02 July 2014

Dictionary of Untranslatables -- More than a quick review

Princeton University Press's new Dictionary of Untranslatablesedited by Barbara Cassin, sounds like a remarkable work. It is certainly exceptional in that it is a translated dictionary. The English translation from the French was edited by Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood.

Wikipedia has an article in French on the original here. It was entitled: Vocabulaire européen des philosophies (sous-titré Dictionnaire des intraduisibles).

Information on passages translated into other languages is available here.

Concerning the translation, the PUP site says:
Originally published in French, this one-of-a-kind reference work is now available in English for the first time, with new contributions from Judith Butler, Daniel Heller-Roazen, Ben Kafka, Kevin McLaughlin, Kenneth Reinhard, Stella Sandford, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jane Tylus, Anthony Vidler, Susan Wolfson, Robert J. C. Young, and many more.The result is an invaluable reference for students, scholars, and general readers interested in the multilingual lives of some of our most influential words and ideas.
Concerning the editor and translation editors, it says:
Barbara Cassin is director of research at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) in Paris. Emily Apter is professor of comparative literature and French at New York University. Jacques Lezra is professor of Spanish, Portuguese and comparative literature at NYU. Michael Wood is the Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University.
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The scale of this project is more than impressive. Comment by a technical translator who thought he knew something about large challenging translation projects, but suddenly realises that there are others who know more...
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Matthew Battles' review 

Matthew Battles' review in the Language section of the Barnes & Nobles Review is not only interesting in its own right but also for the succinct summaries of current viewpoints on several basic concepts in linguistics, lexicography, translatology (aka translation theory) and languages in general.

On etymology:
Defying the threat of unintelligibility, words emigrate quite happily from language to language. Loanwords ... take root in a new language without much modification, retaining the flavor and frisson of their original tongue. Sometimes words find their way by assimilation, taking up residence as "calques" or direct translations from one language to another; "scapegoat" is an example. "Calque" is one such loanword; "loanword" itself, from the German Lehnwort, is also a calque. 
On lexicography:
Although purists and prescriptivists are always seeking the aboriginality of language, the tongues themselves are promiscuous, happy in one another's company. "All words are fossil poetry," Emerson declared, and by the same light, all words belong to someone else. Any cosmopolitan discourse makes use of the untranslatable, comprising a buzzing, evanescent community of idiolects, jargons, and lingue franche.
On translatology, Battles quotes from Cassin's Preface (my bold):
Nothing is exactly the same in one language as in another, so the failure of translation is always necessary and absolute…. This proposition rests on a mystification, on a dream of perfection we cannot even want, let alone have. If there were a perfect equivalent from language to language, the result would not be translation; it would be a replica. And if such replicas were possible on a regular basis, there would not be any languages, just one vast, blurred international jargon, a sort of late cancellation of the story of Babel.
On Babel and languages:
The Myth of Babel is a story told by states, which tend to prefer their citizenries monolingual. And yet polyglossic diversity is the habit and the habitat of languages. ... we might add that a language is a dialect not only with an army and a navy, but with an academy as well. 
Again on translation (my bold):
Narrowly considered, "translation" itself is a calque, also carried over from the Latin, where translatio is "to carry over." The uncanny, necessary impossibility of translation has long fascinated philosophers. "The greatest translation," wrote Walter Benjamin, "is destined to be taken up into the growth of its language and perish as a result of its renewal".

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