02 February 2014

On the equality of languages


I have always been of the persuasion that languages, like men, are born equal. They just grow up differently, in different households, so to speak, in different economies and cultures. Like people and countries, they grow up and grow rich, they fall into poverty, they engage in commerce (they import and export), they dominate others, they stagnate or thrive. I insist that they are never inferior, they are only sometimes afflicted with an inferiority complex in regarding themselves against others. The only way to guard against such feeling is to use any language constantly, in every manner, in all human activity—commerce, industry, science, art, love, understanding others. It is only in exercise (by being spoken and written) that language can stay alive, assert itself and become capable and robust. Otherwise, language withers and dies. Or becomes a ritual remnant like Latin (though ritual as a literary property of language is another story).

It is from this standpoint of equality (without trying to resolve the issues) that I translate. Thus, as in sport, languages can play in the arena of translation. But it is a sport wherefrom only language itself comes out the winner.

...

How does one read, enjoy translation? Perhaps as one would a wrestling match. It is a game of strength that requires style, a game of roughness that demands finesse. For the premise is that both languages are equal in strength, style, and refinement. It is only by these measures that they can meaningfully engage. And it is only through these that the reader becomes not a mere spectator but more or less a pleased participant in the game.


– Marne Kilates, translator's introduction to Dust Devils:
A Bilingual Selection of Poems on Youth
by Rio Alma,
edited and translated by Marne Kilates

5 comments:

  1. That's a very eloquent defense of languages.

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  2. Yeah, language as sport is a good metaphor. It's not just wrestling though, it could be MMA. :)

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  3. I mean *translation* as sport

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  4. The first paragraph is very poignant coming from a country with a language struggling to survive. Sometimes I feel a sense of guilt that I have dane nothing to aid its survival (must do better).

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  5. Speak, write. It's a good articulation, Séamus. The staying power of a language lies in its speakers and writers.

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