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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Chinyanja and the Language of Rights
Author:Englund, HarriISNI
Periodical:Nordic Journal of African Studies
Geographic terms:Mozambique
Subjects:human rights
Nyanja language
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Law, Human Rights and Violence
External link:http://www.njas.helsinki.fi/pdf-files/vol10num3/englund.pdf
Abstract:Discourses on human rights are among the most enduring consequences of the wave of democratization that swept across sub-Saharan Africa during the 1990s. This article examines the case of Chinyanja-speakers in Malawi and Mozambique, with whom the author has been engaged in ethnographic research over the past ten years, in order to highlight challenges in the attempts to translate the 'rights talk' into vernacular languages. In Chinyanja, 'human rights' are translated as 'ufulu wachibadwidwe wa munthu', literally 'the freedom that the person is born with'. In the context of persistent poverty and insecurity among many Chinyanja-speakers, such a translation appears to feed reactionary counter-discourses that criticize democracy for bringing 'too much freedom'. The article discusses theoretical problems in translation, particularly the question of linguistic relativity, and argues that translation is best seen as conversation with existing notions. By exploring the notion of interdependence in Chinyanja proverbs, the article demonstrates how extreme individualism and conservative counter-discourses do not have to constitute the only alternatives in Chinyanja debates on rights and democracy. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum.