Translation Crisis: Hausa natives point fingers at Stanbic IBTC Bank, Google, Facebook, Africa Magic, others

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By Habib Sani Galadima

The Citizen Reports observes recently different reactions of some Hausa native speakers to some translation work from English to their local language and vice versa. The translations, which others described as “lame” in their retorts are increasingly coming to the spotlight. Several adverts on billboards, item packages, buildings, and digital media carry such translations which the Hausa native speakers find either “funny” or “insulting”.

The Citizen Reports gathered how social media platform users reacted to some translations attributed to Stanbic Bank, Google, Facebook, Africa Magic Hausa, and the Peter Obi supporters’ Twitter handle, Like Minds For Peter Obi.

On 23rd September 2016 – Muhsin Ibrahim (Ph.D.) posted a picture that was captured from a TV screen tuned to Africa Magic Hausa channel that translated the English word  Shout Out with “Ihu Fitar” as its supposed Hausa meaning.

Image: Screenshot, courtesy of the author

Ibrahim accompanied the picture with his comment in the English language: “Outrageous. One of the worst Hausa translations I have ever seen and, more saddening, on a transnational TV station, AM Hausa. Please someone should warn them to stop disgracing and desecrating our rich language.” Following the post, here are some of the comments below:

Image: Screenshot, courtesy of the author
Image: Screenshot, courtesy of the author

Another female FB user (name withheld), registered her dissatisfaction with a Facebook translation of her post in an expression made on 28 September 2018 in the Hausa Language that reads “Gaskiya a gaya wa Zuckerberg mun gaji da wannan cin kashin da sunan translation. In ba rainin wayo ba, a ina ya ga Muslim a nan”. Translation: “Zuckerberg  should be notified that we are tired of this childish Hausa translation. Where did I mention Muslim in my writing for God’s sake?”

Image: Screenshot, courtesy of the author

Circled in red was Facebook’s translation of what the person has written in the Hausa language while the closer meaning to it could be, “Since yesterday, after El-Caleel’s post my mind has not been at rest. So, I will break the silence on someone that I have been crushing”. Just as she pointed out, the word “Muslim” did not appear anywhere in her comment.

Some reactions under the lady’s read:

Image: Screenshot, courtesy of the author

Sada Bn Suleiman Usman also uploaded a poster carrying a picture of the Labour Party presidential aspirant on 4 July 2022 which captions “Yunwa za ta bar kasar mu tare da Peter Obi”.

Image: Screenshot, courtesy of the author

It could be guessed that this was an aim to translate “hunger will leave Nigeria with Peter Obi”. Many commenters took this as very ridiculous as the literal meaning of the Hausa translation means “hunger will leave Nigeria together with Peter Obi” or “Hunger and Peter Obi will leave Nigeria together”.

However, the translation blunder that triggered The Citizen Reports to make this report was a recent picture upload by Ibrahim Sheme on 2 October 2022, which features a Stanbic Bank’s advert that says “Fara Karami, Girma Babba” which as some commenters guessed could be trying to mean “Start Small, Grow Big”.

Image: Screenshot, courtesy of the author

While speaking to The Citizen Reports, a Professor of Hausa Literature from Northern Nigeria who prefers not to be named, recounted that the incorrect Hausa translations roaming our screens and billboards didn’t start today, “such mischievous Hausa translation originated from some marketing companies in Lagos,” he said.

“I worked with such a company in the 90s after I graduated from university. The companies are given advertisements in different African languages. Unfortunately, most of the advertisers are not Hausa people but Ghanaians living in Lagos. So the ad companies contact Voice of Nigeria (VON), Hausa department, to assign the tasks to them.

“At that time, the advertising agencies kept a telephone at VON ready. Once they got a radio or television advertisement from English to Hausa, they would call the telephone and whoever picked it up would be the person in charge of the translation task, even if the person wasn’t Hausa. The work is not reviewed, and that is probably how the system has been operating so far,” he added.

The Professor lamented that the problem with such agencies involving themselves in the translation business is that if you are working with them, you have no right to do or say what you think is the right thing except what is assigned to you.  

“Such companies are now bigger enough to be reformed by an individual,” he said.

However, he stated that as far as the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) – the apex advertising regulatory body in Nigeria, will do the needful – such misinformation in the name of advertising will not be in place. One one the mandates of APCON is regulating and controlling the practice of advertising in all its aspects and ramifications.

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