Monday, January 05, 2009

Reading Hofstadter's GEB, I've come to the point, where he cites "Jabberwocky" in English, German and French and compares the beginnings of the three translations of "Crime and Punishment" into English. This, and subsequent episodes, have provoked some response in my symbol network, which I am going to try to pin down.

First, regarding Hofstadter's remark of the French translation of the word "slithy" ("lubricilleux"), he wonders if using the Latin-based word where its analogue in English is non Latin-based would trigger the additional sense of "alienness" of this word in the French reader which was not the intention in the original. I am not the ultimate expert of this subject but I have the impression that the French perceive the words with Latin roots simply as their own (French, after all, is a Roman language while English is not). Therefore, the translator's choice was probably quite fitting one. It is the fact that French has so many words in common with English (first, thanks to the fact that the English originally also used to be a Roman colony, and second, because the English have been conquered by the French later on) which obfuscates the difference between these two languages, but I wonder why Hofstadter did not mention it (could it be that he did not meet many French people at that time? ;) )

Second, regarding the Dostoevsky's translation. In the first phrase, there is a name of the street (S.Pereulok, abbreviated from Stolyarny pereulok). One of the translators just left S.Pereulok as it was, the other one changed it to S.Lane, and the third one called the little street "Carpenter's Street". Interesting that Hofstadter is against the translation No.3, because to him, it makes all thing sound like one of Dickens' works which could take place in London and in this case, why read Dostoevsky, asks Hofstadter, instead of reading Dikkens who is the ultimate translator of the same ideas into English?..

This is an interesting point. Could it be that different persons would require different flavors of translations for their minds to accept them as most suitable? The one example which immediately surfaced to my mind is the Russian translation of "The Wizard of Oz", which, as almost any Russian speaker knows, is called "The Wizard of Emerald City", has six follow-ups which wander far, far away from the original story (which already has been altered "to get accepted by the Russian children better"), and which is, as far as I know, far, far more popular than the more accurate translations of the original.

From the other side, the most popular Russian translation of Alice in Wonderland is not the one of Nabokov, who tried to do similar trick, substituting English realities with the Russian ones, but either the one of Boris Zakhoder, who preserves the "Englishness" of the book but does makes all the word plays and puzzling paradoxes comprehensive, so to say, or the one of Nina Demurova (who is assumed to be, in any case, the best translator for the little "Jabberwocky" piece)...

Thinking about the connotations and associations which exist in one language and do not exist in another looks per se both puzzing and endlessly interesting, but there are lots of traps where it is so easy to fall. For example, a simple English phrase "one another", at the first glance, seems to be literally translated into Russian as something like"friend-a-friend" (друг друга). But then, the word "друг" here can be an abbreviation of the word "другой", which literally means "other, another". But then again, isn't the word "другой" related to the word "дорогой" (dear), by the rule of making longer Russian words from the shorter Ancient Russian / Church Slavic words? Anyway, the words "friend", "another" and "dear" seem to be related in Russian, if only by the power of alliteration and pseudo-ethimology. What a nice thought can be drawn from this fact - that in the language itself, it is encoded that all the other persons are, by default, our friends, and they are, by default, very dear to us! (Incidentally, the word for "enemy" (враг, ворог) seems to be close with the word for "doing (evil) magic" (ворожить) - which can, if one is in the proper mood, be explained as that our only enemies are those who are doing the magic. It actually fits, if one takes the definition of magic as the attempts to overturn by the force of individual will the laws of nature - such persons could be indeed potentially dangerous!)

Enough for today.

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