Sikh Tradition in Translation

Over the past few years the website Sikhitothemax.com has become one of the premier tools for English-fluent Sikh youth to access their Guru Granth Sahib. While STTM has problems that can be addressed at another time, it is important to realize the effect that this tool has had. sikh_kid.jpgMany Gurdwaras throughout the world have added STTM translations as part of their regular programs and the projection system in the Gurdwara is fast becoming the norm.

But is it enough?

In a recent article in the Fresno Bee, reporter Vanessa Colon looks at the question of losing tradition in translation.

Colon interviews a number of Central Valley Sikhs and finds that the Sikh youth are often not engaged with their Gurdwara. Although there a number of reasons, she delves into the question of language first and foremost. Some local Fresno Sikhs blamed the Sikh youth for not learning enough Punjabi. However, I see that this approach has problematic for there are now a number of Punjabi/Khalsa schools in California and beyond. However, instruction one day a week for an hour will not ever provide a sufficient language base for one to understand Gurbani.

My favorite part about Colons article is that she uses the lens of a larger immigrant perspective. Colon does not fixate on the Sikh situation as something completely unique and she brings in perspectives from other immigrant groups in Fresno, namely the Armenians.

A certain similarity is striking:

“In the Armenian situation, the second generation of young Armenians did not know how to read and write in Armenian and resisted learning it,” she said.

Mirigian-Emerzian, 86, said her parents forced her to go to an Armenian school, and she attended Valley Armenian churches, where the services were in Armenian.

“My parents retained the custom and spoke the language well, but I was born and raised here. As a young kid, I didn’t want to learn Armenian, but as I grew up, I realized it was an advantage to learn another language,” she said. “I wanted to be American. I thought why should I speak something else?” [link]

A religious studies professor from UCSB, Rudy Busto, provides some analytical perspective:

“This is very typical of what happens in the second generation. The usual model … is the immigrant church or religious institution is tied to the old country,” Busto said. The younger generation is torn between their parents’ traditions and their own Americanized values.”[link]

However, the situation may not be all bleak. Few people I know would ever suggest that the Gurdwara should move to English-only. However, for the youth, I do believe that katha (exegesis) should be conducted in extremely basic Punjabi or at times even in English.

While continuing to call for the Sikh youth to engage with Punjabi is important (in fact on this blog, it has been discussed before), I do believe that within 1 to 2 generations (meaning your grandchildren), they will not speak Punjabi. You can already see the beginnings of this in Canada and England (in families that have been settled there for 2-4 generations), where there are longer immigrant histories. The depletion of new immigrants from Punjab due to immigration restrictions after 9/11 will result in the decrease of the traditional infusion of new Punjabi-language speakers.

Although so goes Punjabi, I know that we can maintain our Sikhi. I think we can learn much from other religious communities as well. Reformed Jews maintain Hebrew for all prayers, but English is used for exegesis. I do believe that Sikhs may have to follow suit, but we have a transitional stage where simplistic Punjabi may be preferable at this time. Other thoughts and suggestions?

[For reasons of full disclosure, I have previously mentioned that I have helped with the Jakara Movement organization in the past]


bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark
tabs-top


77 Responses to “Sikh Tradition in Translation”

  1. P.Singh says:

    [quote comment="3438"]Regardless, a nurse or any other professional employed in Surrey should be well-aware of the language issues existing in that area. For a nurse in Surrey to become “very frustrated” because patients could not converse in English, is akin to me opening up a shop in Chinatown and then getting angry because many of the elderly speak only Cantonese or Mandarin.

    Working in hostipal is not the same as opening a shop in ethinic part of town. I guess this could be like a punjabi immigrant moving to english speaking country and getting angry that most people don't speak punjabi. [/quote]

    I don't agree with your logic. Surrey Memorial Hospital is located in Surrey, which has a huge Punjabi community, and which, as you have agreed, has many individuals who do not speak English. It would be moronic for a doctor or nurse working in Surrey to expect that all of the patients they come across will be able to speak English.

    And for the last time alot more people in Surrey still speak English then punjabi.

    This does not help your argument. The fact remains, in Surrey, a significant number of people do not have the ability to speak English or the ability to speak English with comfort. A hospital in Surrey MUST account for this fact. This is the reason Surrey Memorial Hospital initiated its volunteer interpreter program several years ago.

  2. P.Singh says:

    [quote comment="3439"]Your friend becoming “very frustrated” at the lack of English, paralleled many of the same justifications/excuses spouted by the ‘idiot nurses’ I confronted from time to time, when I was volunteering.

    Can you still explain to me why these nurses are idiots[/quote]

    Sure, I can explain it to you. Please consider the following:

    A. Definition of idiot: a foolish or stupid person; one deficient in common sense.

    B. Common sense dictates that a nurse working in Surrey should not be surprised that a large number of patients cannot converse in English.

    C. A nurse expecting only English speaking patients in Surrey would be foolish, and deficient in common sense.

    D. The nurse in question would be considered an idiot, as per the definition above.

    and I have feeling that you don't have the guts to tell that them to there face.

    Most nurses at SMH were absolutely amazing. However, when I ran into the odd nurse who acted inappropriately with elderly Punjabis, I had no problems calling her on it, to her face.

    To hear more about my courageous adventures, my numerous acts of bravery, and other related feats of strength, you'll have to subscribe to my newsletter.

  3. P.Singh says:

    [quote comment=”3438″]Regardless, a nurse or any other professional employed in Surrey should be well-aware of the language issues existing in that area. For a nurse in Surrey to become very frustrated because patients could not converse in English, is akin to me opening up a shop in Chinatown and then getting angry because many of the elderly speak only Cantonese or Mandarin.

    Working in hostipal is not the same as opening a shop in ethinic part of town. I guess this could be like a punjabi immigrant moving to english speaking country and getting angry that most people don’t speak punjabi. [/quote]

    I don’t agree with your logic. Surrey Memorial Hospital is located in Surrey, which has a huge Punjabi community, and which, as you have agreed, has many individuals who do not speak English. It would be moronic for a doctor or nurse working in Surrey to expect that all of the patients they come across will be able to speak English.

    And for the last time alot more people in Surrey still speak English then punjabi.

    This does not help your argument. The fact remains, in Surrey, a significant number of people do not have the ability to speak English or the ability to speak English with comfort. A hospital in Surrey MUST account for this fact. This is the reason Surrey Memorial Hospital initiated its volunteer interpreter program several years ago.

  4. P.Singh says:

    [quote comment=”3439″]Your friend becoming very frustrated at the lack of English, paralleled many of the same justifications/excuses spouted by the idiot nurses I confronted from time to time, when I was volunteering.

    Can you still explain to me why these nurses are idiots[/quote]

    Sure, I can explain it to you. Please consider the following:

    A. Definition of idiot: a foolish or stupid person; one deficient in common sense.

    B. Common sense dictates that a nurse working in Surrey should not be surprised that a large number of patients cannot converse in English.

    C. A nurse expecting only English speaking patients in Surrey would be foolish, and deficient in common sense.

    D. The nurse in question would be considered an idiot, as per the definition above.

    and I have feeling that you don’t have the guts to tell that them to there face.

    Most nurses at SMH were absolutely amazing. However, when I ran into the odd nurse who acted inappropriately with elderly Punjabis, I had no problems calling her on it, to her face.

    To hear more about my courageous adventures, my numerous acts of bravery, and other related feats of strength, you’ll have to subscribe to my newsletter.

  5. P.Singh says:

    Please note, my use of the term 'idiot' for a few of the nurses I came across at SMH is more generous than the term racist. I don't like throwing the R word out there too loosely, but it was hard to not at least consider it when witnessing the disparity between the courtesy shownto elderly white folk, and thatshown to punjabi speaking elders by some nurses.

  6. P.Singh says:

    Please note, my use of the term ‘idiot’ for a few of the nurses I came across at SMH is more generous than the term racist. I don’t like throwing the R word out there too loosely, but it was hard to not at least consider it when witnessing the disparity between the courtesy shownto elderly white folk, and thatshown to punjabi speaking elders by some nurses.

  7. Reema says:

    Suki and P. Singh,

    I think the point you guys are discussing- who should carry the burden health care accessibility, in terms of language (patient or provider)- is a complicated matter, without an immediately clear answer.

    Since Canada has universal health care, in order for the system to be meaningful, it should be navigable, and the government does have a duty to ensure that people can actually access it. BUT, how far does this duty stretch? Should they provide translation services at every doctor's office for every major immigrant group? And what constitutes a major immigrant group? 15% of the population? 30%?

    Even if the nurses are racist, that's still not a reason to demonize them. That isn't going to make them not racist- you have to engage with them, develop language and cultural understanding programs.

    Suki- frustration with a language barrier is understandable in that it makes your friend's job more difficult, but with awareness and sensitivity, it's not surprising, considering the demographics of the area where she's working. As a health care worker, awareness and sensitivity are 2 skills that are highly undervalued.

  8. Reema says:

    Suki and P. Singh,

    I think the point you guys are discussing- who should carry the burden health care accessibility, in terms of language (patient or provider)- is a complicated matter, without an immediately clear answer.

    Since Canada has universal health care, in order for the system to be meaningful, it should be navigable, and the government does have a duty to ensure that people can actually access it. BUT, how far does this duty stretch? Should they provide translation services at every doctor’s office for every major immigrant group? And what constitutes a major immigrant group? 15% of the population? 30%?

    Even if the nurses are racist, that’s still not a reason to demonize them. That isn’t going to make them not racist- you have to engage with them, develop language and cultural understanding programs.

    Suki- frustration with a language barrier is understandable in that it makes your friend’s job more difficult, but with awareness and sensitivity, it’s not surprising, considering the demographics of the area where she’s working. As a health care worker, awareness and sensitivity are 2 skills that are highly undervalued.

  9. P.Singh says:

    Reema –

    I think it would be onerous for every doctor's office to provide service in different languages; however, most patients can plan ahead when they are going to visit a doctor and bring along a relative/friend who can translate for them. In a city like Surrey, most elderly Punjabi will simply go to one of the many clinics which have Punjabi speaking doctors and/or staff.

    With a hospital, specifically for emergency related visits, patients have very few options as to location and very little time to plan ahead. As such, I think publicly funded hospitals have a responsibility to be able to provide service in any number of languages.

    At SMH, for example, while most of the volunteer interpreters were either Punjabi or Cantonese speaking, we had access to a list of volunteer interpreters who spoke other languages as well (Korean, Japanese, German, Spanish etc.). Furthermore, we had access to professional interpretation services, and would call upon them as and when required.

    Agreed – demonizing idiots or racists does not make them any less idiotic or racist; however, it's hard to not label them as such when their actions deserve the label. Nevertheless, your suggestions regarding cultural and language education programs is certainly more useful and beneficial than labelling. Cheers.

  10. P.Singh says:

    Reema –

    I think it would be onerous for every doctor’s office to provide service in different languages; however, most patients can plan ahead when they are going to visit a doctor and bring along a relative/friend who can translate for them. In a city like Surrey, most elderly Punjabi will simply go to one of the many clinics which have Punjabi speaking doctors and/or staff.

    With a hospital, specifically for emergency related visits, patients have very few options as to location and very little time to plan ahead. As such, I think publicly funded hospitals have a responsibility to be able to provide service in any number of languages.

    At SMH, for example, while most of the volunteer interpreters were either Punjabi or Cantonese speaking, we had access to a list of volunteer interpreters who spoke other languages as well (Korean, Japanese, German, Spanish etc.). Furthermore, we had access to professional interpretation services, and would call upon them as and when required.

    Agreed – demonizing idiots or racists does not make them any less idiotic or racist; however, it’s hard to not label them as such when their actions deserve the label. Nevertheless, your suggestions regarding cultural and language education programs is certainly more useful and beneficial than labelling. Cheers.

  11. Camille says:

    Suki, no worries, I was just letting you know that we've delved into language barriers on both ends of the Punjabi-English spectrum :)

    I think Reema's point is interesting, and I think attitudes towards language access differ in Canada. As a Californian (recently of New England), I fully expect health professionals to make translated materials and translators available. I don't expect everyone to be able to translate, but I certainly expect people to try in locations with large "minority" (or in some cases, majority) populations. My grandmother spoke conversational English, but in times of duress Punjabi was always her mother-tongue (or as we jokingly called it, the grandmother-tongue). I know if she was panicked and afraid, she would appreciate having someone explain things for her in Punjabi. This position is certainly different from other countries, in large part because I believe the state has an obligation to ameliorate access barriers to civic participation and to discrete, necessary needs (e.g., health care, emergency services, due process).

    I think a great parallel story on translation (albeit in the context of undocumented immigration) via the NYT: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/nationa… .

  12. Camille says:

    Suki, no worries, I was just letting you know that we’ve delved into language barriers on both ends of the Punjabi-English spectrum :)

    I think Reema’s point is interesting, and I think attitudes towards language access differ in Canada. As a Californian (recently of New England), I fully expect health professionals to make translated materials and translators available. I don’t expect everyone to be able to translate, but I certainly expect people to try in locations with large “minority” (or in some cases, majority) populations. My grandmother spoke conversational English, but in times of duress Punjabi was always her mother-tongue (or as we jokingly called it, the grandmother-tongue). I know if she was panicked and afraid, she would appreciate having someone explain things for her in Punjabi. This position is certainly different from other countries, in large part because I believe the state has an obligation to ameliorate access barriers to civic participation and to discrete, necessary needs (e.g., health care, emergency services, due process).

    I think a great parallel story on translation (albeit in the context of undocumented immigration) via the NYT: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/20080711IMMIG.pdf?scp=3&sq=arrest%20translator%20abuse&st=cse .

  13. […] before the problems that we, as Sikh practitioners, experience in understanding Gurbani, due to language barriers. Yet, she bases her research on translations that are subject to the same barriers and […]

  14. […] of technology, such as SikhToTheMax, to help the youth follow along with the shabads (a phenomenon previously discussed on TLH), but an English transcript of the shabads, however helpful, is no substitute for the […]

  15. Canadian Sikh says:

    I would like to comment on this back and forth regarding language expectations at the Surrey hospital where there is a large number of Punjabi people residing. Last time I checked, Canada had two official languages: English and French. It's my opinion that as an immigrant, you need to be aware of the laws and languages of the land you are residing in. The onus needs to be on the immigrant to communicate their issues in the official languages of the country they are living in. The elderly need to take a son/daughter with them (you know, the ones who sponsored them to Canada) to interpret. It should not be the hospitals responsibility to provide language translation from English/French to a foreign language.

    Maybe Canada should just increase the sponsorship fees to help pay for language translation services.

    I don't know Spanish. I wouldn't settle in Spain. If I had to live there, I would make the effort to learn Spanish. I wouldn't expect Spain to provide me with a Punjabi translator at their hospital.

  16. Canadian Sikh says:

    I would like to comment on this back and forth regarding language expectations at the Surrey hospital where there is a large number of Punjabi people residing. Last time I checked, Canada had two official languages: English and French. It's my opinion that as an immigrant, you need to be aware of the laws and languages of the land you are residing in. The onus needs to be on the immigrant to communicate their issues in the official languages of the country they are living in. The elderly need to take a son/daughter with them (you know, the ones who sponsored them to Canada) to interpret. It should not be the hospitals responsibility to provide language translation from English/French to a foreign language.

    Maybe Canada should just increase the sponsorship fees to help pay for language translation services.

    I don't know Spanish. I wouldn't settle in Spain. If I had to live there, I would make the effort to learn Spanish. I wouldn't expect Spain to provide me with a Punjabi translator at their hospital.

  17. Mason says:

    Quite amazing allocation!! I enjoyed learning Sikh tradition in translation mentioned views pretty much. IT's truly pleasure to learn some other country tradition details through here. Thanks.