Thursday, 27 October 2011

the King James Bible and Australian indigenous languages

As I walked up the stairs in the Melbourne City Library today, I came across an exhibition about the 400th year celebration of the King James version of the Christian Bible.

After tomorrow it moves to Brisbane.

The first section to draw my attention sat below a poster with a picture of Shakespeare.

It claimed this version of the Bible has influenced our modern English language even more than Shakespeare did.

I was particularly interested in the display about translation of the Bible into Australian indigenous languages, because I think it is an indictment of our education system that most non-indigenous Australians are not only unable to understand indigenous languages, but don't even realise what a wealth of languages existed here prior to European settlement (and still exists).

The role of missionaries in studying and preserving languages around the world is a complex one. Nicholas Evans, in his book Dying Words, launched in Melbourne two years ago, says:
The idea of learning and committing to writing the languages of other, less militarily powerful peoples did not appear until Christianity, with its early urges to proselytize other people in languages they would understand...Ingenious new scripts, developed by polyglot priests for their own languages, quickly launched their traditions of religious translation, later to be followed by other forms of literature...
As would happen again and again in colonial encounters around the world, the partial official tolerance of indigenous languages and cultures did not last long.
Here's one of the short movies available at the online version of the Exhibition:

Australian Indigenous Scriptures from Bible Society Australia.

It was great to hear on this video clip that indigenous communities are taking matters into their own hands and translating the Bible into their own languages. I assume it isn't just the Bible that's being translated, of course.I assume that there would be other literature made available for people who speak an indigenous language.


Papillon Bleu said...

I think Aboriginals should be spared the bore of something that is probably full of translating mistakes anyway .

Dear Catherine, my initial visit wasn't to moan about translation but to thank you for your kind words regarding my little Taz.

parlance said...

I see what you mean, Papillon Bleu. History is full of examples of people meeting indigenous cultures and not valuing their languages or their history.

I was so, so sad to read about Taz.