Language matters

Curious about this blog’s unusual title?

Yes, it is a mixture of languages: that is intentional. The reason behind the bilingual title is that some ideas do not translate well – even if they can be translated.

When this project began as research in 2014, one of the first jobs of my newly-hired research assistants was to translate some of my documents into Silozi, the most prominent language in Western Province. We piloted the initial translated documents and found that our direct translations of Western Zambia were confusing to readers. After some discussion, we decided to use the local term for the place where we were working: kwa Bulozi.

Directly back-translated, kwa Bulozi means “in the Land of the Lozi.” The Lozi people are the most numerous in Zambia’s Western Province and have a rich history, but they are not the only people with roots in this province. For this reason among others, Western Province and Bulozi are not quite synonymous. In addition, people use the word Bulozi for other meanings, such as referring to the Zambezi River flood plain that was the epicentre of traditional Lozi life.

When describing my work to international audiences, I still tend to refer to it as being in Western Zambia for the simple reason that listeners can place that location on a map. The reference to Western Zambia is effective for its purpose, but it not only feels foreign, it is foreign to the place being referenced.

For the first part of the blog’s title, I could have used Silozi equivalents of the word disability – in fact, when speaking Silozi, I use those words. Yet as I will explain in a separate post, the European conception of disability has probably influenced what people call buyanga and buhole in Silozi.

Although I hope that this blog’s title is pleasing and memorable, more importantly, I hope that it is more than that. I hope that the title is a signifier of cross-cultural connections, wherein there is attention to the specific ways that people make sense of the world and communicate this to others.