So, first off, let me just say happy 2019. I have decided to start a blog again, but this time with a limited scope and concrete content. This is going to be a weekly blog about English language related topics. Hopefully, it serves as a basis for current and former students to practice their English, in addition to any friends who might want to chime in from time to time.
This week, I went to a Dayak Ngaju wedding here in Palangka Raya. A short Christian service followed traditional dance and ceremony. In it, they sang the classic gospel song "Bringing in the Sheaves," but had changed the lyrics to Indonesian, "Bawa berkasnya." When I heard it I thought "what the heck?" because "berkas" means paper docs, so that they were literally singing "bring in the documents." Then, I thought about the original English lyrics. "Sheaves" is not a well-known or used word. I knew it meant some kind of bundles of grain, so that people joining the church or finding the truth were compared to bundles of grain. I also thought it meant stacks of paper maybe, so I used my smart phone to look it up. Yep, also meant paper. So, it was a funny and perfect example of what happens when you aren't careful with a translation in English. I'm not sure if every Christian church in Kalimantan or even Indonesia is singing "bringing in the documents, but it definitely doesn't have the symbolism or meaning that "bundles of grain" does . . .
In my life as an English teacher I've seen lots of examples of nonsensical, silly, or even stupid English being used because people were careless about translation, or even worse, they just don't care. That's right. If a native speaker tells them their English translation on their store sign, menu, brochure, or in a song is incorrect or doesn't make any sense at all, I've found that they usually refuse to change it. Amazing. Japan is famous for messing up English and posting it on signs and tshirts. There are many funny websites like http://www.funnysigns.net/category/engrish/ where you can explore them and have a good laugh.
It would be great if people were more careful when they translated things into English. In today's age, with all the digital tools they can use, there really isn't any excuse for it. They can even find someone online to check their work before they put it on a tshirt, sign, or store window. But, they won't . . .
Update: come to find out, "berkas" has an obscure second meaning of amounts of rice, just like "sheaves". So it's actually a valid or good translation and I'm letting everyone know; I don't want to be one of those people who won't change their language post after they've been told its wrong...