MARCH 18, 2022: Cultural and contextual differences matter a great deal in literary translation because they can change the meaning of the text entirely.
If you’re a translator, you already know what this difficult word is, don’t you? Hint: you use it so often that you probably don’t even register this as a difficulty. In fact, I’ve just used this particular word five times already in the first two sentences here.
Yep. “You”. Don’t believe me? Watch the brief TED-Ed video further below.
Growing up in India, I often thought of this as one of the most weird aspects of the English language: only one word for “you” while, in most Indian languages, we have several versions, depending on whether we’re addressing an older or younger person, a woman or a man, singular or plural.
Of course, such cultural and contextual differences matter a great deal in literary translation because they can change the meaning of the text entirely. And that’s why we say that a language contains entire ways of being within it. That’s why, when a language is displaced, falls into disuse, or lost, we also lose some of those ways of being and moving through the world.
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The “you” that we use today has evolved from its Proto-Germanic origins through the centuries And there are still plural variations of “you” in different parts of the world: y’all, youse, you-all, you guys, allyuh, and more. No reason why it shouldn’t evolve further, right?
Here are some interesting links:
So, over to you. What’s your favorite form of “you” in a non-English language and why? Please let me know via the social media links or in reply to this newsletter.
Until next week.
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