International Translation Day Colloquium

by Hlumela Mkabile | Sep 16, 2022
Invitation - International Translation Day Colloquium: A World Without Barriers. The Rosetta Stone and the Unlocking of African Knowledge, 30 September 2022
30 September 2022
Theme: A World Without Barriers. The Rosetta Stone and the Unlocking of African Knowledge
Host: Department of Linguistics and Language Practice
Mode: Hybrid
Venue: Interpreting Centre
Link for the day:

International Translation Day recognises translation professionals, especially translators, interpreters and terminologists. It is associated with the day of the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators. This year’s International Translation Day is on Friday, 30 September 2022 and the theme is A World Without Barriers. The commemoration of this event at the University of the Free State will take the form of a colloquium focusing on the role that the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone plays in the unlocking of African knowledge.

Two hundred years ago on 14 September 1822, the French scholar Jean-François Champollion completed the work on the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone and he could read the entire text. On 27 September 1822 this breakthrough, which led to the unlocking of the rich heritage of Egyptian hieroglyphic texts, was announced in a lecture to the Académie royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres.

The Rosetta stone/stela was discovered in July 1799 near the town of Rashid, ancient Rosetta, situated in the western part of the Nile delta, by soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army invading Egypt. After the French surrender of Egypt in 1801, the stone passed into British hands and is now in the British Museum in London. The commemorative stela contains three versions of the same text (in Egyptian hieroglyphic, Egyptian demotic and Ancient Greek script, representing two varieties of the Ancient Egyptian language and the Ancient Greek language) – a decree issued on 27 March 196 BCE by Egyptian priests during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of Ptolemy V Epiphanes to commemorate his
coronation. It took more than 20 years and various attempts by scholars to decipher the demotic and hieroglyphic Egyptian texts; the Ancient Greek text was easily read.


The decipherment was done by utilising the mechanisms of modern philology, which was established as a field early in the 1800s. Standing on the shoulders of his predecessors, Jean-François Champollion was the first Egyptologist able to crack the code by realising that some of the signs were alphabetic, some syllabic, and some determinative. This knowledge enabled scholars to read the literature of ancient Egypt. Knowledge of ancient Egyptian history would be nearly impossible to obtain without the ability to read hieroglyphics.

Champollion was also a teacher of the French missionaries who, in partnership with their Sesotho colleagues, later developed at least the first orthography for Sesotho (and with influence also on Xitsonga) in the late 1800s. The rich information available by way of translation from both African languages is dependent upon the decipherment of the Egyptian orthographic systems, and the development of an orthographic system for Sesotho.


Both ancient Egyptian and modern Sesotho are African languages whose writing systems were, respectively, deciphered and developed through the joint efforts of a community of European and African scholars. The colloquium will demonstrate how the rich information available by way of translation from both African languages is dependent upon the decipherment of the ancient Egyptian orthographic systems, and the development of an orthographic system for Sesotho.



Opening (Dr Nomalungelo Ngubane – Director, Academy for Multilingualism)
Presiding Prof Kobus Marais – Academic Head, Linguistics and Language Practice


Session 1

Chair: Mr Monnapula Molefe

8:30- 9:15
Paper 1 Discovery, decipherment and unlocking of Egyptian knowledge and legacy (Ms Ronel Kellner - Hebrew)
The aim of this paper is, first, to provide an historical overview of the discovery and decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphic; second, the paper will challenge wrong habits of thinking inherited from a colonial past by examining how ancient Egyptian thought was neither ahistorical and mythopoeic but was rather an intellectual systematic exploration of reality that sought to establish semantic, aural and visual patterns of meaning that were rooted in a sophisticated onto-epistemological understanding of the world. The paper is based on the work of such scholars as Marc Van De Mieroop and C. Jay Crisostomo and the Performative New Materialist theory and method of diffraction and entanglement rather than representation proposed by Karen Barad.



Paper 2 The colours of Ptolemaic Egypt as seen through the Rosetta Stone (Dr Madhlozi Moyo – Philosophy and Classics)

In the paper I shall seek to explain how the Rosetta Stone illustrates the interconnectedness of the various peoples in Egypt and the Mediterranean world in general. Issues of identity in Ptolemaic Egypt will be pursued. I have observed from Egyptian visual art and studies on mummies that some of the people were of mixed Egyptian and Greek blood, and the Rosetta Stone illustrates this fluid identity as well.

Break (Refreshments sponsored by Dean of Humanities, Prof Heidi Hudson)


Session 2

Chair: Dr Xany Jansen van Vuuren

Paper 3 Unlocking of African Knowledge: The influence of the Rosetta Stone on Sesotho orthography (Dr Tshokolo J Makutoane – Hebrew)
Sesotho orthography was first developed by the French Missionaries when they arrive in Lesotho in the 19th
century. The main objective was to fulfil the dream of the founder of the Basotho nation chief Moshoeshoe of
empowering the Basotho in terms of writing and reading skills. Sesotho has two orthographies, namely the old
one of Lesotho and the new one of the Republic of South Africa. The two orthographies, although different,
complement one another. The main object of this paper is to investigate how the decipherment of the Rosetta
Stone by Jean-Francois Champollion influenced French Missionaries who had developed African orthographies,
especially Sesotho in Lesotho and South Africa. The paper is based on the historical-linguistic framework.
The outline of the paper is as follows: a brief discussion on the history of the origin of Sesotho orthography; how
are the two orthographies Sesotho displayed in the translation of Old Testament Psalms and the New Testament
Gospels in the 1855 and 1856 translations of the Bible in Sesotho; conspicuous differences and similarities that

were identified from 1855 and 1856 through to 1909/61 and ultimately to 1989 and its revision, and conclusion.


Paper 4 Gifts from the past: The legitimacy of philosophy in Africa (Mr Lindani Gobingca – Philosophy and Classics)
The paper will discuss the rediscovery of lost knowledge, the legitimacy of African thought systems and how
they ought to be in conversation with the West when discussing solutions to contemporary philosophical issues.



Panel Discussion:

Theme: Ancient Egypt and Southern Africa

Presiding Prof Kobus Marais – Academic Head, Linguistics and Language Practice
with respect to indigenous knowledge (10 minutes) (Dr Elias Malete – African Languages)
with respect to art and artefacts (10 minutes) (Rev. Mbuyiseni Mahlangu - Hebrew)
with respect to ethnomusicology (10 minutes) (Dr Joseph Kunnuji - Odeion School of Music)
Discussion 15 minutes



T: +27 51 401 2240 or

Marizanne Cloete: +27 51 401 2592

Neliswa Emeni-Tientcheu: +27 51 401 2536
Phyllis Masilo: +27 51 401 9683

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