September 23, 2005

Football in Navajo, anyone?

A friend of mine forwarded this article about how a college football game (Cal @ NMSU) will be broadcast over the web in Navajo. The broadcast starts tonight at 8pm New Mexico time; check the NMSU website for a prominent link.

I think this is a fantastic idea, and I hope it catches on -- both in Navajo and otherwise. But something about the article still bugged me. It's another one for the "they don't have a word for x" file.

The article ends like this (emphasis added):

The challenge for Frank and Pahe [the two Navajo speakers who will do the broadcast] is that Navajo is very different from English. For example, there's no word for first down.

"It takes nearly twice as long to say something in Navajo as it does English," Frank said. "I've just got to concentrate on the basics."

My guess is that the bolded bit just means that there isn't (yet!) a commonly-established set of football terms in Navajo, not that it's somehow impossible to express "first down" with a single word in Navajo. (Note also the strangeness of this example; "first down" isn't one word in English, either.) The "nearly twice as long" comment by Frank probably more specifically refers to the likely fact that, rather than borrowing terms directly from English, these broadcasters have chosen to translate the terms as longer descriptive phrases (for example, "first down" might be translated into something more like "the team retains possession of the ball for another four attempts").

In any case, I'm sure that if broadcasts like this continue and enough Navajo-speaking sports fans begin to talk in an organized way about football in Navajo, shorter terms will be born: they'll either be borrowed, co-opted from existing words (like "down" was in English), or outright invented. All it will take is for some people to agree on some terms. And this may already be happening, for all we know: according to the article, "[s]everal stations already broadcast high school games in Navajo, but Friday will mark the first time an NMSU football game has been broadcast in the language."

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at September 23, 2005 12:27 PM