NABOKV-L post 0017468, Mon, 15 Dec 2008 16:16:57 +0000

Re: [NABOKOV-L] Query on Alps, Bera range, Algonquin...Birches
JA/JM: we are indeed paddling in deep and tricky waters (possibly skating on
thin ice!), with well-known tensions between how linguists and
literary-theorists view & define the basic concepts. The two groups tend to
mistrust each other, since their aims and methods are different. A major
difference is that linguists, as ³wannabe² scientists, aim for an objective
approach, studying the many aspects of language IN ACTION, as it were,
trying hard to be precise and consistent in their terminology and
explanations. Consider, e.g., the notion of Natural Language (yes, JA, this
is abbreviated to NL by all those active in our fair trade, just as AL
stands for Artificial Language!). As a very brief overview, we can actually
observe in the real world how new languages emerge, typically as
evolutionary progressions from Pidgin via Creole to ³fully-fledged² NL. The
NL AWARD signals that a degree of grammatical complexity has been reached to
justify the ³equivalence² axiom, namely that anything ³sayable² in one NL is
³sayable² in any other NL. There¹s a certain unavoidable ³circularity² in
this definition, but it is a useful step forward. (Linguistics as a Science
shuns DOGMA and is subject to all the revisions and paradigm shifts that
Science is Heir to.) I must stress that the increased grammatical complexity
from Pidgin to NL I referred to has little to do with richness of
³vocabulary.² In the usual Pidgin trading context, names for objects can
always be ³negotiated² (by pointing or paraphrasing), but the NL axiom
requires grammatical structures for conveying numerous subtleties of tense
and mood. Pidgins have no trouble with ³pesticide² or ³atom bomb² but can
often fail with ³If only the bananas had ripened a week earlier.² Once you
get away from the relatively easy-to-match (grammar and lexis) Indo-European
family, you meet some real ³NL-equivalence² challenges: languages with 17
genders or 20 words for ³we² (you-me; you-me-more; etc); forms of address
complexly tuned to rank and caste. In spite of all these bizarre quirks, the
axiom is really asserting language-acquisition as a common INNATE human
(HomSap) gift, loosely referred to as ³Pinker¹s Instinct² or Chomsky¹s
³pre-wired² Universal Transformational Grammar.
Amid all the chicken-egg uncertainties re-how words-and-thoughts interact,
distinct regions of every healthy infant brain can be identified as organs
for language acquisition and production.

Forget the oft-heard claim that the Englishman¹s ³home² does not have a
simple, single-word equivalent in, say, German. IF true, this doesn¹t
infringe the NL-equivalence axiom, which simply demands equal ³sayability²
with no strictures on economy or ³elegance.² Otherwise, you are claiming
that a particular meaning of ³home² (more than a house of bricks and mortar;
more a comfy, private castle!) is beyond German understanding. As JA says,
words are freely borrowed if the need arises: just as ³home² and ³Heim² were
borrowed long ago from some common Germanic ancestor. A wonderful example in
the ³we-don¹t-have-word-for-that² category: the Inuit do NOT have a word for
³hemispherical-dwelling-made-from-snow-blocks.² The English DO have such a
word! We borrowed the Inuit word IGLOO, meaning HOUSE!

Returning to VN¹s theories of Translation. I see no contradiction between
(i) NL-equivalent expressiveness and (ii) the huge challenge of capturing
the intentions of the original NL-X author in a NL-Y text (Experts seldom

Without axiom (i), you might as well NOT TRY (ii)! Why Bovver? (This is a
phrase UNIQUE to the Cockney Ethos

When the NL-X text is ambiguous (deliberately or unintentionally), the axiom
calls for some lubrication. The classic example familiar to all students of
AI (Artificial Intelligence) and MT (Machine Translation) is TIME FLIES LIKE
AN ARROW. The poor translator, absent any contextual clues, has to offer at
least three renditions. ³Time [stopwatch] insects ...²; ³Time flies
[insects] love ...²; ³Time [subject] rushes by ...²

PS: Jansy asks how the axiom works for ³non-verbal² or ³symbolic/pictorial²

Stan (Avoid Cliches like the Plague) Kelly-Bootle

On 13/12/2008 14:47, "jansymello" <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote:

> J.Aisenberg: [...] I don't think N's notion of "literal translation" had
> anything to do with the idea that one NL, to use SKB's intialing, has its
> exact equivalence in another. I'm pretty sure he said just exactly the
> opposite [...] He called his translation a "pony", a means of getting an idea
> of Pushkin's art by way of an elaborate, clumsy demonstration in English, with
> a bloated gloss [...]All of which reminds me of some of the epistolary
> sparring N and Edmund Wilson [...] I suppose, as Jansy suggested, a kind of
> paradox has cropped up: according to N. you're duty-bound to translate
> literally when one, any translation at some level, as we saw in N.'s detailed
> response to Wilson (reprinted in Strong Opinions) is always a matter of at
> least some guesswork and inclination. That "sapajous" which N. had such a
> gleeful explanation for is certainly brilliant, but is it necessarily the one
> and best word choice? And two, there are, as we all know, things in different
> languages that don't translate--they are either adopted from one NL to another
> wholesale (like schadenfreude) or they remain foggy and require awkward
> explanations, like say, endless volumes of footnotes to explain a relatively
> short poem [...]
> JM: I'm still wheeling under VN's arguments about art in nature (deceit,
> mirage) as a part of a "struggle towards perfection". I'm sure this will
> demand of me weeks of emotional working-through.
> Let's try to exercise a few arguments, though: there is a point in SKB's
> argument in favor of the "essential NL" in that he mentions that "anything
> imagined in one language may be rendered in another" ( the keys for his
> contention lie in "essential" and "imagined"). Still, I continue to feel in
> disagreement with this axiom (as having been accepted or developed by VN),
> because it departs from the separation bt. the world - as humans can perceive
> it through the sensorial input or grasp by reasoning - and language, now
> turned into a mere instrument to describe it.
> Nabokov's ambition was to create something entirely novel through words and he
> didn't mean "idiolects" ( if it is the word for the private language invented
> by some psychotics )... As VN argues in SO our ability to perceive the world
> recquires specialization: it is a learned thing in various levels, not a
> natural given. The artist, by his style and vocabulary, may offer a short-cut
> into this "learning process" but only if his words can be fully understood.
> Here a little about VN on "prostor" and "privolie" (S&S,p.266/7), two words
> or two "notions": "prostor is the open endless spaces of the Russian steppes
> or of the American prairies. Endless open spaces are said to dwarf man [...]
> The feeleing in "prostor" is the exact opposite of this notion [etc].
> "Privolie" is a cosier notion...a quiet glade in the forst with an oblique ray
> of the sun [... ]"
> On page 69 of VN's Lectures on Quixote we read: "The wretched sense of poverty
> mingles with his general dejection and he finally goes to bed, moody and
> heavy-hearted. Is it only Sancho´s absence and the burst threads of his
> stockings that induce this sadness, this Spanish soledad, this Portuguese
> saudades, this French angoisse, this German sensucht, this Russian toska? We
> wonder - we wonder if it does not go deeper".
> The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1968) describes this special Portuguese word,
> "saudade", used by Camoens in "The Lusiads", describing navigator Vasco da
> Gama's exploits "so profound was the anguish he experienced because of his
> exile from home and the trials he underwent, that it became an integral part
> of his being, enabling him to give to saudade-soledade ("yearning fraught with
> loneliness") a new and convincing undertone unique in Portuguese literature".

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