PEN SA and PRAESA’s Translation of George’s Secret Key to the Universe into isiZulu and isiXhosa

20 Dec 2014
PEN SA and PRAESA’s Translation of George’s Secret Key to the Universe into isiZulu and isiXhosa

In 2014, PEN South Africa once again worked with the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) to translate the children’s book George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy and Stephen Hawking into isiXhosa and isiZulu. Read about PEN SA and PRAESA’s other projects here.

This project aims to inspire older children to want to discover more about science and our universe, as well as contributing towards the status, respect and publication of African languages and advocating for people’s rights to have access to a range of reading materials in their own languages.

These were significant translations – the book is big, and the two translators grappled with serious terminology challenges. Phiwayinkosi Mbuyazi, who translated George’s Secret Key to the Universe into isiZulu, wrote about translating the book, which led him to invent almost 500 new isiZulu words:

“…why ‘a challenge’? Because, for South African indigenous languages, this is a pioneering work in so far as scientific writings are concerned. Pioneers, just like the Latin-English translators of yester year often come across frontiers characterised by hostilities. And, for where isiZulu and my pen are right now, black holes, light,mass, comets, asteroids, and the Solar System, all of which are fundamental to the plot, look very hostile indeed!

However, translations between different languages have happened since antiquity, and those languages which take their survival seriously never cease assimilating newly translated material from other languages. There is no better way to empower us to participate in the conversation that expands the thought horizons of our own mother tongues.”

Read Mbuyazi’s full article about this translation process here.

PRAESA Director Carole Bloch had the following to say about the project:

“The support that PEN has given to Nal’ibali to translate a Lucy and Steven Hawking book into Xhosa and Zulu is significant. The value of translation for children’s literature to grow in use and worth in South Africa is not yet widely appreciated – and so to be able to translate a science-based book like this has been a wonderful opportunity to show that through a process like this we think about and develop terminology and also we allow African language speaking children immediate access to a story which has the potential to inspire the desire to find out about the universe – and to stimulate an interest in science – something we desperately need.”

In South Africa, as in other African countries, scientific terminology is underdeveloped because of lack of use of the languages in these domains. There is an urgent need to stimulate an interest in maths and science though, and we are excited about the potential of this book to pioneer an interest among children. Now that the translations are completed, the next step will be to get the books published.