Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lost and Found in Translation

One thing I learned from my Greek professor is that words do not equal words in other languages. Words are part of phrases, which make up sentences, which belong to a larger context. Meaning is found at the level discourse, not as the sum of all its parts. For example, the Koine Greek word kai« is a conjunction that is usually translated "and", but in different contexts it denotes the idea expressed by the English words "now", "but", or "also". kai« is capable of doing all those things, "and" is not. The two simply overlap in their lexical range.

As my teacher Pınar is constantly reminding me, it not necessarily helpful to translate into English when learning Turkish. Here's what would happen if you did:

In Turkish,

I'm afraid from dogs.
I put the glass to the table.
I drink cigarettes (and soup).

But the goal isn't to learn how Turkish corresponds to English. The goal is to learn how Turkish corresponds to reality (or at least our perception of reality)... which of course is much easier said than done.

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