A different kind of translation

This topic may seem a little far from the lives of Japanese college students, but it’s a chance to learn a little more about an important part of world history.

Zora Neale Hurston was a famous American author (students: talk to me if you want to learn more about her, or try researching her on your own) and in the early 20th century, she interviewed a man named Cudjo Lewis in order to write a book about him. Why? Because he was the last survivor of the last slave ship that arrived in America. Lewis’ birth name was Oluale Kossula, and he was born in Benin and kidnapped and sold into slavery when he was 19 years old. Hurston spent 3 months interviewing him.

The book was never published in her lifetime (she died in 1960). She wrote most of the book using Kossula’s dialect, and publishers didn’t think the book would sell well. But it has recently been published and I’m excited to read it. It’s also available on audio, and for a book like this, I’ll probably do both.

Here’s an article about this from Vulture. And it includes an excerpt from the book. A translation challenge for you is to see if you can intepret the dialect. It may help to try reading aloud.

Here’s an example:


“De war commences but we doan know ’bout it when it start. Den somebody tell me de folkses way up in de North make de war so dey free us. I lak hear dat. But we wait and wait, we heard de guns shootee sometime but nobody don’t come tell us we free. So we think maybe dey fight ’bout something else.”


The war (the Civil War) started but we didn’t know about it. Then somebody told me that people in the North started the war to free us (the slaves). I was happy to hear that. But we waited and waited, and we heard gunshots sometimes. But nobody came to tell us that we were free. So we though they were probably fighting about something else.”


Counting cash

Interesting … but a couple of things: American dollars are almost always really worn out and hard to count. And all the people licking their thumb while counting is kind of disgusting. Also: the woman representing Japan is not counting but explaning. She says, “This is 1,000 yen, this is 5,000 yen.” And that’s not the way most people in Japan count money. So, I wonder which others are not really representative of that country’s culture. The guy from Israel was pretty funny, though. I do think they should be able to count their own currency, rather than everyone counting dollars.

This is the way most people (people who work in shops and banks especially) count money in Japan. And yes, Japanese cash is almost always really crisp and new. Still wouldn’t lick my thumb while counting, though.

Ní leor teanga amháin

That’s how you say “One language is never enough” in Irish Gaelic, according to Omniglot. You can hear it pronouned here:

Some other phrases that, according to this article from the Irish Times, help us understand the history of the Irish language and its people:

Please =  más é do thoil é (if it is your will)

Thanks = go raibh maith agat (may you receive good)

(Check Omniglot for recordings of these and other useful phrases.)

A few that are more “colorful”:

Cuireadh cosáin a fuair sé
Lit. Invitation by the footpath he got
An invitation that does not come from the heart

Ola ar a chroí
Lit. Oil on his heart
Music to his ears

Is cuid den mhuc a drioball
Lit. The pig’s tail is part of the pig
Usually said about a person who is like (takes after) his father or mother in his ways. It’s nearly always used about people’s bad traits, however, not their good ones! An English equivalent would be “the apple does not fall far from the tree”.

Chomh gaisciúil le cat siopa
Lit. As boastful as a shop cat
The shopkeeper’s cat would normally have plenty and would be well fed with bits and pieces of meat and all sorts of leftovers as compared to ordinary village cats. (See this post about bodega cats!)