Green and Brown
I asked my friend the translator, What was the fi rst known act of translation in the history of mankind? His answer was, Probably something into or out of Egyptian. I thought about this for a while and ventured a certainty: No, I said, it was when a mother heard her baby babble or cry, and had to decide an instant what it meant.
– ‘Short Lecture On Translation’ from Twenty-Two Short Lectures – Mary Ruefl e
I found the ‘Short Lecture…’ above on Twi er and instantly saved a copy, because it rang true, because it is sublimely wri en, because it echoed things I’d said about poetry: the fi rst poem happened when a cavegirl tried describing the sunrise to her caveguy. She was reaching towards the poetic: a er internalising the world, she was a empting to capture and externalise her point of view, communicate its personal signifi cance entirely in words.
I was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother who hailed from diff erent tribes in Nigeria and spoke diff erent languages: my father Uwano and Hausa, my mother Isoko and Yoruba. Their only common tongue was English and this was the language spoken to and around me. English then is my mother tongue but not my mother’s and I imagine, when she tried to understand my babble, she articulated it to herself fi rst in Isoko, then translated her responses to herself in English, before whispering them to the babbling me.
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