Essay on A Conversation With Someone Whose First Language

Essay on A Conversation With Someone Whose First Language

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If you have ever had a conversation with someone whose first language is not the same as your own, you are probably familiar with the idea that there are certain words and phrases that do not translate perfectly from one language to another. This conflict is usually a matter of one language having a single word or succinct phrase for a concept which another language might need an entire sentence to capture.
When I was ten, my parents hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our home. Toward the end of the evening, my grandmother asked my grandfather if he wanted to go for a walk. “No,” he said. “I have the abbiocco.” My grandmother smiled. I asked my grandfather what that meant--he wouldn’t tell me. My grandmother explained, “The abbiocco is the tired feeling you have after you eat a big meal.” I asked my grandfather why he couldn’t just say that. He said, “too many words.”
So: in a work like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, how does one avoid using too many words when translating? Too few? Is there such a thing as a translation that is not also an adaptation? On the one hand, Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses preserves several key elements of Ovid’s masterful use of music and language in a way that other translations do not. Mandelbaum consistently incorporates a musicality of meter that could not be achieved via a literal translation. Though he is often guilty of padding Ovid’s language with excessive “filler words”, his diction is rarely too complicated or lofty. On the other hand, Before we look into a few translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and assess the extent of their failure, there are a few things we should note about the nature of Ovid and this particular work: Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a narrative poem, considere...


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...”, saying “it were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principal of its color and odor, as seek to transfuse from one language to another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower.”
So, is it possible to somehow regain what was lost in translation and craft a poem which would do justice to the original? The evidence suggests that a “perfect” translation, one that truly captures the unique color of the poem in its original language, is impossible. It is, at best, the difference between looking at a photograph and laying your own eyes on a thing as it happens; both experiences real and valuable, but the picture never being quite able to intimate the wholeness of a thing in the same way as a firsthand experience. As Robert Frost put it, “poetry is what is lost in translation.”

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