Why translating literature is sometimes impossible | Mariam Mansuryan | [email protected]



what color do you see on the left side of the board right what color do you see on the right side of the board okay let's say this is dark blue and light does everyone agree okay so what would you call them in general all right now are there any people who speak Russian yeah great see a couple of hands alright so what would you call the color on the left in Russian Seanie so what about the color on the right uh-huh and now what would you call them together ha ha ha I got you trapped because in Russian you can't call them together in Russian you can't say just blue you have to either say Seanie dark blue or blue boy light blue now I know that there are two or three Armenian speakers too right so I'm giving you a sentence and you translate it to our minion I have an uncle si now na I said yes carry una but she's not correct because because I have an uncle can mean I have an uncle from my mother's side or I have an uncle from my father's side what Nana said is I have an uncle from my mother's side but I can say yes horrified unum which would mean I have an uncle for my father's side and that would also be a correct translation so si Armenian just like Russian doesn't allow you to say just blew our minion doesn't allow you to say just uncle you have to specify what uncle you are talking about so now there are these differences in languages but when I was reading Harry Potter by JK Rowling in Armenian I generally understood what was going on in the book even though it was a translation even though there were these differences in languages I read the same book almost the same book as English people did in you might be wondering why I was holding this ruler right well the reason is that translation is like measurement so when you measure something let's say it's 20 centimeters but most of us know that it's not 20 it's 20 plus minus 0.005 yeah chemistry physics 10th the 10th grade so so it's very similar to translations when I read Harry Potter I was also seeing the same 20 centimeters but there was this small uncertainty because languages are different for a reason you can't just move ideas between them without losing something so I lost at 0.05 but it's so minor that it doesn't really really matter but is there a case where it's not just 0.005 but it's one centimeter or maybe even 10 well do you think this person over here is a boy or a girl yeah most of you said girl and you were correct but she is actually the main character of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and when I was reading this book there was something really weird I couldn't understand the gender of the main character until about page 60 because the author was only given clues and the other was even confusing me by quotes like I swear scout sometimes you act so much like a girl it's mortifying and well when you say you act so much like a girl it's mortifying we understand that the person is not supposed to act like a girl right or Scout was saying I beat him up one time but he was real nice about it and beating up and girls like in 1960 they were like miles away really so that's why the author really confused me and I was thinking maybe my English is too bad maybe I don't understand this book correctly but then I realized that this is an essential part of the theme because halfway through the book this character comes whose name is aunt Alexandra so she Scouts on and she tries to make a girl out of scout so first in the book Scout identifies herself as just a child I'm not a girl another boy but just a child but then aunt Alexandra turns her into a girl and in the at the end of the girl you can see Scout wearing dresses and drinking coffee with her auntie and her friends so just like Scout reveals her gender discovers her gender the reader does the same so we have the same journey as the main character does we really live with her but then let's take a look at this example so when I say Marian went home in English Russian or Armenian I know that I'm talking about a girl because Miriam is the name of a girl all right now let's change Miriam Miriam with a pronoun with she she went home I know that it's a girl on a Posada muy I know that it's a girl but when I say na Kanade Stone is just a question mark because in Armenian as Nana probably knows the pronoun na represents both boys and girls but even if I really want to hide the gender of a person and I just give my I'm a nickname let's say Scout so Scout went home I don't know if it's a boy or a girl Matej connect in that stone I still don't know but then when I say Klaus Isaac Bosh la da muy Bosh ah damn Oy I know that it's a girl because just like you can say just go in Russian you cannot say just went in Russian or just any verb in Russian because you have to either say partial or bash la partial would be about boys and bash la would be about girls so when I want to translate these sentence into Russian I have to say yeah is be le veau or yeah is be alive oh and wait so does this mean that in Russian you cannot hide someone's gender yes it does and when I was reading the Russian book guess what the gender of scout was revealed since the very first page so if I were to discuss this book with my Russian friend who doesn't know about the hiding of scouts gender we would have complete different understandings of the book so it's no longer 0.005 it's already you difference because my friend didn't get that part of the theme that I did and that is why reading Harry Potter in Armenian and reading To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird Beach PD smash snicker in Russian are a bit different because even though there are the differences in Harry Potter – they don't matter so much but Harper Lee decided to use this uniqueness that English has and the opportunity that it gives her to convey a theme so when you read it in Russian you don't really get the thing that she wanted to convey and another example of this would be room by Emma Donoghue so before going into the book I want to tell you something for example this ruler would be feminine in Russian because it's Lin Iike and if it finishes with aa then it's feminine or or with yeah so that's how Russian works in Spanish works the same when German works the same way these languages have a thing that's called grammatical gender so so in this book in room by Emma Donoghue a mother and her son are trapped in a room for five years and her son has never seen the world outside of the room so it's logical to think that he should be a little bit weird and how is this weirdness expressed in the book well he thinks that all the objects around him have genders so for example this rug wouldn't be just it it would be ashy so he gets kind of a Russian mind but it's really weird for English people because when you say rug she in English then rug is personified and he says we've been making labyrinth since I was two she's all right Ola troll insides taped together in tunnels that twist lots of ways now library it is she fine now let's try to translate this to Russian first of all lobby deemed would be key because it finishes with letter T but that's not what really matters you can argue that it doesn't matter if you thinks of labyrinth as she or it or she or he but the thing is that in Russian it's completely natural to say let that labyrinth is he because that's what people do so the thing that is seen as weirdness in English in Emma Donahue's book is seen as a complete normal thing in Russian that is why I want to connect it to this thing that Roman Jakobson has said languages differ essentially in what they must convey and nothing what they may convey so in Russian I must convey a gender of a person in Armenian I must convey the sight of my uncle I can't just hide it so now I have a question for you is it really the same book thank you [Applause]

7 thoughts on “Why translating literature is sometimes impossible | Mariam Mansuryan | [email protected]

  1. Actually you can say just blue in Russian. It is not entirely correct, but somewhat acceptable to say siniy instead of goluboy. So yes, they are both siniy (blue).

  2. Yes!! When I read Harry Potter in Chinese, a lot of the puns had to be translated in a footnote, and it really takes away from being immersed in the story, like Voldemort's real name and McGonagall's "let your hair down"

  3. This is so true. I was making a translation of a book about a teenage hermaphrodite into Spanish. Most difficult thing ever.

  4. There is always minority and slang local languages between locals Regional and Nationals so you need to make sure the message you sending is appropriate to local community representers before you move on.

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