Kaylin Rose Ahnie
The two most memorable gifts I’ve ever received were an alphabet picture book for my 4th birthday and a South African Oxford School Dictionary when I turned 8. Both were given to me by my father, who sought to instill both my brother and me with an appreciation for words from an early age. For my brother that manifested as a love for novels and poetry, whereas my literary love took shape through writing and translation.
This appreciation has grown into my belief that language is the culmination of art and science. A stance which makes it so disheartening to hear that translation is somehow considered lesser than writing. How can that be, when translation is the means of sharing the pinnacle of human achievement with a wider audience, and communicating art and science with people who would otherwise not have had access to these artefacts?
When I started my BA Humanities at Stellenbosch University, I was in the same boat as many of my peers and had no idea of where I was sailing. My preferences, however, always strayed towards the descriptive nature of General Linguistics over the prescriptive interpretations touted in English Literature Studies. After all, language is far too subjective and idiosyncratic to be bound by rules and regulations. This tendency continued throughout my post-graduate years in Translation Studies, and I continuously found myself conflicted, expected to choose a prescriptive approach when all I wanted was to flout the rules and study the splendour of language descriptively.
The fact that I now find myself on probation in a career that oversees and enforces language law boggles my mind. Amidst all my befuddlement, however, I’m learning to appreciate the need for law and order within interlingual and intercultural exchange. How can we understand and communicate with one another – much less facilitate understanding and communication – without acknowledging the set rules and frameworks? How can we acknowledge each other, without recognising our vastly differing backgrounds and contextualised understandings of the world? And then the following realisation dawned on me: If science and art go hand in hand why couldn’t prescriptivism and descriptivism?
My first two and a half months with the Folio family have taught me so many things, but the most important tenet, by far, is that these scholarly debates matter far less than what lays at the heart of the matter – helping people. If we as language practitioners allow ourselves to become too caught up in these debates, the people who need us are left to fall by the wayside.
No (hu)man is an island, and no text asocial. The road ahead is uncertain, but there will always be people, and we will always have words. We need to work with language – both the art and the science of it – to work for the people. An endeavour I look forward to pursuing!