Tag Archive: language


Translating or transcending – The Hindu.

We are a polyglot nation, and we have knowledge of at least two languages: we have a mother tongue and a language in which we have been educated at school and college, which is often different from the mother tongue. Often this second is English. Every language you learn has its own sensibilities and its own idiom. It has its own registers, value systems, class distinctions and levels of the acceptable and the unacceptable. Each language that we know sensitises us differently to different things, and develops in us different personalities with different sensibilities.

Each time we switch to another language, we subtly shift to being another person. Our gestures and facial expressions also alter accordingly. A language is not simply about words and sentences, it is also about pauses, emphasis, intonation, cadence, pitch, silences; the appropriate use of these in sentences and words is what creates the meaning of what we say, and conveys nuances.

In translation of texts, the non-verbal aspects of language are hidden until the text reaches the reader. But to get the text to reach the reader in a way that the reader interprets the semantic signals to create the same meaning is the job of the translator. A translator of literary texts especially has to be acutely conscious of the different personalities he/she has developed in different languages. The moment of translation is the moment when the translator’s two personalities in two different languages are in dialogue with each other. It is the moment of interlocution between the two personalities of the same person. Only then can the eternal argument of ‘faithful’ and ‘beautiful’ be resolved in translation, because it is then transcended, and we reach another level of understanding about translations. Faithful and beautiful are no longer opposed to each other and are no longer even players.

In the knowing of another tongue, which maybe indigenous or foreign, in therefore developing of an alternate personality, we create space for the understanding of Another. Translation, comparative literature and writing in a second language all constantly pose the question of rapports with Another.

If we take as a preliminary truth that all societies are based on some Universal Human Values, it becomes extremely limiting. We then narrow ourselves down and choose texts and subjects that we feel represent those universal values which we understand also as our own. In such a case we close doors to understanding the Other. The Other cannot be Another unless he/she has Otherness. If we do not acknowledge the otherness of the other, if we think we know their truths already, then we close our minds and do not go out in search of their otherness. In such a case in translation we are actually just searching for mirror images of our own selves and we are not transcending ourselves or the texts. What would be the value of translation when we do not want to know why someone/something represents or IS another?

Translation and work between languages also fulfils the ambassadorial function of creating empathy and understanding between cultures, but only when we are ready to acknowledge and value the differences, (Otherness) to accept them for what they are, to see how these very differences enrich and strengthen societies.

Word hungry

Word hungry – The Hindu.

Anu Garg’s Wordsmith.org is a community of more than a quarter million subscribers in about 170 countries.

He sends out a simple email every day, A.Word.A.Day, containing a word, its definition and etymology, and an example of its current contextual usage; this to more than a quarter million subscribers in about 170 countries. And he has been doing it since 1994.

Add the fact that this is an immigrant whose first language is not English, a man who has had no “English connection” till high school. Anu Garg is a man with a mission. This Seattle-settled Master in Computer Science, hailing from Uttar Pradesh, went out west two decades ago like any other techie. But eventually the love of words took over and he left corporate life to work full-time on spreading the joy of words. Wordsmith.org was born of this love, with a mission to spread the magic of words and completes 19 years of service to the “wordaholics” this month.

Garg says there is no single incident which triggered this mission of words. “For as long as I can recall, I enjoyed reading. I literally read books from cover to cover. Then I started wondering where words come from. Who made them up? Who said that that opening in a wall was to be called a window? Then I discovered that each word comes with a biography. These words have fascinating stories to tell, if only we take the time to listen. For example, the word window comes from Old Norse in which it meant wind’s eye. How much more poetic can you get?”

Garg says one of the best things about running Wordsmith.org is hearing back from readers. They share their stories about words: anecdotes from childhood, workplace, and beyond, of how words touch everyone, regardless of what we do or where we live. He cherishes this note from a disabled reader: “I am a fully disabled priest stuck out in the swamps about 35 miles north of Savannah, Georgia. A horrible radiation accident many years ago started taking its toll in the early 1980s. Of the two curses, pain and boredom, the latter is the heavier cross. Services such as yours are invaluable to me. Mind challenged, I am sometimes able to go to a nursing home and do services for the residents. You will help in this effort. A mind fallow becomes overgrown with the weeds of confusion and forgetfulness.”

The very first word Garg put up was zephyr, meaning a breeze from the west, but Garg says he had no reason for choosing that word. In fact he has no method for choosing a word at all and likes to think words choose him. “They raise their hands and say, ‘Pick me! Pick me! Write about me and share me with the world.’ Whenever I come across an unusual word in my reading a book, magazine, or newspaper, I make a note of it. Sometimes I actively look in the dictionaries for words that match interesting patterns. For example, Facetious is a word with all five vowels, once and only once, and in order.”

   The approach to words is playful rather than academic. “I like to have people see words come alive. They are born, they change with time, and sometimes they die too. That’s not to say that it’s not educational. We have a fair number of students who subscribe to AWAD.” His subscribers are from all walks of life, from accountants to zookeepers, writers to editors, engineers to professors, and many others, all people who share a joy of words.

Words are like colours on a palette, he says. “You don’t have to use all those colours in a painting, but it helps to be able to find just the right shade when you need it.”

Words perhaps work the same way. The right words help us to portray our thoughts and ideas just as we have them in our mind. Most of us don’t want to use an unusual word just for the sake of using it but if it fits, why not use it? And if you think you don’t know any, then it’s time to subscribe to wordsmith.org.

Indian frames of mind

ADITYA SUDARSHAN

 

The sensual experience of learning Hindi and the transforming glimpses of ‘elsewhere’ that it afforded was what attracted her to learn the language and write about it, says American author Katherine Russell Rich. Excerpts from an interview…


Living a dream…Katherine Russell Rich.

American writer Katherine Russell Rich’s Dreaming in Hindi is an engaging, informative account of a year spent in Udaipur, learning Hindi from scratch. In this email interview, she discusses the process and what it did for her.

You mention in your book that you weren’t quite sure why you chose to learn Hindi in particular. But do you think your achievement, of re-imagining your world through a second language, would have been as personally rewarding if the language had been some other?

 

Yeah, I kind of stumbled into Hindi — I didn’t know precisely why. I wasn’t one of those Westerners who was after all-things-Indian to get jolts of spiritual enlightenment. I just liked the way the language felt in my mouth, I liked the glimpses it gave me of someplace so different from what I knew. It’s funny to say this about something as cerebral as learning a language, but I liked the sensual experience of Hindi.

I sometimes think when we allow ourselves to stumble into something, we leave ourselves open to larger forces guiding us in the right direction… Hindi and India were an absolutely essential part of the mix, it turned out. But no way would I have anywhere near the same rewarding experience had I gone, say, to Cuernavaca to learn Spanish. Hindi and daily Indian life are so infused with the wisdom of the Vedas, that wisdom seeps in whether you’re looking for it or not. And whether you intend for it to or not, it’s transforming. In casual conversation, for instance, somebody said to me, “Life is a rope snake,” and I haven’t felt fear with quite the same intensity since. And as a proper, distanced Anglo-American, I was at first horrified by, then totally melted by the boisterous closeness of an Indian family. I ended up loving that and yearning for more.

As someone who balks at the idea of learning another language in adulthood, I was very struck by your analysis of how traumatic a process this is, and how it requires unsettling your whole way of thinking. Do you think you could have done it if your own life had not been at a cross-roads at the time?

 

Being at a cross roads gave me the time to get away, but I’m not sure it’s what enabled me in the process. It might sound weird, but I think what came in most useful was the fact that I’ve had cancer for two thirds of my adult life. When you live with cancer, you have to figure out ways to live with constant uncertainty, and same thing goes for when you learn a language: Did that man just say what I thought he said? No way. Wait, wait: I think he did. In both instances, you either learn to be fluid or you go nuts. In my case, I’d already gotten a jump on learning to be fluid when I started learning Hindi.

It’s often said that we in India must all learn a common language if we’re going to get over our linguistic rivalries. But since this can be such a painful process, would you say a ‘live and let live’ philosophy is a better approach?

 

A live-and-let-live-philosophy is a better approach in theory, but I’m not sure it is in practice. For a country to truly function, doesn’t it need to have some kind of collective national voice? On the other hand, just as you can’t invent a symbol, you can’t thrust a language on people. A language is so much a part of the unconscious, it has to be gently incorporated or it’ll never seep into the deeper levels.

As India continues to change so rapidly, I have a feeling the situation with languages might too, maybe because there’ll be more incentive to have a common language. It won’t be a matter of ramming it down people’s throats. It’ll be a necessity for doing business.

Reading your book, it’s obvious you love English. In a paradoxical way, do you think that helped you with your Hindi — knowing that it would always be at arm’s length, so to speak?

 

I do love English but I think that’s largely because, like a lot of writers, I love language. And loving language, no question, helped me with Hindi. Unfortunately, I think that knowing English would always be my primary language slowed me down with Hindi. If you’re a Hindi-only speaker and go to America, you can’t cheat and fall back on Hindi when you get sick of fumbling through in another language. But if you’re American and go to India, you can always corral someone into speaking English with you, to the detriment of your Hindi.

Has your time in India learning Hindi changed your use of English?

 

In the beginning, that was happening all the time. You know how people in India often say “Hum” in a sentence where English speakers would say “I”? I was constantly doing the reverse — “We’ll be there at 7, then” — and people would say, puzzled, “We? Who else is coming?”

I was in such an Indian frame of mind, it took me about a year to know how to begin the book. One small example: I’d gotten used to the Indian sense of hierarchy and so I kept balking at writing about my teachers in any way that might sound disrespectful. This is the dead opposite approach you want to take with an American audience, who’ve been seeped in notions of “everyone’s equal” their whole lives.

I finally snapped out of it when one day, I was telling a writer friend a very rude but very funny story about one of the teachers and she said, “Of course you’re going to put that in the book?” Without thinking, I answered, “Oh no, that would be disrespectful,” and she cried, “What. Are. You. Talking. About?” After that, I was back in America.