I try and make a point of watching films about Inuit, by Inuit and for Inuit. On the main, I invariably enjoy watching these types of films especially those that are based on Inuit legends or on historical accounts that I know of or have heard growing up. Yesterday I watched a film (I'm not going to name which one because that is not the point of this entry) and was yet again struck by the disjointed and jagged dialogue (words and phrases that seemed to have been translated without a view of the film as a whole, words and phrases that seemed at odds with the emotional and situational mise en scène that make the films whole as the story unfolds) and it got me thinking about the way Inuit children are taught the language arts in Nunavut schools.
I know that Inuit children in Nunavut are not taught how to express grammatically-correct phrases and that what passes for Inuit language instruction is really about how to read and write syllabics, and that, when real words are used, they are usually isolated labels and concrete words that one can see around the classroom and attached on them are the labels. That is, the emotional, political, artistic, ethical and psychological realities that make up who and what human beings are, what we can become, are missing entirely because the narratives that are the wares and tools of the trade are entirely missing.
Recently, one of my colleagues (a person whom I love and respect deeply) asked what the difference was between 'eye' and 'eye ball' and, upon proper reflection, he cut to the very heart of the problem of translation, the subtle differences that stem not so much from differences in grammar or language structure but in semiotics (ie, mindsets and frames that allow scientific thought to be different than literary thought, say).
I don't know if my 'witticisms' were appreciated but I offered 'iji' and 'ijiup aqsanga' after he then asked what an 'ear drum' was to which I facetiously said was 'siutiup qilautinga'. But of course literal translations serve a very important function in that they expose the semiotical differences in frames of references even within a single language - of which English is a perfect example.
I was really into the Percival legends around the time I spent at Memorial U of Newfoundland, and I'd tell the different variations of the stories to a friend of mine down there (who wasn't in school) to try and illustrate how different sources and ages change a given narrative. In one of house parties he started talking about how Sir Lancelot and Mary Magdalot were caught having an affair by King Lear...whether or not he was serious he provided a good laugh for our friends.
But this story proves a point that without the proper treatment/awareness of the semiotic space in which a given narrative occurs the story can become rather confusing. The storyline in the movie I saw with my nuliakuluk yesterday suffered from the same type of ailment. It really is a morality play. There is a narrator's voice that comes on when the hero is alone, and she says something to the effect that "now you are completely alone to [indulge] in your evil thoughts" when I think the proper translation should have been like "your desire for revenge has left you alone and destitute [without your new family]" - who have been trying to dissuade him from carrying out his revenge.
The plotline of the film (which in the original English is coherent and compelling) is like a jagged little pill and its insights and admonitions do not (cannot) take hold because the storyline in the Inuktitut translation is jagged and disjointed rather like a series of unrelated vignettes. This is rather like treating the bible as one whole book of double-binding, contradictory, confused evil.
But in order to appreciate the bible, one has to realize that not only does it have multiple authors but also that it comprises of different genres: creation myths, geneologies, poetry and lyrics, morality plays (or parables), historical accounts from a spiritual perspective, prophesies, instructions and laws...each of these comprise of wholes and complete discourses (many books on many topics). It has to be regarded and approached as the Talmud (The body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend comprising the Mishnah (text) and the Gemara (commentary)) regards and approaches it in order to make sense of it. Its true beauty cannot be seen otherwise.