The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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22 The Linguist Vol/59 No/1 2020 FEATURES What's the point of translating novels and plays into ancient languages? Robin Meyer makes the case E ntering a well-stocked bookshop in the 21st century is like taking a trip not only around the world but also through time: one discovers literature from across the globe translated into an accessible language, opening up different cultures and periods to curious readers. those hunting for translations off the beaten track may find unexpected translations of modern literature in ancient languages such as Latin and ancient Greek. in the absence of native speakers, one might inquire as to the purpose of books such as Ἅρειος Ποτὴρ καἰ ἡ τοῦ φιλοσόφου λίθος (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in ancient Greek), Avem occidere mimicam (To Kill a Mockingbird in Latin) and (The Tale of Peter Rabbit: Hieroglyph edition). 'Who's going to read that?!' was the perfectly good response of Mark Walker, the Latin translator of tolkien's The Hobbit (Hobbitus Ille; 2012). When, in november 2018, i was asked to translate into Latin parts of Bertolt Brecht's play Leben des Galilei (Life of Galileo), for Frank Castorf's 2019 production at the Berliner Ensemble, similar questions crossed my mind: is anyone going to understand this scene if one character speaks Latin? What is the point of having a Latin-speaking character? according to Walker, translating modern literature into ancient languages can bridge a literary chasm for the language learner or "intermediate reader, who is tired of the textbook but not quite ready to grapple with… stately poetry… [or] grand rhetoric". it is also a bit of fun. such texts are said to be more approachable to the modern – and especially the younger – reader than ancient 'easy reading', such as short biographies of important personalities or moralising letters. When it comes to films and plays in ancient languages, the aim may be as much to startle and stun the audience with the unexpected, as with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004). the director also thought Latin would help to make the movie "as real as possible". 1 Castorf's production of Leben des Galilei similarly aimed to startle and alienate its audience, not only with Latin dialogue but also with wildly post-modern costumes, naked actors and fluid role assignment. 2 Modern translations into ancient languages, then, appear to have two primary purposes apart from novelty value. in written texts, they encourage young readers to engage with the languages in genres they are familiar with and interested in. in this way, they increase the amount of text read in that language, hopefully fostering a command of it. in the performing arts, they serve to create an authentic setting for the production, not infrequently accompanied by particular, often alienating, effects on the audience. translating into an ancient language can be tricky as far as authenticity is concerned. if one strives to emulate ancient authors and their style – and not everybody does – one is forced to make concessions regarding accuracy or faithfulness to the original style. Curtain call for Latin !" #$ % & ' ! $ T !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Co $ ! ( ) % *! + , % -$ ( T !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Co © Matthias horn

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