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Jamaican Creole Salutes an Epic: Beowulf
Hwæt, We Gar-dena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,
oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs god cyning!
Wait! Before you begin to think the preceding paragraph is the result of an editor high on an
unknown substance, read on and think again. Hwæt (listen up; Yo!): believe it or not, this is none
other than what is termed Old English, the Anglo-Saxon tongue spoken in parts of England,
Scotland and Wales circa AD 1000, and spawned from a family of Germanic languages, Old Norse
and Old Frisian. The paragraph is an excerpt from the prologue of Beowulf, the first known English
literary masterpiece. Author unknown, it was written in the vernacular centuries before the
standardization of English, just before Latin and Greek crept into the language through liturgical
literature, before the imperial Roman armies stomped on it, and Norman gentility flowered it.
In essence, the above is a language foreign to modern-day English speakers, and clearly, there is
no understanding of the text without the translation into Modern English. Chances are many still
won't grasp the passage's meaning unless it is further translated into "urban" talk. The dynamism
of the English language, like most others where there is no manipulation by "language police", will
not permit it to stand still, and even though many of its rules have prevailed for hundreds of years
with modifications in each community (e.g. British vs. American usage), the great leveler that is the
Internet will soon break the back of time-honored grammatical rules, and much of what we think is
cast in stone will be pulverized.
Contractions, such as it's will soon be accepted as the possessive, just as different than has
become staple American usage. Using the Standard British English term inflammable is like playing
with matches when used instead of flammable, its American counterpart, especially in sensitive
military areas where combined troops of both nationalities are positioned, so small, imperceptible
changes have been taking place. And it will soon become standard to pluralize words with an
apostrophe preceding the ‘s'.
Even though it is has been accepted as the global mode of communication, English, the
überlanguage, may well be still in transition, just as is the non-Standard Jamaican Creole, an infant
language parented by English, West African languages and other additional influences, a language recently so
much in contention, held in contempt and dubbed a non-language by many of its own speakers, some of
whom are incapable of maintaining a conversation in Standard Jamaican English. Who knows?
Perhaps if the unknown author who penned the Beowulf epic thought as little of his own language
as many Jamaican Creole speakers do, English literature would have waited for the language to be
standardized, the great authors we read of today might have become masons, vintners, joggleurs
and jesters and just left writing to the monks, and much of our knowledge of medieval history
would have been gleaned through oral tradition and wall etchings. Surely I jest. But all this
hullabaloo about why the Bible shouldn't be translated into Jamaican Creole, and from some welllettered folks too, seems so inane when one looks at the history of the English language.
Just for a lark, I'd like to try my hand at translating the classic passage above into fi wi langwij.
First, here is a translation maintaining the epic tradition, into what is termed modern English:
Listen! We --of the Spear-Danes in the days of yore,
of those clan-kings, heard of their glory;
how those nobles performed courageous deeds.
Often Scyld, Scef's son, from enemy hosts
from many peoples seized mead-benches
and terrorised the fearsome Heruli after first he was
found helpless and destitute, he then knew recompense for that
he waxed under the clouds, throve in honours,
until to him each of the bordering tribes
beyond the whale-road had to submit,
and yield tribute: that was a good king!
And finally, without the ornate diction and oblique narrative, ah we dis:
Oonu listen mi: We fram de Spear-Danes posse did a hear bout dem don man long long time now,
an how dem dus' out nuff man. Even Scyld bwoy-pickney, im use to tief furnitcha fram the next
posse dem and lik shat onda dem bwoy from di Heruli gang – eeven doh one time im did fenkefenke and bruk-packet, but him well smart, far im stay pon crooked an cut straight, till de Wale
Road posse an di adda posse dem haffi bow an show him nuff respeck! Coodden joke wid da don
Perhaps you could render it into patwa epic verse for me.
Teachers of English in Jamaica may have a captive audience in the classroom, if they use a little
innovation, respect the vernacular, and allow their charges to have some fun while learning the
language, with all the challenges that face our children.
Post date: 2008-08-04 00:36:00
Post date GMT: 2008-08-04 05:36:00
Post modified date: 2008-12-27 21:52:59
Post modified date GMT: 2008-12-28 02:52:59
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