Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lost and Found: Excerpts from my Article...

English at times looks so foreign...
(Image from Wikipedia)

I have finished writing my article, just a short one of seven pages because I'm presenting it at a conference and have only about 20 minutes for reading it.

For the sake of any readers who might possibly be interested, I'll post some excerpts, which will pretty quickly reveal the middling level of this anecdotal essay. Here's introduction to my article, which I've titled "Finging Myself Lost in Translation":
As the title that I have chosen implies, I often find myself lost in translation. I am not especially good at foreign languages, so I have had to struggle a great deal to learn them well enough even for basic translation purposes, which is somewhat ironic since my scholarly career has required me to translate passages from such various languages as Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, French, German, and that exotic language, Old English. Lately, I have even spent some time trying to make sense of the obscure Middle English text Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Even the Early Modern English of John Milton's Paradise Lost can pose problems for my limited linguistic abilities. This paper maps out the rather circuitous route that some of my linguistic wanderings have taken me.
One Ozark friend of mine who's read through the entire paper as one of my proofreaders suggests that I "might be overdoing the self-deprecation" a bit here in my opening remarks, but as I told him, what I've said happens to be true.

I blame my tiny left Heschl's gyrus.

Anyway, along that circuitous path adumbrated in my introduction, I note an instance of my experience as a sociolinguistic misfit in the greater American society:
We Ozarkers also used ordinary words in unusual, archaic ways, for example, "stout" in the older sense of "strong" rather than its contemporary American meaning of "fat," a difference that occasioned a number of embarrassing linguistic missteps for me when I left the Ozarks for university, for in the campus gym where I exercised and played basketball, I happened to call some rather powerfully built bodybuilders "stout," which they took to mean that I was calling them "obese." Some of the female athletes whom I occasionally played basketball with also took none too kindly to the term. Eventually, I learned.
To be precise, I learned to change my way of speaking, to standardize my English, and I don't consider this a 'bad' thing, for a writer needs to develop a broad range of voices, but I often thought that my dialect had set me back at the onset of my university years. Perhaps it did, at the beginning, but I've come to see that my connection to archaic meanings of English words, and some archaic words themselves -- such as those noted in yesterday's post -- can serve to remind me of how people used (and use) their language, integrating rather than separating meanings, as I observed in an even earlier post, "Do ye ken it?". Which brings me directly to my conclusion:
Now, this may seem like a minor point, but it is nonetheless an important matter for interpretation, and also for translation. If I am working with some obscure Middle English text, for example, and encounter, say, the word "ken," then I ought to recall what the old hillbilly said and thus consider that this word may combine two or more of its meanings rather than express merely one of them. More generally, I should keep in mind that dialects of English often preserve archaic meanings, and even old forms that can, as with the word "pennywinkle," help us make scholarly judgements about puzzles even so distant as in Old English. And personally, I find rather satisfying the discovery that my own dialect of English, which had posed some stout difficulties for me when I first entered university, should currently prove so useful at this later, more scholarly stage of my learning, for I have come to realize that although I may have started off lost in translation, in this latter day translation, I have surely found myself.
And you now understand the logic behind the wording of my paper's title...

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At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tiny left Heschl's gyrus.

That must be my reason too!

At 8:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One of my aims in life from now on is to find anatomical structures upon which to blame my failures...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This could be prenology re-born.

At 3:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Or even postnology...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:49 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

Don't sell your theory short GS. I have suffered from Essential tremors my entire life. It was first noticed in kindergarden when I had difficulty with arts and crafts. An interesting sidebar is that alcohol reduces the symptoms. It's a running joke with my friends that I can only do micro computer repair while half "in the bag."

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that I probably do have a "tiny left Heschl's gyrus," for that really would explain my lack of talent for foreign languages. Also, I have a rather poor memory ... except for poetry.

Anyway, sorry to hear of the essential tremors but glad to hear that the 'medicine' is so pleasant.

Too much of that 'medicine' can be toxic, however.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:25 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

Truly, I don't notice ET. It's a part of me and I'm a part of it. "It's a part of all that having been." Ain't never know'd no different. An'a uisge-beatha ain't evah hurt a man.

By the way was wondering if you ever thought about writing about romantic love vs modern love vs biblical love

At 3:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Right. How could the "water of life" ever harm anyone?

On 'loves':

"By the way was wondering if you ever thought about writing about romantic love vs modern love vs biblical love"

Do these three map onto eros (sexual), philos (friendly), and agape (divine)? The first and third map well, but modern love, I'm guessing, wouldn't be philos.

What distinctions are you thinking of?

Jeffery Hodges

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