CASA Translation - A new generation of Americans - JF Kennedy [Presidential Inaugural, 20th January 1961]

Ursula Westwood


This speech by John F Kennedy was made in a very different nation and time from
our own. Nevertheless, many of his calls resonate today, both in the increasingly
inter-connected world, and here, in South Africa: the call for unity, and not
domination; the emphasis on liberty and the fight against ‘tyranny, poverty, disease
and war itself’ — four evils terribly present in our wider African community, as
well as our own. Reading this speech here, today, demonstrates that Kennedy was
right to say that ‘All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be
finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even
perhaps in our lifetime on this planet’. The final call, of ‘Ask not what your
country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country’ is one that needs
to be heard in South Africa today — where we are faced with such enormous
challenges in education, health and economics that often the response of the nation
to this feeling of helplessness is an attack on our government, which so often has
failed to provide. Indeed, such attacks are regularly justified. But the call found in
this speech is to recognise the role that we play in the struggle against these
immense difficulties, and to take responsibility for our own country. This is why
this speech was chosen.
The intention behind this translation exercise was to practice writing
Ciceronian Latin, and, while much of the content in Kennedy’s speech is alien to
Cicero’s Rome, many of the ideas are not, and his style is undoubtedly Ciceronian.
The challenge in translation is mostly found in the need to transform English
abstracts into Latin concretes, as well as in the attempt to find the right Latin
equivalent for specific English terms — naturally a political party becomes a
factio, but others are not so clear. I have called the Communists Communistae,
since there is no Roman equivalent, and indeed the term is already rooted in Latin.
A final challenge was to use Ciceronian word order leading to rhetorical devices
such as chiasmus, anaphora, alliteration and emphatic positioning, while still
keeping the meaning clear. Overall it is remarkable how easily a few passages
fitted into a Latin idiom, which in itself reflects the profound influence Latin has
had on English rhetoric and style.

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