh at 3:35 PM on September 15, 2002

It frustrates me when people fail to see a middle ground on this issue (thankfully, it seems that most people in this thread see it.)

On the one hand, I think it's axiomatic that no one should graduate from a public school in the United States without a full command of standard English.

On the other hand, the goal of ensuring every child is proficient in standard English does not mean that there is no value in other forms of speaking. Whether a child's native way of speaking is a dialect (like BEV), a creole where one of the antecedent languages is English, or a fully foreign language, the language of the home is not something that needs to be smothered.

The question of whether schools should be in the business of supporting native language forms is a tricky question - but not stigmatizing them is what I'm getting at.
posted by Chanther at 3:40 PM on September 15, 2002

Lackin da word?

Da Jesus Book to da rescue!
posted by RobbieFal at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2002

Further reading here.
posted by snez at 4:19 PM on September 15, 2002

There's no reason to exclude other languages/dialects from any public sphere. Most people in the world speak more than one language and there's no reason to believe that learning one way of speaking will push out the others.
Also, the fact that the ruling class of a society speaks in a certain dialect doesn't mean that all the other dialects present in that society are somehow inferior or worthless. If you want to belong to said ruling class you will have to learn that dialect, true, but you'll also have to dress like them, cut your hair like them, be related to them, etc.
Oh, and tsk tsk on all the racist / ethnocentric "jokes" in this thread.
posted by signal at 4:22 PM on September 15, 2002

Who could complain about translating anything to any language in its proper intellectual and literary equivalence? But what is the point of dumbing down in the same language an already existing version to an assumedly dumb readership? Therein lies the exploitative bigotry, methinks.
posted by semmi at 5:06 PM on September 15, 2002

I grew up and went to school in Hawaii. Public school. Not a single teacher would accept an oral answer or a paper in pidgin. Rightfully so since the ability to speak pidgin solely is not marketable skill. You learn pidgin on the playground and at home anyway, no need to reinforce it.

The problem with the piss-poor education there is manyfold, with teacher's low salaries and Hawaii's insane cost of living leading the way. (I doing a little research for this post, I noticed that Ed Case, Steve Case's cousin, is running for the democratic bid for governor. And is it just me or do you too find it odd for a Democrat to list Atlas Shrugged as a favorite?)

While I haven't seen this bible translation, it reminds me of the "Pidgin to da max" pidgin dictionary; a thinly veiled joke book and marketed as such. Or, if it's serious, it's a probably a product that will appeal to Hawaii Sovereignty types. Whatever, I'd prefer something with a little more spirit.

Side note: I begged my parents to send me to a private school, but we couldn't afford it. That's how much I hate the public educational system in Hawaii. Of course, Steve Case's mom could send him to Punahou...*runs sobbing to his room Jan Brady style.*
posted by Tacodog at 5:08 PM on September 15, 2002

Tell you what: the guys that brought you Enron , Florida elections & other disasters now want to teach your children how to read.

Uh-oh, who's not learning their lesson now?
posted by dash_slot- at 5:33 PM on September 15, 2002

I lived in Hawaii for about a year and a half as a military wife. I picked up a little pidgin, and I loved it (I'm a language geek). I especially liked the lunch table conversations with my coworkers at a temp job I had for a few months.

Example: my friend Mike asks me "You like spaghetti?", so I say "yeah". He starts heaping some of his spaghetti onto my plate. It takes me awhile to remember that in Hawaiian Pidgin, "like" means "want".

Heh, what a spiffy twist of English, I think. :) Also, the amazing ability of the phrase "da kine" to mean just about anything - not just a "thingamabob" type word, but more powerful by far.

So I had an exceptional experience, I suppose - I learned pidgin on the job :). I don't think my friend Mike could speak anything but - his speech was very inflected, but he did just as well at his boring office clerk job as I did.

And flestrin, since you're such a language perfectionist, I guess I have to be the one to hit you over the head with this ugly clue bomb: in English, the word "judgment" is more properly spelled with only one "e" (yeah, okay, "judgement" counts as a variant, but still). I know, the truth hurts (I was pissed when I got caught on this one). Go look it up, I know you won't believe me until you see the reference.
posted by beth at 7:48 PM on September 15, 2002

Pidgin English, and other linguistic oddities, discussed here. I'm starting to think it was an enlightened age by comparison with this thread.
posted by dhartung at 7:55 PM on September 15, 2002

cuz you our king.
You get da real power,
,An you stay awesome foeva.
Dass it!

Schweet! 8^)
posted by Fezboy! at 8:06 PM on September 15, 2002

A lot of good points here. Maybe I am slightly bigoted because
I think of pidgin (and Ebonics, for that matter) as not real languages.
Maybe I should work on that.

What continues to irritate me about it is what RubberHen said,
was it really necessary to spell everything phonetically? You
don't see too many bibles spailt lak a Suthanah tawks.

Anyway, thanks for the conversation.
posted by flestrin at 8:41 PM on September 15, 2002

Wow, I am really suprised by some of the comments on this post. Shocked actually. Hawaiian Creole is not a "cute" language, or slang, it is a language, spoken by real people that use it every day to communicate with other people. It's certainly not constructive when people in Hawaii disparage it, let alone by people thousands of miles away.

For those of you that think it's just simple or dumbed down english, you're very wrong. It is a combination of several languages, though it does draw much of it's vocabulary from English (as well as Chinese, Japanese, and Illicano - among others), it's sentance structure/grammar is entirely Hawaiian. For those interested, many of the works on sale at Bamboo Ridge Press are written in Pidgin.

As for the reason Hawaiian schools suck is because they are strictly anti-pidgin, not because they are too friendly towards it. The other reason being that the state has a poorly managed economy and doesn't spend nearly enough on education. If schools in Hawaii are to improve attitudes must change about pidgin, and teachers must learn to include techniques for including pidgin speakers instead of alienating them.

Meanwhile, Canada is right there people, they're way weirder then the folks in Hawaii.
posted by Craig at 1:57 AM on September 16, 2002

If you're interested, the Ethnologue, the best comprehensive resource of the world's 6,800+ languages, has this to say about Hawai'i Creole English.
posted by TheFarSeid at 4:11 AM on September 16, 2002 [1 favorite]

I reckon the Hawaiian version of the Lord's Prayer is very cool: for me the clincher is "Dass it!" = "Amen". When I was a toddler my family lived on Norfolk Island -- there the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives still speak Pitcairn, another pidgin language of the Pacific.
posted by stinglessbee at 9:30 AM on September 16, 2002

Wow. I had no idea that this even existed, let alone was spoken by half the hawaiian population. trippy.
posted by delmoi at 11:15 AM on September 16, 2002

Damn you, advil, you made my comments for me!
posted by languagehat at 12:50 PM on September 16, 2002

flestrin (on the off chance that you look at this thread long after it's out of sight on the main page): Most spelling systems originate from some representation that is roughly phonetic. It just happens that the english spelling system has changed much slower than the language, so it contains in various forms phonetic information from old and middle english. Writing systems in general change much more conservatively than spoken languages.

Anyways, my point is that the reason that written standard english is not directly phonetic is a historical accident (and due to an extremely wide amount of dialect variation, southern english has nothing on some of the dialects in the UK), rather than something done for a good reason. For many reasons it is convenient to have a spelling system that is close to the phonetic language, rather than to graft on, say, english spelling to something that is not pronounced anything like english writing would suggest.

What really matters is that a standard is agreed upon by many speakers, and in this case the ones who must agree on it are actual speakers of hawaiian. It is just their luck that they have a closely phonetic writing system for the time being.

languagehat: just doing my duty as a linguist-in-training :-)
posted by advil at 2:37 PM on September 16, 2002

In other news, the heads of the Hawaiian Hermeneutical Society, Literalist Branch, all pop off at the same time.
posted by UncleFes at 3:04 PM on September 16, 2002

While I haven't seen this bible translation, it reminds me of the "Pidgin to da max" pidgin dictionary; a thinly veiled joke book and marketed as such.

I had the same sense, but reading up on it, some of my doubts were assuaged. It was published as part of a larger project by Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the Hawaiian pidgin/creole version took twelve years and dozens of speakers and linguists to meet Wycliffe's standards, "which require not only an accurate language-to-language translation, but conformity to the theology."

I'm glad Joey Michaels and Craig have stepped in to say what I would've said (but not as well). As a born-and-raised Hawaii boy and the product of the public school system, I agree that it sucks. But not only can you come out of it okay (if you work with what you're given, and have parents that don't just leave everything to the schools), but familiarith with something as linguistically wonderful as Hawaiian creole/pidgin is an asset, not a liability.
posted by pzarquon at 1:44 AM on September 17, 2002

« Older Who the heck cares if Saddam Hussein gets a nuke?   |   Today's comic was too cool to pass up. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments