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Born in the Blood

On Native American Translation

Edited and with an introduction by Brian Swann

Publication Year: 2011

Since Europeans first encountered Native Americans, problems relating to language and text translation have been an issue. Translators needed to create the tools for translation, such as dictionaries, still a difficult undertaking today. Although the fact that many Native languages do not share even the same structures or classes of words as European languages has always made translation difficult, translating cultural values and perceptions into the idiom of another culture renders the process even more difficult. In Born in the Blood, noted translator and writer Brian Swann gathers some of the foremost scholars in the field of Native American translation to address the many and varied problems and concerns surrounding the process of translating Native American languages and texts. The essays in this collection address such important questions as, what should be translated? how should it be translated? who should do translation? and even, should the translation of Native literature be done at all? This volume also includes translations of songs and stories.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Native Literatures of the Americas

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. 1-14

Translating Native American languages is a very different process from translating European languages. For one thing, the translation of European languages does not usually present real physical and spiritual dangers. 1 For another, there are the complexities of collaboration between non-Native academics and Native American culture-bearers, formerly “informants.” Moreover, translators have to decide how to transform oral expression into a written form, and in addition...

Part One

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1. Should Translation Work Take Place?: Ethical Questions Concerning the Translation of First Nations Languages

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pp. 17-42

For many First Nations communities, translation represents a “sea change”: while all languages are passed on through word of mouth, only a subset of languages have writing systems, and even fewer are regularly translated. Many First Nations languages (and many other languages) are primarily oral; writing and translation are recent additions. Writing, literacy, and translation work potentially leads to great...

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2. Reading a Dictionary: How Passamaquoddy Language Translates Concepts of Physical and Social Space

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pp. 43-60

When I sat down to proofread the thousands of entries in A Passamaquoddy- Maliseet Dictionary1 (Francis and Leavitt 2008), I expected to endure a long, tedious chore, compensated only by seeing the broad scope of the words David A. Francis and I, working with dozens of Passamaquoddy and Maliseet contributors, had compiled. But an unexpected pleasure awaited. In the words themselves and the...

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3. Translating Time: A Dialogue on Hopi Experiences of the Past

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pp. 61-83

This chapter takes as its focus the question of how Hopi feelings, experiences, and knowledge of the past are, or can be, translated. Our motivation for this chapter grew out of our work together and conversations about the first author’s own (non-Pueblo) experiences at ancient sites compared to how the second author perceives the role of the past in his own life and more broadly in Hopi society. From our exchanges we have to come to believe that addressing the ways...

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4. Hopi Place Value: Translating a Landscape

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pp. 84-108

In Hopi discourse, important ideas and processes involving cultural and historical order are localized and commemorated in the landscape and are indexed by place-names. Events happened at particular places: in Hopi oral history, knowing where something happened is an important part of knowing that it happened. As texts, some named...

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5. Related-Language Translation: Naskapi and East Cree

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pp. 109-137

While some theorists have suggested that translation is impossible (Payne 1971), to a large degree Western civilization and culture has depended upon translated documents originally written in one language into some other, usually more common, language. A large portion of our current understanding of philosophy, history, mythology, and religion comes to ...

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6. Performative Translation and Oral Curation: Ti-Jean/Chezan in Beaverland

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pp. 138-167

In 1999, as Amber Ridington was preparing to enter the ma program in folk studies at Western Kentucky University, her father, anthropologist Robin Ridington, recorded a French folktale told by Sammy Acko, a talented Dane-zaa storyteller (for the full text of this story see appendix A). The Dane-zaa, also known as the Beaver Indians (or Dunne-za in earlier publications), are subarctic hunting-and-gathering people who live in the Peace River region of northeastern British...

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7. Translation and Censorship of Native American Oral Literature

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pp. 168-188

One decision confronting translators of orally performed American Indian verbal art concerns what to do with material that is regarded as questionable by one of the several persons who may figure into the process that begins with oral performance and ends with the publication of a written representation of that performance. The performer, the ethnographer who documents the performance, the translator, an editor, or a publisher may decide that a feature of a story or song...

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8. In the Words of Powhatan: Translation across Space and Time for The New World

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pp. 198-217

Among the numerous screen and stage events staged to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English colony in the Americas at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, perhaps the most ambitious and widely seen was the film The New World (New Line Cinema 2005). The film’s screenwriter and director, Terrence Malick, used the legendary romance of Pocahontas and John Smith to depict the impact that the settlement of Jamestown...

Part Two

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9. Ethnopoetic Translation in Relation to Audio, Video, and New Media Representations

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pp. 211-241

This chapter describes our use of video and Web-based media to present an electronic equivalent of “interlinear” translations of ethnographic texts. The initial tape recordings of elders of the Dane-zaa of northeastern British Columbia were made by Robin Ridington in the 1960s. Jillian Ridington and Howard Broomfield joined the work in the 1970s and 1980s, and Jillian continues to be a partner in the...

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10. Translating Algonquian Oral Texts

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pp. 242-274

In this chapter we discuss a number of issues pertinent to the translation of Canadian Aboriginal oral literature, specifically that of the Algonquian peoples of the Quebec-Labrador peninsula (eastern Canada). Our discus-sion focuses on a collection of “oral texts” (the Innu-Naskapi collection) with which we have been involved as translators since 1985 (MacKenzie) ...

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11. Translating the Boundary between Life and Death in O’odham Devil Songs

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pp. 275-285

I do not think it a stretch to say that translating Native verbal arts occupies an unseen boundary with its comings and goings between what is actually said, what is interpreted, then invented out of those words, and the written text that is presented as a faithful rendition of what was originally stated or sung. And while translation is of course reliant upon get-...

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12. Revisiting Haida Cradle-Song 67

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pp. 286-300

The significant development concerning traditional Native American literature and Native American cultural research has invoked attention to the intricacies of Native languages that previously had been ignored, if even considered at all (Basso 1984; Bringhurst 1999; Hymes 1981; Kroeber 1981; Kroskrity 1986; Swann 1992; Tedlock 1972). This attention has sparked a review of the volumes amassed during the...

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13. Translating Tense and Aspect in Tlingit Narratives

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pp. 301-325

So I am in the eighth grade and I am assigned this book report and I write about Damon Runyon short stories and I begin it like this: “I am in the library last week and I see this book and I check it out.”1 My book report was severely red-penciled by my teacher, although she lightened up at the end when she saw what I was trying to do. I learned from the experiment ...

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14. Translating Performance in the Written Text: Verse Structure in Dakota and Hoc

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pp. 326-347

So I am in the eighth grade and I am assigned this book report and I write about Damon Runyon short stories and I begin it like this: “I am in the library last week and I see this book and I check it out.”1 My book report was severely red-penciled by my teacher, although she lightened up at the end when she saw what I was trying to do. I learned from the experiment not to mix genre and style, but to use the style appropriate to the genre and level of formality. This is a message that comes early...

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15. Toward Literature: Preservation of Artistic Effects in Choctaw Texts

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pp. 348-369

We all know someone who can really tell a story—a person whose voice commands our attention, who encourages us to lean closer, waiting for the next detail, the next twist in the story. This person’s talent may be learned or intuitive, but part of the artistry he or she displays comes from our expectations of a story, our Western culture that dictates how a story is to be told and how a story is to unfold. We learned about stories long before we started school, in our nursery tales, our fairy...

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16. Translating an Esoteric Idiom: The Case of Aztec Poetry

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pp. 370-397

A typical Cherokee “sacred formula”—better, i:gawé:sdi ‘to say, one’— Similarly, out of the cryptic literature of the Yucatec Maya, the compila-tion known as Ritual of the Bacabs gathers up incantations put together Mystifying in much the same way, the collection of Aztec conjuros re-corded by Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón in the early 1600s preserves, among ...

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17. Translating Context and Situation: William Strachey and Powhatan’s “Scorneful Song”

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pp. 398-418

One of the earliest references to singing among North American Natives appears in a chronicle of Hernando de Soto’s exploratory expedition of La Florida, during which he and his Spanish cohorts ventured as far west as the Mississippi River after passing through much of what is now the southeastern United States. Soto’s party made their journey between 1539 and 1543. Inevitably, they would have encountered verbal art in the form of oratory as a component of diplomatic courtesies from the Indians they encountered, and they also experienced...

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18. A Life in Translation

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pp. 419-445

When I was a child, I made about thirty solitary trips between my divorced parents, one in Chicago, the other in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the Union Pacific Streamliner City of Denver. Each trip was a thousand miles all by myself, and they were great adventures that I looked forward to eagerly. And at night, in an upper bunk, I would slide open the small ...

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19. Memories of Translation: Looking for the Right Words

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pp. 446-454

This is not a technical essay on the sport of translation. It is some reminiscences about the experiences of a pair of linguists while studying several of the twenty-three Salishan languages of the Pacific Northwest during the active working years of our lives, between 1960 and 1995. We realize how very fortunate we were to be able to work with elders of the Lummi, ...


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pp. 455-460


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pp. 461-476

E-ISBN-13: 9780803235410
E-ISBN-10: 0803235410
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803267596
Print-ISBN-10: 0803267592

Page Count: 488
Illustrations: 4 illustrations, 4 maps, 6 tables
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Native Literatures of the Americas