The Linguist

The Linguist 59,5 - October/November 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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 29 of 35

30 The Linguist Vol/59 No/5 2020 OPINION & COMMENT Email with your views Raised in a bilingual home in England, where I spoke predominantly English and Gujarati, I learnt the importance of languages from a young age, not only as a method of communication but as a means of connecting people. My grandparents spoke very little English so Gujarati was important to me because it connected me to them. As a teenager, I spent countless summers in the Mumbai heat, and I have wonderful memories of communicating in my own blend of Hindi and English with local friends there, listening repeatedly to the Bollywood song of the month. I would return to England and try to explain the lyrics to non-Hindi-speaking friends. My attempts to translate phrases such as woh bheegi bheegi yaadein failed to reflect the romantic beauty of the monsoon season in Mumbai. The city nurtured my curiosity in the languages of India and, propelled by a pocket phrasebook, I attempted to navigate through the myriad of words and worlds. I was aware that the Gujarati I spoke with my grandparents was not the same as the one spoken by my friends. It perhaps has even less in common with the variety spoken by Prime Minister Modi. My grandfather enjoyed speaking the dialect of his village. It made for animated conversations as the language is very expressive – full of idioms and onomatopoeia. My family had lived in Uganda and had absorbed a lot of Swahili vocabulary. For a long time, I didn't realise that words such as sufuria ('pan') were Swahili. When I made the discovery, I was keen to explore more ways in which Swahili had influenced the Gujarati language imported into England and used by successive generations of British Indians. With a population of 1.3 billion, India has 22 official languages and hundreds of other languages and dialects. Gujarat is home to one of the ten most widely spoken languages in India, and the languages of bordering states are also spoken there. Gujarati is derived from Sanskrit and has more than ten dialects. Study of the language reveals an interesting culture, rich in traditional folk music and dance. Not only is each Indian language shaped by its unique landscape, but the language itself is entrenched in the day-to-day lives of its communities. Study of Hindi alone cannot provide a holistic understanding of India. Similarly, the imposition of a blanket Hindi approach to governance cannot work. It is crucial to acknowledge, appreciate, respect and honour the differences between cultures and languages, and the contributions they make to the country. Continuing to use them helps to keep them alive and to preserve the history and culture of the communities. If you are new to the study of Indian languages, you may choose Hindi as a starting point, as it will facilitate travel within India and be a good way of beginning to understand this fascinating country. But I recommend continuing your journey with the study of other Indian languages, which will provide a deeper insight into India's maze of cultures. You may discover an entirely new way of life. Lakshmi-Raj Amin Adventures in India's languages I took a pew to read Lorna Sandler's letter 'On untranslatability' (TL59,4). It rang many bells. My particular hazardous pleasure is to hunt for suitable proverbs and aphorisms to caption friends' social media photos in their own language. Like all linguists I have a wealth of contacts straddling various language groups. Scrolling through bilingual glossaries of sayings in search of that oh-so-witty caption has shone a light on the language's cultural and historical baggage. Perhaps they help to answer the Immigration Service interview question that unsettled me 45 years ago: "Are there such things as national characteristics?" My answer today would be diplomatic: people living elsewhere have inherited, encountered and shared different attitudes as a result of their region's unique past and present. Here are a few of my favourites, bringing to mind old acquaintances and giving insights into their cultures. Czech: Bez práce nejsou koláče ('Without work, there are no koláče [plum pastries]'). Basque: Alferrik da, ura joan eta gero, presa egitea ('It is useless, once the water is gone, to hurry'). French (Québecois): Un chien regarde bien un évêque ('A dog may look at a bishop'). Stephen Spencer MCIL On fallibility Proverb hunting Thanks to Victoria Bentata Azaz (TL59,4) for the 'duck problem', when 'mallard duck' came out as pavo real ('peacock'). It happens to us all, translators included. I was working on a biography of a hero of mine from Spanish into English and post-editing the first five chapters. There was one word that worried me. As children in a Montevideo slum, my hero and his mates would infiltrate funerals and help themselves to the refreshments. They were described as 'assistants'. It puzzled me. Were they disguised as waiters? In the rush I let it go. At the book launch nice things were said about the translation. But in a quiet moment, I suddenly realised: they were pretending to be guests, i.e. people attending (asistiendo). I had let through a glaring hispanism. It happens to us all, but for translators it is there forever – a very healthy reminder of our fallibility! Tony Coates MCIL © SHUTTERSTOCK

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 59,5 - October/November 2020