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Translation and language comparison

Mapraputa Is
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Continued from this thread: http://www.javaranch.com
Originally posted by erich brant:
But the English language is the most flexible language.

Whar do you mean "most flexible"?
My first impression from English was that the language is relatively simple, very elegant, but horrible inflexible For example, in my first language there is a set of suffixes that being applied to nouns express speaker's attitude: for many words I can construct a variant that express affection, or disdain... On the sentence level, there is no fixed word order and you can move words which moves stress accordingly (and gives nice rhythm variations as well). Then verbs, for example, reflect not only time but gender and number as well, so you can skip a subject and the minimal possible sentence consists of one verb, like you say "came" and I know that it's she who came, not he or they...
Of course, there are territories where English is more flexible. For one example in R. it's often impossible "to verb" nouns - to make a verb from a noun, so when I encounter these "impossible" variants, I enjoy them greatly. But generally, I feel that with English my expressive power is too restricted. Certainly, bad knowledge of language contributes here a lot but doesn't explain everything, IMO.
(edited by Cindy to update link)
[ December 06, 2002: Message edited by: Cindy Glass ]
[ December 06, 2002: Message edited by: Thomas Paul ]

Uncontrolled vocabularies
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JeanLouis Marechaux
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Depends on what you mean by "flexible".
if flexible is being able to change the meaning of a word with a specific suffix, then yes, english is the number one.
Ex: look after, look on, look out, look up. etc...
My primary language does not allow that..
But some other languages are a little bit "richer"
The verd can contain the gender, the vocabulary is more precise etc...

Maybe we should also distinguish US english and GB english, which are not the same.
My $0.002


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David Weitzman
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The more textures and specific connotations a word has, the less abstract you can get. How abstract/philisophical can you get in Russian? Can you talk about a 'thing' without getting any more specific than that? I recall something or other about Romans writing stuff in other languages because latin wasn't flexible enough. Words with gender also interfere with political correctness (not that I care).
JeanLouis Marechaux
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Originally posted by David Garland:
Words with gender also interfere with political correctness (not that I care).

LOL
Only guys from USA care about political correctness
In other countries, there is no lawyer shop at each corner to sue for damages

[This message has been edited by Bill Bailey (edited December 21, 2001).]
David Weitzman
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Political Correctness is a nasty disease infecting the east coast of the USA. The Reform Judaism movement, for example, switched in the last few years to a gender inclusive gates of prayer. In other words, they've replaced 'The Lord is very cool, Blessed is His kingdom' with 'God is very cool, Blessed is God's Kingdom'. In the olden days a poet could get drunk and high on opium and make up words whenever he (there it is again -- they want 'he or she') wanted. Now they've got editors and that stupid essay format and the MLA rules and whatnot. I guess English is actually becoming less flexible as more people use it and there are more ways to communicate -- but then wouldn't that be happening everywhere?
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continued from the already mentioned thread.
Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
[A lot of good stuff]

Originally posted by erich brant:
Great Post !

Yeah, Michael's post is too good for not to try to undermine it.
Russian Othodox Church opposes any proposal to translate its public worships from Old Russian into contemporary Russian. Old Russian is different enough to be almost incomprehensible, so "translation" argument makes sense. Official response is that it's not possible without scarifying something essential, which argument I could never fully understand. Then I read an article that put some light at what they mean.
"God created Universe" - this is an attempt to translate from old Russian a phrase that uses a specific verb tense absent in contemporary language. This verb tense was used exclusively to describe God's action, it couldn't be applied to mere mortals and it conveyed an idea of eternity, absense of time, relly. The phrase above means that God created universe in past, creates it now and will be doing it forever.
I am not saying that the idea cannot be translated, but I would agree it does feel differently when you read it in original. And a huge part of religion is about feelings, not meaning. Religion feelings must be rather delicate substance, and perhaps such subtleties as less-than-perfect translation can affect them. Of course, I myself never had any religion feelings, so I do not know what I am talking about.
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The more textures and specific connotations a word has, the less abstract you can get. How abstract/philisophical can you get in Russian? Can you talk about a 'thing' without getting any more specific than that?
There is a word for 'thing' in Russian, and one of meanings came from Kant, if this is what you are interested in. It is certainly possible to talk about a "thing" in Russian, although I cannot easily recall an analog for "stuff". But isn't "stuff" in English in use when speakers are too lazy to find more precise word? There are many words in English (with rather narrow meaning) that I miss in Russian, but "stuff" or "thing" are at the bottom of this list.
I recall something or other about Romans writing stuff in other languages because latin wasn't flexible enough.
Thinking about "flexibility" of a language, don't we mean "richness"? Unless somebody can show how "flexibility" is different from "richness". Just an attempt to clear terminology.
Words with gender also interfere with political correctness.
In positive sense. For a long time I couldn't understand what is the need to use he/she all the time, isn't it clear enough that when we talk about "programmer", for example, and refer to it as "he", then "she" is also included if she happened to be a programmer? Then it occured to me that speakers of English should be much more sensitive to pronouns, because in English they are used to refer to creatures that *really* have gender. In languages where all nouns have gender, we do not pay that much attention to "he/she", "his/her" because it doesn't *mean* anything. We habitually refer to a table as "he" or to a "river" as "she", so when "programmer" is referred as "he" it's no more politically incorrect than to call a table "he"
Another implication. I was reading Hofstadter's "GEB" book and he made an interesting observation. One of his "hero" is Mr. Tortoise. When his book was translated into French, translators asked if they can make Mr. Tortoise "Madame Tortoise" (madame Tortue, to be exact) "because they instantly run headlong into the conflict between the femine gender of the French noun tortue and the masculinity of my character, The Tortoise."
Then Hofstadter said that he borrowed this character from Lewis Carroll dialogue and although there were no attributes of gender, "...this was clearly a he-tortoise. Otherwise, I would have known not only that it was female but also why it was female. After all, an author only introduces a female character for some special reason, right? Whereas a male character ina "neutral" context (e.g., philosophy) needs no raison d'etre, a female does."
In Russian, a tortoise is "she", so when somebody speaks about tortoise I naturally think about "she-tortoise". The same about "horse"... I noticed that my husband always call unknown animals "he", when for me some of them are "she". What I am trying to say, that the language does define a way of thinking and the universe in languages with a gender category for nouns, male and female identities are more or less evenly distribued, when in English everything is "he" - precisely because there is no gender category, by default
Now it looks that I am starting a language war.
Actually, now I am writing in English much more than in Russian because I like it more
[This message has been edited by Mapraputa Is (edited December 21, 2001).]
Thomas Paul
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When I think of the flexibility of English, I think of the number of words that have similar meanings. I mean,how many languages need a Thesaurus?! English is the best language for crossword puzzles!


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Continued from the mentioned above thread.
Originally posted by OMAR KHAN:
I personally think that English is a very precise language -though not as poetic and flexible as Italian. It is suitable for technical stuff less for poems or arts, IMHO. That is why I read Java books (like yours) in English

Exactly my thoughts!
I enjoy English technical books, but all my attempts to read poetry failed. There is no poetry in English and there cannot be one. It's like writing a poetry in Fortran.
Well, Ok, I admit it is different for locals.
My explanation is that it has something to do with feelings again. Words of our native language cause immediate emotional response, and this is what doesn't happen with other languages. For example, it's pretty difficult to really hurt my feelings by saying something in English, because there is no authomatic emotional response. So neither insults, not poetry work.
As much as an emotional part of me suffers, intellectual activity seems benefit. I have much more pleasure reading technical texts in English than in Russian. The reason may be that I enjoy how ideas are expressed - all these new words and expressions, they may look dull for native speakers but they are fresh for me and all the excitement transfers from "how it is said" to "what is said". Am I mistaken, or there was a tradition in Europe to write scientific texts in Latin? I am not quite sure, but if there was, it makes perect sense NOT to use your native language for any form of intellectual activity.
Sorry for overposting today, I'll be absent next four days, so I precompensate. (Can I say "precompensate" in English? )
[This message has been edited by Mapraputa Is (edited December 21, 2001).]
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
When I think of the flexibility of English, I think of the number of words that have similar meanings. I mean,how many languages need a Thesaurus?!

Once I asked myself: which words have more synonyms in Russian, The two came to my mind:
1. To steal
2. To die
I wonder, if they are our primary occupations, or what.
Somebody, please, disable my account, so I cannot post anymore.
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Since nobody disabled my account, I continue.
Notion of inflexibility, on second thought, was born not because language rules are inflexible. To "know" the language doesn't mean to know how to follow rules, but rather to know how and when to break them (this is not my idea). Suspicion that I may never learn how to correctly break rules is what underlies impression of "inflexibility".
Randall Twede
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    2

i dont really know any other languages..ok a little spanish but im not fluent. so i can only comment about english. there is one thing that really bothers me about english. we depend so much on context. there are words with many meanings. kind of makes it hard to write a translation program


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omar khan
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Echoing previous posts I think that English is a very rich and very inflexible language.
It is very rich as it has more than 100 thousands different words. No true synonyms exist in English.
It is very inflexible as the structure of sentences are fixed and rules are very precise.
That is not true for other languages like Italian, Russian and Urdu. They are very creative and democratic languages.
Everybody can feel a poet in Italy.
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Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by OMAR KHAN:

It is very inflexible as the structure of sentences are fixed and rules are very precise.
That is not true for other languages like Italian, Russian and Urdu. They are very creative and democratic languages.
Everybody can feel a poet in Italy.

Great, a nation of people who think they're poets. We have a very small population of such feelers here, and it leads to some pretty bad reading.
Any language that drives commerce internationally is going to have some rules to govern it, and that's English. In English the stress is less on the possibilities of word arrangement and more on the variety of meanings in words themselves.
This tension is necessary. Having enough precision in the language so people can "speak plainly," on matters technical, commercial, industrial, and so on has some advantages. There are nonetheless natural forces in language to develop into the needs of all its users (including bad poets and Italians who need to feel poetic ). So we have umpteen varieties of pidgin English around the world, speakers from Michigan who can't quite make out speakers from York -- the language is only inflexible at the places we've pinned it down. :roll:
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  10
Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
"God created Universe" - this is an attempt to translate from old Russian a phrase that uses a specific verb tense absent in contemporary language. This verb tense was used exclusively to describe God's action, it couldn't be applied to mere mortals and it conveyed an idea of eternity, absense of time, really. The phrase above means that God created universe in past, creates it now and will be doing it forever.

Ancient Greek had the same verb tense.


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Russian alphabet was largely made out of Greek and first texts its creator wrote were translatinons of Christian holy books from Greek, which probably explains.
Axel Janssen
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:

Any language that drives commerce internationally is going to have some rules to govern it, and that's English.

Italians did more than poetry. They were the primer drivers of financial inovations in the 13/14th century.
So in cities like Venice and Florence speaking italian they invented double entry bookkeeping and insurance companies.
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Do we really have to go back that far to associate the Italians with practical innovations? Yow.
You know, we're not exactly sucking wind in the Anglo corner. British/American poetry of the 20th century doesn't concede much to the Italians or any other language. But Omar's point, I believe, was that Italian brings some 'state of grace' to its everyday users.
At least in the U.S., we got bigger problems than the aesthetics of the spoken word. When the most powerful man in the world gets filmed wiping his lips on his short sleeve shirt, hey: any point I might like to make about American models for everyday grace should probably wait. :roll:
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
You know, we're not exactly sucking wind in the Anglo corner. British/American poetry of the 20th century doesn't concede much to the Italians or any other language.

Your reluctance to admit evident is understandable, but... for yourself, you know that American poetry is not even close to Italian, Russian and Urdu, don't you?
Axel Janssen
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Ah Michael if I understand You right there is just no space and time for everydays grace in this great producing maschinery sprawling from New York City to Californian shores.
E' para los mej�canos.
[ January 09, 2002: Message edited by: Axel Janssen ]
Axel Janssen
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
Do we really have to go back that far to associate the Italians with practical innovations? Yow.

Italians wrote gof-pattern book of sound international trading institutions.
Viva Italia
Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
...you know that American poetry is not even close to Italian, Russian and Urdu, don't you?

Not me; I'm not a comparative literature critic. Although as a graduate student I was often nudged or obliged to concede the superior gifts French bestows on narrative and expository forms. And the rest of the conversation went something like:
Me: "Well, y'know, sure, if you say so."
Them: "Oh, Michael, it's about what you think, not what we think."
Me: "What I think is that you want your thinking to be my thinking."
Them: "You don't really believe English is a better language than French for {blahblahblah}", do you?
Me: "You're asking me if 5 > x, and you're telling me that x is way more than 6. Do you really need my help on this?"
Them: "Ok, fine, fine. What do you think, in your words, then?"
Me: "I don't think anything at all about it. I don't speak or read French."
Them: "Why didn't you say so?"
Me: "You didn't care, as far as I could tell."
I didn't just trot this out to show how obtuse I am to people who annoy me (but take heed...). It's also the premise for every language-war discussion I have ever had. I generally believe that minds pre-disposed to lambda calculus will see beauty in Lisp, those inclined to a predicate calculus to OOP. From an aesthetic perspective, what's the use of asking either group which is the "best" language?
The gifts Russian, Urdu and Italian confer on their users and listeners, I don't hear because I'm not schooled in their appreciation. I can't defend English as a superior form for that reason. All I'm saying is, I don't feel like my native language leaves any deep voids in my literary experience.
[ January 09, 2002: Message edited by: Michael Ernest ]
Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Axel Janssen:
Ah Michael if I understand You right there is just no space and time for everydays grace in this great producing maschinery sprawling from New York City to Californian shores.

No no no no no, my man, I didn't say that. Nor, I hope, do any of the 1000+ messages I have posted, all blithely submitted for the amusement and education of this site and its readers, say that.
I'm saying those of us who care about everyday grace in the U.S. -- we're, uh, we're challenged right now. Yeah, that's it, challenged. And anyone can come take a look, from de Tocqueville and on, and decide for themselves. It's a free country.
So the Italians have, in your mind, a superior literature and a language that is an everyday joy to use. Why argue with that? But if we're going to compare, the good 'ol U.S. has had one form of government for 200+ years now, and Italy probably 200 interim governments in the last two decades. Let's just say we, taken as national cultures, have different priorities, eh?
Ashley Pratt
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I feel English is the most flexible language..
It has a good variety..May be little bit less structured language..
The best language could be SANSKRIT. As far as I know the oldest and structured language.
Ash...
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:

Let's just say we, taken as national cultures, have different priorities, eh?

Yes.
omar khan
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<QUOTE>
Michael Ernest: But if we're going to compare, the good 'ol U.S. has had one form of government for 200+ years now, and Italy probably 200 interim governments in the last two decades.
</QUOTE>
So what?
Do you feel sorry for Italians?
Don't be sad. Italians manage very well also without George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. You can keep your Presidents and stable goverments if you like them.
Originally posted by Michael Ernest:

Any language that drives commerce internationally is going to have some rules to govern it, and that's English.

That is why I have learned English.
But luckily enough I do not speak only English.
Knowing more that one language makes one also less jingoistic.
Michael, world is round and one nation or culture does not have the lead for ever.
Just ask the Romans: they where victim of their own hybris
[ January 10, 2002: Message edited by: OMAR KHAN ]
Michael Ernest
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That's "hubris," my man. And unless we're all throwing back to the Great War, "jingoism" is one seriously out of date term.
English language and culture prioritizes order and classification; that's all I'm saying. It has qualities you term as "inflexible." Italian manages order a different way. That language and its culture has qualities I term as "chaotic." Both cultures have some things to admire, and some things not so admirable.
Your other seemingly offhand comments evoke the phrase "nobody likes Goliath." I'm sure the Clintonses and the Bushes share a similar international impression as the Bill Gates and Steve Ballmers of the IT world. You'd be hard-pressed to find many examples of powerful leaders from countries not your own and not sharing your interests that your own culture admires. Or you can suggest I'm probably feeling superior all the time. Whatever.
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If, as has been suggested, that English is an inferior language for the arts, why are translated versions of literary works originally written in English so pervasive throughout the world? One of the things I like to do when I'm overseas is visit bookstores. In every single one that I have been in they have been full of works that were translated from well known English speaking authors. How can a language with such little aesthetic value have so much literature that is so successful all over the world?
omar khan
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
That's "hubris," my man. And unless we're all throwing back to the Great War, "jingoism" is one seriously out of date term.

Thank you Michael for your free English lesson
Anyway I must say that according to
dictionary.comand Webster on-line
the word hubris can also be spelled hybris.
I must add that the hybris spelling IMHO is more correct for etymological reasons.
For what concerned the word jingoism it may be out of date. Not so for the habit it describes.
Before beeing accused of anti-americanism, I am not referring to our friends of the (Brave) New World in particular
[ January 10, 2002: Message edited by: OMAR KHAN ]
omar khan
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Originally posted by Jason Menard:
How can a language with such little aesthetic value have so much literature that is so successful all over the world?

English is a very beautiful, subtle and complex language. Nobody can deny it. Shakespeare and even Stephen King has written superb works and master English as few people can.
But you just cannot compare English to languages coming from Latin and Greek like Italian, Spanish, French and so on.
They have intrinsic musical qualities which IMHO English lacks.
No offence intended.
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How is there a relationship between the number of languages known and one's degree of jingoism?
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Originally posted by Jason Menard:
If, as has been suggested, that English is an inferior language for the arts, why are translated versions of literary works originally written in English so pervasive throughout the world?

Ha! Holywood movies are pervasive throughout the world, but I hope nobody sane will claim that proves they are good movies!
If to speak seriously, I was kidding about poetically superior languages, of course.
Due to my observations, Michael has a special talent to be interpreted worse than he is. Friends, please, be patient with Michael. It takes time to understand his intentions and to appreciate him.
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OK take 1: Knowing more that one language makes one also less jingoistic.
OK take 2: the word jingoism it may be out of date. Not so for the habit it describes.
These aren't really the same point, but I disagree with both of them. The first one sounds smug, and the second is not quite right.
On the first point, you'd have a really hard time maintaining that English is one language. How can you claim nationalism under the banner of a language that no longer has one home? The very fact that you can use English in so many places, I think, would promote an international view, not inhibit one.
On the second: Jingoism is a British concept of nationalism, stemming from decades of imperialist doctrines pushed by a Victorian monarchy; Rudyard Kipling is considered its literary forebear. While I'm sure you found a dictionary that gives an abstract definition of 'jingoistic', your usage equates British views of the world from a hundred years ago with the world today.
OK: The word hubris can also be spelled hybris.
I must add that the hybris spelling IMHO is more correct for etymological reasons.
You don't mind applying arcane usage to achieve the meanings you want, but you reserve the right to deem the language inflexible anyway?
Jason Menard
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Oddly enough, OMAR KHAN mentioned the same two widely translated English speaking authors who came to my mind, Shakespeare and King.
Not to change the subject, but since Map mentioned it, I agree that most Hollywood movies made are crap. I also enjoy foreign (non-American) cinema, and while I have seem some incredible foreign films, my favorite films still happen to be American, but I have strange tastes in movies anyway.
Since we were speaking of the aesthetic qualities of the French language earlier, I could highly recommend two French films for anyone who is interested: City of Lost Children (very Terry Gilliam-ish), and Son of Shark. I'm sure the French would like to put out more movies each year, but G�rard Depardieu is only one man and he can only do so much.
Sorry, I didn't mean to stray to far from the main topic, but Map started it.
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Ok, to bring it back...
Originally posted by JR member #2505
"God created Universe" - this is an attempt to translate from old Russian a phrase that uses a specific verb tense absent in contemporary language. This verb tense was used exclusively to describe God's action, it couldn't be applied to mere mortals and it conveyed an idea of eternity, absense of time, relly. The phrase above means that God created universe in past, creates it now and will be doing it forever.

Inetersting... It occured to me, that when Communists needed the same idea, their official poet had to express it in ugly, wordy way:
"Lenin lived,
Lenin lives,
Lenin will live"
(for young readers: Lenin was a chieftain of World's Proletariat).
Because this slogan had to be shown on each, figuratively speaking, Soviet McDonalds and gas stantion, the country run out of paint and Communism failed.
Now Communistic art went underground and you can only see it on rare fan sites. One example is here:
http://www.inklingresearch.com/~mfernest/images/Lenin.gif
Jim Yingst
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You know Michael, you really should consider checking a dictionary more often before correcting someone's spelling.


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Michael Ernest
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Here's where my own training puts me at a disadvantage. I wasn't thinking of spelling (I presume we're talking about hubris/hybris), but usage. No one uses hybris, except for linguistic research and literary criticism (or, apparently, etymological reasons). People write so quickly on internet time that I usually ignore spelling errors (including my own) as typos.
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Jim is simply jealous that I was looking for Michael's reviews on Amazon, not his.
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Hey, I'm just amused that Michael is getting his just deserts again.
> People write so quickly on internet time that I
> usually ignore spelling errors (including my
> own) as typos.
Likewise. It's when one doesn't ignore them that care is necessary.
In the case of hybris/hubris (which of course was only half of what I was referring to) - Axel is evidently German, so it's not surprising he'd be more comfortable with the hybris spelling, as German-speakers are more comfortable with the ü sound represented by the upsilon (or is it ypsilon? ) character. Among native English speakers though this just causes unnecessary confusion, as people would pronounce "hybris" as "high-bris". By spelling it hubris ("hyoo-bris") we end up with something a bit closer to the original pronunciation, if not spelling. (Note that "Yingst" was originally "Jüngst", and was changed for similar reasons, long ago.)
> Italians wrote gof-pattern book of sound international trading institutions.
So, what does this refer to anyway, Axel? Just curious...
> If, as has been suggested, that English is an
> inferior language for the arts, why are
> translated versions of literary works
> originally written in English so pervasive
> throughout the world?
I suppose one could suggest that they're being further improved. There would be much less incentive to translate into a less rich language, wouldn't there? No, I don't really believe that's the case here - I just don't think that this argument really tells us much either way. My thinking is that the appeal of most literature comes from a mix of (a) properties which are independent of the language used - e.g. plot - and (b) properties which are intimately tied to the language used - sonority, overloaded meanings and associations of words, etc. When a work is translated, generally the former properties survive unscathed, while the latter do not (usually). By this logic, the works most worthy of translation are those whose merits are largely independent of thier language - and so, the large volume of translations from English works would seem to tell us more about the quality of plots in English-language works, than it does about its poetic merits. IMO, in general, YMMV, etc.
So, does this discussion mean that "required reading" for advanced MD will shift from GEB to "Le Ton Beau De Marot"?
Other notes - I'm intrigued by the notion of a special verb tense just for God's actions. I can see why it wouldn't get much use nowadays. I'm still surprised it would have been useful in the first place. Does it always carry the association of timelessness? Would you use it for all of God's actions, or just the timeless ones? In the translation of "A Brief History of Time", could this tense be used in describing properties of spacetime, so as to convey an "external view" of the subject? Or is it really just God who gets to use it? (And in the Greek version - which god? Demigods too? Or maybe just creator types?) My head is spinning with all the possibilities...
OK, back to work for me now...
[ January 10, 2002: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
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Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

JY: In the case of hybris/hubris (which of course was only half of what I was referring to) - Axel is evidently German, so it's not surprising he'd be more comfortable with the hybris spelling, as German-speakers are more comfortable with the ü sound represented by the upsilon (or is it ypsilon? ) character.
ME:Cool, but it was Omar who used the term.
JY: ...By this logic, the works most worthy of translation are those whose merits are largely independent of thier language - and so, the large volume of translations from English works would seem to tell us more about the quality of plots in English-language works, than it does about its poetic merits.
ME:From personal experience: RHE was translated into Japanese because the publisher cut a sweet deal to tap a non-English market. From general observation: popular subjects get written in English because that's the widest market. Books that do get translated, I agree, usually do so because their appeal to another readership relies on merits other than aesthetics. It cuts both ways, as with this French novel a few years ago that didn't use the letter 'e.'. People are going to buy a translation of that novelty for the same reasons one buys The Satanic Verses -- for its controversy. If either book is good, we hope people will look beyond the cover and media coverage to discover that.
As graduate students we read Proust's Remembrance of Things Past instead of A la recherche du temps perdu. The responses to my fictionalized examiners in the above post were testy for this very reason: French is "better," they declared, but apparently its fineness and subtleties not so occluded by officious, cast-iron English that we should read the French. At least the bean counter at the campus bookstore didn't think so.
Nonetheless, we were expected to appreciate the original text. Just in case you think academia offers an escape from Dilbertesque situations...
 
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subject: Translation and language comparison