25 July 2015

On language complications in Ethiopia

The following passages from a piece by Katrina Manson entitled The Ethiopia paradox in today's FT Magazine will likely appeal to the language sensitive :
“An Ethiopian can sound like he’s flattering you, ... but really he’s insulting you.”
... doublespeak features deep in its soul. “Twenty per cent of language here is said; 80 per cent is understood”.
Disguising feelings runs deep. There is even a national form of poetry, semna werk (wax and gold), dedicated to doublespeak. The idea is that the greatest elegance consists in compressing meaning into the fewest words possible, layering in hidden messages. ... the wax is the cover — the superficial polite meaning that melts away to reveal the true, valuable meaning. The “gold” hidden in the couplets regularly offers disguised insults — whether of a host’s poor feast or the direction of political leadership. 
Just think for a minute of the translation challenges Amharic and other Ethiopian languages pose any translator wishing to inform, say, an English speaker or a western European of the deep intended meaning of what an Ethiopian might be saying ...

And, just for fun, according to the Language Translator English-to-Amharic transliteration tool, Steve Dyson transliterates into Amharic as ስቴቭኤ ድይሶን. And semna werk as ሰምና ወርቅ.
If ever the back issues of the Ethiopian Herald from 1970 are digitised and put on line I might be able to track down an article about my motorcycle trip through the country from south to north and some items I lost along the way. More interesting for the moment is the fact that some quick Google searches using Amharic script proved successful.

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