How do you say 'general obligation bond' in Navajo?

Project to translate election ballot to Navajo comes up against multitude of dialects, words and concepts that Native languages have no clear way to express.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Anyone who studied a little bit of Native American history can tell you that they speak a huge variety of American Indian languages. Even within the Navajo language there are quite a few dialects, so translating a voting ballot into one language that all Navajos can read is a daunting task.

This task has been taken on by Zane James, the Native American election coordinator with the New Mexico Secretary of State's office, who been busily recording Navajo translations of this year's ballot, reports The Albuquerque Tribune.

"You get into different areas, and people will talk a little different," said James. "It's really hard to nail down one particular word."

For the first time this year, Navajo translations of the ballot will be available on voting machines.

"Some words, of course, are very hard to translate into the Navajo language, like 'general obligation bond,' 'constitutional amendment,' " said James. " 'Citizenship' was one word I was thinking about for a while. How do you fully translate that?"

Translating English into Navajo is hard enough but then the answers must be translated back into English. That can have some unintended meanings. For example: Democrats and their donkey become the "long-ear planning group" and the Republicans and their elephant become the "animal-that-ropes-with-his-nose planning group," said James.

In order to address the vagaries of translation and dialects, Navajo speakers and election officials have assembled a booklet of translations to guide poll workers in using the translation being supplied by James.

"We thought it (the booklet) was going to be simple - just identifying words and coming up with meanings, but when we actually got down to it, Navajo is a big area, and people in Alamo speak a little different Navajo than we do here on the reservation," said Kimmeth Yazzie, program project specialist with the Navajo Nation Election Administration.
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