“Subjectivity is an attribute of language” and what gets lost in translation

***I thought I posted this last week, week of the 1st, but just saw it was saved under drafts!!!! Sorry!!****

 

Lisa Robertson’s introduction to Wanting in Arabic got me thinking about how language affects our mental processes. What does it mean to feel in a language that is not your own? How do the words available to us shape what we allow ourselves to feel? When a word exists to describe something it gives us permission to interact with that thing as a real entity. The more words we have to describe our emotions to ourselves, the more consciously we are able to experience feeling these things.

It is common for people who mostly speak in second languages to switch to their native tongues in times deep emotion. When feeling builds up to a certain point, they burst and the dictionaries composed of actively learned translations is no longer enough to contain it. Our first language seems like something more than a series of words with meanings other people attached to them years ago. It feels like fluid pouring from our souls.

Every semester at Brown, I have taken a Spanish course, and I am now in the 1000 level classes. I read Spanish literature, discuss it in Spanish, and write analytical essays about it in Spanish. I can pretty much express whatever sentiment I want in Spanish; I can string together the words so that the reader or listener understands what I am trying to say.

But how much meaning in these texts do I leave on the page, unabsorbed, because Spanish isn’t truly a part of my soul? All of the subtle connotations, the slight distinctions between synonyms, that are beyond definitional? I write a sentence in my paper and my professor underlines it twice. He writes “anglicanizado,” which means I tried to push my English through Spanish words. English is the filter through which I see the world and explain it to myself. Will I ever truly be able to do this in another language, and how will it change what I see? What I understand?

Querer. To want and to love. These words, want and love, are such distinct entities in English. In Spanish is each idea more colored by the other?

Esperar. To hope and to wait. I ask the same question.

In seventh grade, I asked my teacher how to say “awkward” in Spanish. He told me there’s no such word.

Quiero esperar. I want to hope.

Quiero esperar. I want to wait.

Quiero esperar. I love to hope.

Quiero esperar. I love to wait.

Espero querer. I hope to want.

Espero querer. I hope to love.

Espero querer. I wait to want.

Espero querer. I wait to love.

And this makes me think of the translation-based poems we read in Angels of the Americlypse. We talked as a class about how much is lost in professional translations of poetry, but how much is lost when we translate to ourselves?

And how much is lost because there was never any language to capture it at all?

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