Inscribing Difference and Claiming Space in Translation

Postcolonial literary theoreticians have spent a good amount of energy exploring the many roles of language in literature and the arts: language use as symbolic of cultural and political imposition, multilingual texts as resistant to dominant narrative forms and structures, language use as symbolic of tapping into oral traditions that nurture the text, bending and ripping apart a dominant language to express oneself or to claim a space within that language/cultural system, and the fascinating methods of “writing back”; of using the language of the oppressor or a colonial tongue to express a “native” reality, a “foreign” land that the imposing language cannot possibly communicate, cultural practices not possibly “transmitable” through the imposed language. Questions such as, “how does one use the language of a given (‘former’) empire to subvert the patterns of colonialism, to reclaim space and tradition?”, and “how does one use a language while trying to reject the particular way of structuring the world it [that language] seems to offer?” (“The Empire Writes Back” 47) continue to arise and new answers continue to appear despite the amount of theory and criticism that has developed around them.

In the end, most critics agree that to subvert an imposed language, a colonial language, or a dominant language is to also subvert “the entire system of cultural assumptions on which the texts of the English [or any other imperial language/literature] canon are based and the whole discourse of metropolitan control within which they were able to be imposed.” (47) Language, then, must be a central focus when looking at texts that engage in resistant, subversive, re-constructive dialogues with imperial and former imperial language/cultural systems. With that in mind, the central objective of this article is to look carefully at several ways in which even the most radical of Postcolonial theorists and critics are mis-understanding the roles of language in “Postcolonial” texts. The objective: to reconsider our critical approaches to language in works of literature that does not generate a new wave of colonialist readings.

Underlying many critical readings and theories that explore the role and nature of “language in Postcolonial texts” is the idea that a range of authors are using language to show difference from a given canon, from a “standard” language, or difference from the colonial language that was/is imposed. In other words, the function of Brathwaite’s language use in “Middle Passage” is to express difference from the more “Standard” variety/varieties of English spoken and written in throughout England, North America, etc. Likewise, behind Nalo Hopkinson’s use of “dialect” (multiple “dialects”, actually) is the intent to express difference from the norm, difference from the standard. Ashcroft and company emphasize this point throughout their Postcolonial classic, “The Empire Writes Back”: “Post-colonial writing abrogates the privileged centrality of ‘English’ by using language to signify difference while employing a sameness which allows it to be understood” (50)

But is “signifying difference” the only thing that Brathwaite and Hopkinson’s use of language does? Is difference the only thing that they are communicating? Is it such a crucial aspect in terms of the way they are using language?

The above statement, one that is echoed throughout Postcolonial criticism and theory, implies that “Postcolonial” authors are writing for an audience that will perceive/receive the “non-Standard” language variety/ the “dialect” as “different.” In other words, it implies that the “postcolonial writer” is not writing for his/her community, that the “real” audience is one that will receive the language as “other”, as “deviant from the norm”, and as something “different” than what they are used to. Perhaps more importantly, the quoted passage insinuates that the “postcolonial writer” who writes in “dialect” or “sociolect” (or whatever new “-lect” that aquires lecthood) uses language as a mere symbol of resistance through difference. In this way, the critic overlooks the vast richness of the language of the text and the author’s exploration of that language.

Authors who write in Nation Language (Brathwaite’s term) — often called “dialect” or “sociolect” or “non-Stadard varieties” by linguists and literary critics alike — may consciously or unconsciusly seek to subvert a dominant language/culture. In that way, “language variance” in so-called Postcolonial texts may be at one level “profoundly metonymic of cultural difference.” But it is equally representative of the author’s decision to write in his/her “native” language, to reach out to his/her community, to explore his/her reality, to reference the history of the “dialect” (words that are often rooted in philosophies and aesthetics that link entire continents), to engage in an intertextual dialogue with other writers who also choose to write in “other” language varieties. The reasons are endless and only a few of them hang from the need/desire to express “difference” from the “standard” language.

To approach literary texts with the idea that the use of “dialect, multiple varieties of English, and unstranslated words” merely “inscribes difference” is an easy way out that far too many critics are taking. To stop at the level of difference marks the critics inability to access the meaning and content of both the language of the text and its symbols, themes, motifs; the plot, substance, and content of the work. Further, that inability to move beyond what to the European/Euro-American critic registers as “different” represents a fundamental flaw in Postcolonial studies. The Postcolonial author is allowed to become “different” on a surface glance that can somehow be the very essence of his language, and noting that can be the conclusion of a seemingly rigorous study. The critics’ inability to fathom the creative world of the “Postcolonial” texts’ language — the inability and lack of critical tools to write about that world of language innovation as he/she would write about any other author — clearly shows us that the “root” of the Postcolonial text, its language, cannot be understood under Western presuppositions of “dialect”, “sociolect”, “pidgin.” It is not enough to recognize the presence of multiple language varieties of a text and then conclude that that presence signifies difference. It is not enough to explore the text on levels of class, race, and gender difference; levels of resistance and subversion to the European/North American norm. That is only one small part of the brilliance of many “Postcolonial” texts.

I’d like to conclude with three video clips. “My Favorite Things” from the classic play, The Sound of Music; “My Favorite Things,” as performed by John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones; and “My Favorite Things” as performed by Bobby McFerrin.

The Sound of Music ( from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical)

John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, 1961 (Germany)

Bobby McFerrin (live in Copehagen)

To merely conceive of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Bobby McFerrin’s performances as “different” from the classic play is to do the same kind of injustice that many  critics and theorists working from dominant perspectives are doing to literary texts.


Untranslated Words in Literary Texts

Authors frequently use words from a non-English language (often the writer’s “native” language or languages) in what appear to be monolingual English texts. Some translate the non-English word right away (known as glossing) and others allow the reader to gain access to the word’s meaning through context. Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” a novel that builds a vocabulary for the reader through glossing (immediate translation) and then forces the reader to draw from to his/her recently acquired lexicon to understand key turns later on in the in the text, is a good example. (Of course, the reader can also go back to Achebe’s glossing and enter another level of non-linear readership).

Some consider this to be a way of representing difference. In that reading of symbolic language use, the author uses words from a “foreign” language to emphasize the “different” nature of his/her text or language, a text that will engage in critical subversions of dominant languages and canonical texts written in those languages. Others see the use of a “foreign” word in a text as a symbol of the gap between languages and cultures that authors write from: the cultural context and cultural referents that are attached to the word are untranslatable and/or non-existent in the English language (or another other languages of empire: Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.)

But Ashcroft, Grifiths, and Griffin offer a much more dynamic and powerful approach to unstranslated words in an otherwise monolingual English text. According to the mentioned scholars, leaving words from Igbo (in the case of Achebe), or Yoruba (in the case of Abdias do Nascimento) is one way of showing that “the language which actually informs the novel is an/Other language.” (63) In other words, the language that “informs”, acts as a base, operates as the driving aesthetic, provides the perceptive framework of author/reader is Igbo or Yoruba, and not the English language despite the text’s apparent monoligualism. Several key words, then, operate as symbols of the language that drives the text: a slightly submersed language/way of viewing the world, but one that has the potential to form the entire narrative. Interestingly, a given author’s decision to not translate the non-English/non-European word grants the word even more power to inform the text — it doesn’t allow the European language to be the default language, it forces the reader to comprehend the world vision that the Igbo word provides, and it transforms the very notion of the cultural system that the work comes out of/contributes to.

Ode to Translators

Translation is a way of life: to negotiate between systems, to search to understand multiple meanings, to straddle systems, to be in multiple locations simultaneously, to effect change, to introduce new ideas, to always confront the dualities of words and the dualities that language itself embodies, to look deeply into cultures and ways of viewing the world, to mediate, to subvert, to break norms, to give a new life to language and ideas, to mediate between past, present, future, to be in all time constructs at once.

Some scholars say that translators have the most intimate readings and experiences with the works that they translate. Perhaps that is because they temporarily embody the very medium that they transfer: words. Translators become words, they travel like words: the very words they interpret and re-codify. Like a devotee possessed, they are mounted by words and depend upon that activity, that trance, to carry the word into another dimension. Another dimension that carries a whole new range of possibilities.

They work in a space between languages that is simultaneously in both languages.

Translators cross all kinds of boundaries, often without physically moving at all. They reflect deeply on multiple interpretations, the possibilities of multiple audiences, the possibilities of multiple intentions that often contradict each other. They reflect and weigh these perceptions, and even as they create, they are aware of an inner voice that reminds them of the dangers, hopes, and possibilities of representing and of representation.

Translators look at the meaning that a word conveys and the meaning that surrounds the word. They work with the aura of the word, its spirit and its life force.

All of this, or simply a tool for imperialism, for colonization, conquer, destruction. We all have our decisions. We all have our crossroads.



Pensamiento sobre la Traducción desde el Acto

Esto me llegó a mente al traducir vários fragmentos de la obra Midnight Robber (Nalo Hopkinson, 2001).

Hay que dejar que la palabra te monte para poder llevarla de un sistema lingüístico-cultural a otro. Es un acto de “posesión” lingüística-cultural, un trance en que el traductor se convierte en medium. Para lograr el “trans-”/trance, el traductor tiene que crear su esquema, su deseño, su vèvè. Se prepara con baños de palabras de sabiduria cultural. Me llegó esta idea porque Nalo Hopkison escribió una novela “montada,” un fenómeno que trato de elaborar en un trabajo. Entonces, como se trata de una novela montada, ¿qué otra cosa hace el traductor sino es entrar en el mismo proceso de trance?



La Veinte, Fábula Cubana

Mi gente, escribí La Veinte cuando estudié en Cuba en el 2001. Me quedé tan impresionado con el vocabulário y los sistemas de transporte público que tuve que volver a hacer mi maestría en La Universidad de la Habana (2002-2004)! Esta fábula o cuentico (o lo que sea) penetra el uso de verbos que tiene su sentido apenas en las guaguas de Cuba. Es la historia de un extranjero encontrándose dentro y fuera del sistema.

La Veinte 

El hombre está parado al final de la guagua mirando por la ventanilla. Le

pregunto, “¿se queda?”, y me responde, “no, en la próxima.” ¿Me oyó mal? ¿Pensó que

había dicho ‘¿va a bajar?’ Ahora una vieja se acerca apurada y me pregunta, “¿se queda?”

y como yo me quedo en la guagua le respondo que “sí”.

“Pues, dale muchacho, ¡muévete!”

“No, señora, que yo me quedo aquí.”

“Por eso mismo, ¡bájate niño!” Confuso, respondo, “pase usted, yo bajo en la


“Ay por dios, pero tu estás medio loco. Permiso, que yo me quedo aquí,” y se

baja, todavía insultándome con algunos pasajeros igualmente confusos. Curioso.

Otro día un chamaco me pregunta, “¿se queda?”

“No, voy a bajar aquí,” respondo bien claro para que no se confunda. Me mira con

asombro. ¿Pasó algo? ¿Se dio cuenta que venía de afuera? ¿Quién sabe? Yo bajo.


Al día siguiente, para poderme avanzar en la lucha hacia la puerta, pregunto si se

queda a un señor quien estaba al lado mío. Dice que “sí”, y un momento después baja y

sigue caminando por La Rampa. Me imagino que cambió de opinión, ¡pero parecía tan


Si te gustó, por favor seguirnos en la página de SiroccoBlue en Facebook! Para un cuentico con otros elementos del sistema de transporte cubano, puedes clicar aqui! Ya regresando a la pasión linguística, vamos a mirar el desarrollo de lo que estamos llamando de inglés españolizado!

(Jacob Dyer Spiegel | La Veinte © 2001. All Rights Reserved.) 


Último! Última persona para la veinte, dale caballeros!

One can always tell when it’s a foreigner who arrives at a Havana bus stop. From the paradas del camello, to the stops at Copelia, Playa, and el Mercado de Cuatro Caminos, the best one-arm-swinging, loose-strut-having, estilo-de-rumbero-jinitero-fascade of the extranjeros más aplatanados is instantaneously seen through by even the least observant of habaneros. Hasta el más guapo de Holguín is spotted as “un oriental” by the way he approaches the guagua and fails to comply with that “cierta manera” of moving through the urban landscape; a feat which becomes increasingly representative of who fits in where in la sociedad habanera. So what is the trick? Es muy sencillo mi’jo: hay que saber marcar.

“Marcando” (a linguistic, socio-cultural, and even mimed practice) involves a series of coded questions and reponces that establish a rigorous order within even the most chaotic of city bus stops. At the fascinating site of la cola habanera – a fluid place that does not require one’s immediate physical presence but rather, mental awareness and complete devotion to the norm – one must situate themself only after asking one of the following questions, preferably in a loud, shrill tone that demands authority: “¿Último?”, “¿Quién es el último?”, “¿Última persona?”, ¿Quién es la última persona?, or – if you are inclined to repeat the question – a combonation of all four.

The person who is the last on line must then raise his or her hand and (though there are several forms of initiating and responding that will be addressed in the followng paragraph) prepare him or herself with descriptive adjectives and/or refined pointing technique to answer the next question/variants of: “¿Detrás de quién va?”, or simply, “¿Detrás?” Even more remarkable, once the second-to-last-person on line is identified, the new arrival must continue by asking ¿y detrás de quién va él? or ¿y detrás de quién va ella?, either to the former “última persona” or to the person in front of him/her. The search often takes several minutes to realize but once confirmed, everyone knows who they go behind and who the person in front goes behind, and are thus free to “flaneurear”, as Walter Benjamin might call it in Spanish.

As a direct result of not having to physically “hold” one’s spot on line (as in the case of the seemingly relaxed yet down right hostile colas norteamericanas), habaneros are able to engage in a pre-departure, endless moment vibe that could include (but is certinly not limited to) writing an award winning book of poems, getting ice cream (of course, hay que marcar de nuevo), coqueteando, chismeando, and, of course, contemplando la vida. In a study of 200 couples from the capital city that I conducted in 2001, 11.32% of parejas habaneras stated that they had met while on line for la guagua. Of that number, 74% were not directly associated in the ultima persona naming sequence. (Esto es pura bobería, para que sepan.) Needless to say, (and keeping in mind that 98% of the 11.32% had children) the system of marcando has generated certain cultural phenomena that has contributed to rapid population growth and as such, the formación de la nación.

Perhaps what is most interesting is the rise of an alter-lingua that is centered on the normalización del comportamiento guaguino. Now, hip young muchachónes and viejitos alike have innovated the entire system of vocal affirmations and subsequent oral verifying technique to a level of nearly pure miming. Stated simply, one can now arrive at the bus stop and make obvious the fact the he or she is looking for “el último”. This trend has, on the flip side, placed more responsibilty on the “último” as he/she must be aware enough to sense the approach of an oncomming linee and hopefully before any vocalization is necessary. In turn, the former “último/a” has the luxury of merely pointing to the person that he/she goes behind and, in cases of utmost caballería, will now often indicate with extended index finger the individual who is before the person in front of him/her without even the slight insistence of a eye movement. Thus, the entire placement of where one belongs in the line can be carried out without the obstacle of the spoken word and related hinderance on the throat muscles.

The nature of this line system is one small piece of what Antonio Benítez Rojo perceived when he wrote of regularity and complex order inside of Caribbean cultural spaces and muli-layered codes that appear to embody a state of chaos. La cola habanera generates a micro habanero order (complete with accepted linguistic and body performance norms) that sets the scence for yet another pattern through which one can perceive order in the seemingly chaotic inversión del significado del verbo ‘quedarse.’ Thus, the saga of guaguísmos continues…

Did you like this? Like us on our Facebook Page for more! Our constellation on guagua language and cents guaguescos includes the tale of ‘me quedo’ on La Veintelo cual pueden leer aqui! El Sirocco linguístico se no subió y tenemos una serie de artículos relacionados al bilinguismo maravilloso de EUA aqui!

Calo in Cuba

In his book, Inmigración y lengua nacional (Editorial Academia, La Habana: 1994), the renowned Cuban linguist, Sergio Valdes Bernal compiled a list of words from the Caló language that are used in popular Cuban speech. Caló is the language of the Spanish Roma (the group known as “gitanos” in Spain, “Gypsies” in English, and “ciganos” in Portuguese). The list includes words such as, ‘jamar’, ‘sandunga’, ‘chusma’, ‘mangar’, ‘furnia’, and ‘chaval’ that are widely used in Cuba and not only among the lower social classes, as many linguists have stated. The Caló language has profoundly influenced the Spanish spoken in Andalusia (the region of southern Spain) and, as Valdés Bernal has indicated through his analysis of Cuba speach, areas where Andalusians settled in the New World. Since Andalusians were one of the largest groups of Spaniards to emigrate to the Americas, the influence of Caló lexicon can be looked at as one of many unifying characteristics of the Spanish spoken in the New World.

These linguistic contributions could be been seen as icons that indicate a much larger transculturation that took place in Andalusia and later in the Americas. Along with dozens of words that Valdés Bernal has identified as so-called “gitanismos” (‘Gypsyisms’) in Cuban Spanish, there are also strong remnants of Roma culture in the religious imagery and musical traditions of Cuba, to mention only two areas of influence.

The Andalusian and Romaní influence on Cuban music is yet another example of the vast connections between these cultures. From “el llorao” (the cry that often opens Flamenco and Cuban Rumba numbers and appears in emotionally climatical moments), to “el laleo” (the harmonious and rhtymic use of the sound ‘la’ in Flamenco and Rumba), to dance steps, it becomes clear that what we see in terms of Caló influence on Cuban Spanish is a small part of a more expansive dialogue between Roma, Andalusian, and Cuban cultures.

A list of Caló words used in Cuba (Valdes Bernal, Sergio. Inmigración y lengua nacional. Editorial Academia, La Habana: 1994):

Acurdar. Emborrachar
Achuntar. Sujetar
Acharés. Dar
Alares o jalares. Pantalones
Andoba. Nombre propio, por fulano, el que esta a la vista
Baré o Barí. Bueno, a propósito, completo
Belén. Amor, alboroto, enredo, zafacoca, cuento, confusión
Berri o Berro. Cólera, coraje, berrinche
Birlar. Quitar a uno valiéndose de alguna intriga, estafar, engañar
Bisnar o Binar. Vender
Bureo. Paseo
Butén. De primera
Caló. Habla gitano
Camelar. Engañar
Camelo. Enano, estafa, decepción
Coba. Halago o adulación fingida
Cúmbila. Camarada, amigo de confianza, lobo de la misma camada
Cuna. Gente de barrio, rincón, esquina
Curda. Embriaguez, borrachera
Chalao. Loco
Chaladura. Locura
Chamullar. Hablar
Chamullo. Conversación
Changüí. Broma, engaño
Chapatalear. Nadar
Chaval. Joven
Chiringa. Un papalote pequeño o volatín con que juegan los muchachos. de uso exclamativo.
Chiva o Chivato.  Soplón, delator
Chola. Juicio
Chunga. Broma, guasa, burla festiva,
Chusma. Muchedumbre de baja categoría
Espichar. Morir, perecer
Furnia. Cueva, cavidad
Garito. Casa de juego
Guillarse. Irse, hacerse pasar por algo distinto de lo que se es, volverse loco,  hacerse el loco, ir de prisa, enloquecer
Jamar. Comer
Jarana. Fiesta, diversión
Jaranear. Hablar en broma
Jaranero. Bromista
Jeta. Cara, hocico
Jindama. Miedo, cobardía
Jiñar. Defecar, ensuciar, apestar, orinar
Jiribilla. Mujer que tiene sal, gracia, donaire. Astucia, sagacidad
Mangar. Pedir, mendignar, disfrutar, percibir, aprovechar algo
Manguindó. Hombre holgazán, que anda de vicioso en donde quiera, presentándose al estilo de tonto y frecuentemente de gorra
Mangué. Equivale l pronombre personal me, mi
Menda. Yo
Pargo. Bugarrón
Parguela. Homosexual
Piratear. Fornicar
Pirar. Ir, andar a alguna parte
Postín. Importancia, rango, brillo, lujo
Prajo. Cigarro
Puró. Padre, el viejo
Sandunga. Gracia, donaire, garbo
Sornar, surnar. Dormir

This transatlantic continuity, one that reaches back to India and speaks of the profound impact of Roma culture on Spain and the Americas, is also one pillar of what we are trying to understand as a system of cultural patterns that embody the Sirocco region and that travel like the Sirocco winds.


The Terreiro in Olodum

The African Brazilian Candomblé “terriero” (an open space and also a community) is a repeating word and theme in Brazilian song lyrics that embodies African Brazilian resistance, unity, and pride. The multi-layered metaphor of the terreiro and the way that it’s meaning is re-charged (as it moves from song lyric to the physical site of Olodum’s community-based youth education projects) through the empowerment of the African Brazilian and Axé community. This piece will provide a closer look at how the terreiro is incorporated into an Olodum classic entitled “Processão de fé” (the procession or unfolding of faith).

A particularly powerful version of the mentioned song appears on an unofficially released live recording from the early 1980’s that I was fortunate enough to have written down while listening. It features the legendary Margarete Menezes who sings the following verses with Olodum’s percussive ensemble resounding powerfully behind her:

Vou seguir o Olodum,
o Olodum,
do Terreiro até a Sé.
Vou fazer do Olodum,
do Olodum,
Minha procesão de fé!                                

Spatially, temporarily, and spiritually, these lyrics establish the terreiro as Olodum’s center. Beginning at the Candomblé house, the speaker will follow the group to the main plaza of the Pelourinho (Praça da Sé), and it is that procession – from religious house to public gathering space, and from religious entity to music group – that reflects the speaker’s desired faith. Interestingly, this faith or religious concept modeled on the example of the group Olodum (a name that comes from Olodumare, a word used to describe and praise the Yoruba supreme God), is one which links Candomblé to action both inside and outside of the context of ritual.

Several verses later, the song returns to the terreiro and alludes to the direct connection that Olodum maintains with the religious house as a theme, metaphor, source of inspiration, and creative force:

Olodum que vem do Pelourinho
dança como dança
o cavalo Mario
Olodum seu balê
lembra no terreiro a dança de Oxumarê

The last line links Olodum’s dance and rhythm to the Terrerio de Oxumarê: the very religious house that would end up hosting the group’s community-based education project nearly fifteen years later. This uncanny foreshadowing is further developed in the following lyrics:

Olodum seu batebom
faz qualquer um
achar o seu caminho
Nunca fico triste
Nunca estou sozinho
É feito um carinho esse toque do Olodum
Está aqui meu Olodum
Olodum, que vem meu axé

Here, the speaker describes the capacity of Olodum’s art to reunite one with their spiritual path. This characteristic of the group’s music and philosophy – one that (re)generates Axé – is brought into action during the education project that they will run (again, almost two decades into the future) at Ilê Oxumarê. The manner in which this particular song describes the empowering aspect of Olodum’s commitment to the community, and the accuracy with regards to the actual site, is a fine example of how deep within even the most “secular” African Brazilian music lies the endless vision of the Orixás and their capacity to creatively bring about change.

Terreiro: Word, Space, Action

“Terreiro” is a word from the Portuguese language that means: a large, open space, square or yard, and also refers to the houses of worship that are fundamental to the practice of Candomblé and other African religions in Brazil. The Brazilian “terreiro” is also referred to as “Ilê” (from the Yoruba word that means ‘home’), and “Axé” (from the Yoruba word that signifies ‘power’ or ‘creative energy force’). In a New World context, the term “terreiro” denotes a space of resistance and unity that has been central to the survival, retention, and perseverence of African Brazilian culture. The use of the “terreiro” in popular musical lyrics is, among other things, an affirmation of African Brazilian identity and a direct reference to the central role that African religions and cultures continue to play in the transformation of modern Brazilian society.

The mentioned symbolism inherent in the word “terreiro” has been appropriated by countless musicians and music groups such as Caetano Veloso, Clara Nunes, Jorge Aragão, Ilê Aiyê, Filhos de Gandhi, and Olodum, to mention only a few. In the lyrics of the latter group, the “terreiro” (and also the “quilombo”) is seen as a site of revolution, freedom, hope, and cultivation of the conscious mind:

Mas a luta continua irmão
jamais perderemos a esperança
de cultuar seus deuses negros
Mais se o negro parar e pensar
De tudo devemos cultivar
Salve Zumbi Rei Olodum
Grande líder dos quilombolas
Salve Zumbi Rei Olodum
Consciência Negra Olodum

These verses from Olodum’s hit, “Zumbi Rei”, describe the importance of African religions in the struggle towards equality and the mission of raising social consciousness in Brazil. Importantly, the themes of revolution, resistance and African Brazilian pride that the musical lyrics address are not limited to the text. These themes are engaged in community-based education projects created and directed by the same music groups that employ them in their art.

In 2002, Olodum and several other of the “blocos-afro” organized a city-wide education project for African Brazilian youth that was hosted at “terreiros” throughout the city of Salvador da Bahia. This project (Projeto Tocar e Criar) is an example of only one of many projects based at the “terreiro” and geared towards education and the advancement of Afro-descendents in Brazilian society.

In this particular project, I volunteered as an English instructor at the Terrerio de Oxumaré (Sociedade São Salvador Ilê Oxumaré). Meeting daily for a period of four months, the “terreiro” offered intensive English, Spanish, Dance, Music, and Computer Science courses to members of the religious community and residents from neighboring sections of the city. Directly affecting the lives of over 1,000 African Brazilian youth, the project exemplifies how Olodum has taken the metaphor of the “terrerio” and turned it into both the site of – and the spiritual force behind – social activism.

Translating Code-Sliding

The previous post on Os Doces Bárbaros explored a song that moves between Yoruba and Portuguese. That movement is part of the cultural context of Brazil, especially African Brazil. In some ways, the song is not an example of code-sliding: swithcing between Yoruba and Portuguese informs a great part of the Brazilian-Portuguese language. A similar relationship between languages exists in Spain. We see the convergence of languages clearly in Flamenco, where Andalusian Spanish and Calé (often called Caló), the language of the Spanish Romani, flow together. The joining of languages is already part of the linguistic map of Andalusia: Spanish, especially as spoken in the south, is heavily influenced by Calé and it is common to hear Spanish and Calé spoken together in Romani communities. Here, we have the great Camarón de la Isla singing in Calé and n important space for Romani-Andalusion expression is claimed:

One scholar transcribed and translated this fragment as follows:

Calé-Andalusian Spanish
Cuando estiñaba estardo
Mi Rumi, Mi Rumi
Bajó a esquinar
Me trajo un balichó
Y cuatro o cinco balñas

Spanish (back-translation)
Cuando estaba preso
mi mujer, mi mujer
bajó a robar
me trajo un cerdo
y cuatro o cinco barras de pan

English (back-translation)
When I was in the cage
My wife, my wife
Would steal
She’d bring me a pig
and four or five loaves of bread

“Me trajo un cerdo”  is clearly from the Spanish, as is “y cuatro o cinco.” These words exist alongside the Calé–that movement between codes is part of Spanish Romani diglossic, bilingual culture. So, how does one preserve that diglossia or bilingual expression in a translation? The use of Calé, particularly because Camarón represents Romani/gitano culture in Spain and beyond, is integral to the song’s meaning. The form of the message, then, carries as much meaning as the actual lyrics. The translator, then, can look for similar relationships between languages in the target culture. The translator can also bend the language of the target culture, if there is nothing that resembles the crossing of Spanish and Calé in Andalusia, so that there are spaces of tension that call the listener’s attention to multiple movements. One thing is clear: a strategy for representing the relationship between language varieties must include both linguistic meaning (Spanish and Calé into the target language) and the formal co-existence, in terms of form, of Spanish and Calé alongside each other.