Thursday, June 7, 2012

Re: Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati’s Double Standards

I am going to break tradition this week and feature responses to my last week’s column. I normally don’t do that for my grammar column. But I hope you enjoy the insights shared by my readers in the responses below.

An interesting piece. The description of the translation of “out of sight, out of mind” into “invisible, insane” was priceless. :) Translation is, indeed a complicated task.
R. Kahendi

Prof., let me add one idiom: Let the sleeping dog lie. In Hausa it translates as Abar kaza cikin gashinta. Would someone interpret the English version as “Abar kare yayi barci” and the Hausa one as “let’s leave the chicken in its feather?” Abati's action is deliberate.
Ibrahim Rufai Buhari

A Facebook friend has advised that since Abati chose to translate Buhari’s idiom directly, he should let the translation be 100 percent, that is, “come 2015 election if PDP rigs (which, of course, they will), then Buhari has ordered that everyone should run into the bush, catch and kill dogs and baboons”!
Umar Ibrahim Tafida

My concern is that Buhari's remarks are still a bit problematic even if correctly interpreted. Let's assume that "kare jini biri jini" just means "fierce competition". From his remarks, I can gather two things: 1. Whatever he was predicting will happen AFTER the 2015 election and not before it 2. He is promising a NEW kind of reaction to PDP's rigging different from the way his party has reacted before.

Now, considering these two points, how would you apply the expression "fierce competition" to the 2015 post-election period? Was he referring to a fierce legal battle or fierce post-election press conferences? Or is it fierce rallies and demonstrations? It is unlikely that he was referring to a fierce legal battle because his party engaged in that three times before with no positive outcome. It is also unlikely that he was referring to fierce press conferences to reject the rigged result because his party has done that one too previously. The last one, i.e., fierce protest rallies and demonstrations is the likely one because his party has not done that before officially.

 If my assumption is correct, here is the problem: while peaceful demonstrations and protest rallies are legitimate and legal, what form would CPC post-election protest rallies take in the imagination of ordinary uneducated supporters if their leader says they are going to be "fierce"? In the leader's mind, a fierce rally may just mean a well-attended, noisy and persistent one; to the uneducated supporter, it could mean a rally where participants bear clubs and machetes. This is where the problem lies.
Dr. Bello Raji

Once again, you captured the moment brilliantly with your latest article. The true value of this topic is that it is applicable to a wide spectrum of situations. A politician of Buhari's caliber, however, should understand the mindset of his opponents well enough not to couch his messages in nuanced slang and idioms that give ammunition to his detractors to boomerang them back at him.

Take Politics: With the American presidential election looming, this is just timely. When President Obama says he is in favour of "women having a choice over their wombs," his GOP enemies spin off that the president "declares war on women." When he says he supports "Gay marriages" the blazing headlines by his opponents translate to "Obama declares war on heterosexual marriages."

What I'll like to point out is that in political settings language misinterpretation becomes a tool for propaganda and the dissemination of misinformation. This is largely owed to intellectual dishonesty, paralysing stupidity or political opponents with the unfortunate attributes of being very thick.

Depending on the mindset of the audience they're trying to convince with mangled information (hostile or friendly) it will suit a disingenuous politician to spin, misquote, misinterpret, mistranslate and twist an original speaker's words to suit their multifarious shades of dishonesty.

Take Friends: Again I've seen this sort of deliberate artifice even in ordinary people. A number of friends will read the same article, listen to the same piece of news item and chose to give it a spin that is comestible to the mental palates of people they want to suck up to, as long as the information doesn't chime with the the people they want to please.

It all comes down to integrity not even perception, isn't it? It is gross, disingenuous and egregious falsity. But ambiguous messages leave room for opponents to do the business. It provokes the exact negative sentiment they want their listener to feel. We cannot always trust even the most educated people to understand our own quirks and slang...or give it the benefit of the doubt. We face a triple threat: Dishonesty, ignorance and misunderstanding.

By the way, I know many more people who read your columns, and I've read your direct quotes from them, without the honesty to cite you as their source. Just one point.
Samira Edi

Farooq, you just hit the nail on the head! And we were made to understand that Abati graduated with a First Class degree. Aside the academic aspect, I have always faulted Mr. Abati's mental strength, i.e., his inappropriate application of "wisdom" where it matters. Mr. Ima Niboro was not like that. We could see the way Niboro handled or managed issues relating to the Late Yar-Adua's health at a time cabinet members were misbehaving and our National Assembly members in a fix as to what to do.

In the US, presidential speech writers or spokespersons do their research work very well so that they do not have to embarrass their country or the Commander-in-Chief. But here, Abati seems to do everything in a rush without proper research or consultation. The end result is the over-heating of our polity as we are currently witnessing. And I tell you, Mr. Reuben Abati is embarrassing me.
Christopher Godwin Akaba

Fact remains that majority of Nigerians know that Buhari is hated only by the corrupt. And Insha Allah, we Nigerians will mobilise and get rid of all of them that are destroying our great Nation. Ask yourself why wouldn't these corrupt elements misconstrue Buhari? Of course they will use any form of distractions to cover their tracks. And their cyber dogs will continue to defend them at the expense of the suffering masses. Please don't blame the cyber dogs, they are used to eating crumbs like their Jonathan who has no shoe but suddenly forgets the masses that gave him plenty of shoes.
Marian Iyabode Awolowo

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56. Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati's Double Standards

Re: Print-on-demand Book Scams and Nigerian Universities

Apparently, many more people than I initially imagined got scammed by Lambert Academic Publishing. After the publication of my column, I got phone calls from academics in Nigeria, South Africa, and Malaysia telling me how they fell victim to Lambert’s trickery. I also learned that books published by Lambert are officially blacklisted in Malaysia and many South African universities.

I have reproduced below a sample of the responses I received from readers. I need to point out that many people who submitted their manuscripts to Lambert Academic Publishing did so innocently. I know many of them well enough to know that they are people of integrity who never intended to cut corners. I should have pointed out that fact more boldly in last week’s column. But I hope my little contribution will serve as a note of caution for many would-be victims.

Your column is quite apt. So many Nigerians are being 'scammed' by this so-called publishing house, and it was high time that the public knew this. I have discovered that LAP is not only interested in 'scamming' academics; creative writers are also some of its victims. I got to discover I was in a fraud 'net' a couple of days after I mailed my manuscript to them. Without having read even a chapter, they informed me that they were interested in publishing my work. A few days after I paid in what they called processing fee, they announced to me that my work would be published in the next four weeks, and that I should receive my own copy seven weeks after. And, smart guys, they were always prompt with their mails. Send in something and before your computer sleeps they are there with a reply. The only time they delayed - for several days until I re-sent the mail, was when I talked about the need for an agreement and asked how I could get my royalties. And their reply to that was meaningless.

 Well, since I received a copy of my novel, "A Mandate from the Shrine" about a month now, I have gone through several pages and discovered to my chagrin very embarrassing grammatical errors, with some pages muddled up. It would interest you to know that in some of the pages where I had some words or parts underlined, they left it for me like that. This is actually not a work you are likely to get a handshake by showing a discerning friend. I kept that under lock and key. Now, all the mistakes cropped up because what I sent to them was not the edited copy of my manuscript. Just when I was about telling them that, they had proudly informed me they had started work on it. Suffice to say that they are wicked and a shame to the intellectual world. But having said, that, it must be understood that many writers get into this net because of the harsh publishing environment in many countries, especially Nigeria.
Habib Yakoob, Abuja

I've just finished reading your latest blog posting. I'm too ashamed to comment openly because the said Lambert Publishing almost scammed me. I had sent them my master’s manuscript after they sent to me the generic email you referred to. But I quickly paused after I suspected certain things didn't look quite right with their procedures. I decided to make further inquiries, but this time not through emails. I placed a call to the number shown on their website and could not believe my ears when all I got was an automated message.

The information was that they normally didn't take phone calls and that their business was exclusively conducted by emails. I quickly smelt a rat and immediately terminated email discussions with them. They continued pestering me thereafter. I had to finally threaten them before they eventually stopped bothering me. There's just a lot of shit going on.
Anonymous (writer, who resides in North America, does not want his name in print)

Truth is, I also received this kind of mail, urging me to publish my Ph.D. dissertation into a book, just the same way you described. I was not enthusiastic for two reasons. One, how did they get my email address and two, I didn't know their pedigree. I just knew something was amiss. It is the age of the internet and we should be prepared for situations like this. You can't blame whoever falls prey to this; it is the result of our unbridled penchant for preferring anything foreign, good or bad, a societal problem that has crept into the academia.
Dr. Sola Adeyanju, Zaria

I am sorry to observe that the problem of Nigerian academic system is beyond Lambert Publishing Company. There are many scammers in Nigeria and abroad doing the same thing like Lambert. Who is NUC going to screen when there are people that have been made Professors and are being made and would still be made without any major contribution in their field of studies while others who are better qualified were denied promotion. Nigeria problem is complex. Many in the Nigerian academic circle have questionable certificates and are placed as such with no commensurate ability. Promotion has become a patronage due to appointment of incompetent individuals as heads of the institutions. University is even better when you compare with Poly or COE where the highest rank is Chief Lecturer and regarded as equivalent of Associate Professor/Reader but without an academic effort of a Lecturer I in the University.
Bello Kamal

In Nigerian higher institutions of learning, the predominant teaching material is handout and self-published books. Print-on-demand books are just beginning to appear. The ideal material should be peer-reviewed publications. But, if a thesis is good for the award of a degree, then it is good to be published. Any quarrel with my thesis, Dr. Kperogi?

 As i was reading this, I decided to visit the Nigerian-linguists listserve to see if the new book advertised by a senior colleague was printed by Lambert Academic Publishing - your guess is as good as mine. Surprisingly, every other person who commented was congratulating him. Prof., it's disheartening to see people climb the academic ladder on the basis of fraud. Most annoying is the fact that ignorance thrives even in the academia.
Ignatius Usar

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