Lost in translation

Over the summer I spent a week holidaying in Sicily - the first time I have been on a plane in about 30-ish years. My brain has been rather all over the place since getting back, and it has taken me a while to marshal my thoughts sufficiently to share the experience. There are a number of different angles I shall approach over the next few posts.
We met up with many relatives and friends of Francesco, and dined out a great deal. At one particularly impressive meal I was asked to conclude the evening with a story. Only a small number of the people at table spoke any English, and I currently have only about a dozen words of Italian. So the story of Pomona and Vertumnus was conveyed by a combination of Francesco's translation of my words, a sprinkling of what little Italian I do know, and even more body language than usual.
Edward Sapir claimed that language shapes thought (a concept now known as linguistic relativity)- people thinking in Dutch will do so very differently from someone thinking in Mandarin. One of my holiday reads was Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' which makes a similar claim that thinking in Ancient Greek is very different from thinking in (American) English - and not just thinking, it changes the way that characters in the novel see and experience the world.
As my Italian improves I may discover that it alters how I think and comprehend the world. The musicality of languages is also interesting - a small example being that English speakers say the name Aphrodite with a long i-sound, to rhyme with mighty. Italians say it with a short i-sound, to rhyme with pity. Not a massive difference, but Roman poetry is based on patterns of long and short vowel sounds (all those iambs and trochees you might remember from school) - rhyme and rhythm schemes can often indicate the accent of the poet. Does the invocation of a deity have a different effect if done in one language rather than another? Our minds, to some extent, mediate the presence of a deity within our lives - and if Sapir is even only partially correct about the way words shape our minds, then Aphrodite flowing through Italian, Greek, or German-structured minds might express herself very differently than if she were moving through English, Zimbabwean, or Tagalog-structured minds.
The experience of telling a story through the medium of translation was an interesting one, and may lead to further thought on issues of purveying stories and meaning in other languages - in this case putting a story back into what is almost its original language.
There are a number of curious stories - snippets of stories, really - from Sicily that could be worked up into interesting stories. When I finally get the chance to string some brain cells together, I'll record some and post them here.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book Review

The Horse Queen's son

Introducing paganism