As a follow-up to my post about voting in Alaska Native languages, here’s an article about how the elections went with the state-mandated translation support. (Yes, it’s now over a month out of date, but my blogging activities have been on the back burner. Maybe even on a burner in an outbuilding in a neighboring town.)
Anyway, the gist of it is that while the efforts were well-intended, they weren’t without problems, at least for Yup’ik (the article doesn’t mention anything about voting materials in other Alaskan languages). Mistranslations and translations that ignored rather important dialectal differences meant voters weren’t always sure what they were voting for. An example given in the article is this:
The state’s translation for the predator control initiative used the word “takukaq.” In one Yup’ik dialect, that means “brown bear” but in a coastal dialect, it means “seal,” the lawyers said.
“As a result, voters on the coast (a predominately Yup’ik-speaking area) read a ballot that indicated seals would be shot because they had been consuming too many moose calves and were depleting the population — a nonsensical prospect,” lawyers wrote in a motion filed in U.S. District Court last week.
In spite of the problems, I applaud the state for trying to meet voters’ needs in indigenous languages. After the court decision, they were on somewhat of a constrained timeline to get materials out in time for elections. I also hope improvements can be made. Still, it’s not like there aren’t wording mistakes or ambiguous verbiage on ballots in other languages, so it’s not too surprising that it happens in Yup’ik, too.
More baffling are readers’ comments on the article, many of which demand that Yup’ik speakers just “learn English already” or go back to their own country. Sigh… apparently they missed the part about Yup’ik being an Alaska Native language, or the quote from the Native American Rights Fund.