Saturday, April 02, 2011

In English: "feeling blue" and "black dog"; in Russian: "green ennui" (тоска зеленая). What if the same book in different languages spawns different feelings, due to the different color perceptions of the readers - even if we assume 100% identical "to the letter" translation? (If one can talk about identical translation in this case at all)
It might be interesting to map the unconscious perception of the same text (e.g. from the colors mentioned in it and their associations) across different languages and see if that has any influence on how the book is received...
Speaking about positive associations: in Russian the word for "red" (красный) is also an ancient form of the word "beautiful" (прекрасный). "Красна девица" (literally: "red maiden") is a set fairy-tale phrase meaning "beautiful damsel". So everything which is "red" for a Russian speaker might unconsciously be perceived as positive, being associated with beauty. ("Light-blue" (голубой) has in fact several associations  - some of them I won't elaborate upon - but none of them is linked with sadness at all.)
Positive aura of red in Russian is also spread on other red-like colors: "малиновый звон" (crimson ring/jingle, literally in fact "raspberry ring" because the word is derived from the raspberry color) is an expression describing the sound of many church bells around the time when the sun rises or sets (yes, there is a special expression for that) and is supposed to bring into mind the image of peace and tranquillity all over the world. I am sure every language has such very special phrases which can be explained, but not directly translated. 
On the other hand, when you are called "white-handed" in Russian, you are accused of being too lazy (or at least, too cherry-picking).
The question is, in view of all that, is there any hope that one day two people speaking different languages and living in different parts of the world, would be able to understand each other fully, due to some arcane technology? As far as I can see, not without being able to place oneself in the other's mind... In any case: passive understanding of new or alien concepts, without any additional effort, seems to be very unlikely...