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Understanding Linguistics: Becoming other (Pt. 04/12)

coastline-1082As we briefly discussed in our previous article, scores of scientists over time have extensively studied the act of phonation, by means of which language issues forth in the physical form of sound, so much so that automata now exist that effectively mimic some fundamental functions of human language. The successful scientific application of linguistic theories and commercialization of machines made possible by eminent language studies leave no doubt as to whether language is a physical phenomenon all of whose secrets will eventually be unveiled by the rigorous scrutiny of scientific inquiry.

If you point a microscope at something long enough, however, it will start moving. Modern science has been investigating levels of matter ever more abstract, as has been the case for quantum physics and its puzzling discoveries related to consciousness and perception. In a somewhat parallel fashion, cultural linguists investigate abstract dimensions of language, its interrelations with consciousness, perception, and identity. For instance, they might observe how members of a group of any kind invariably share a linguistic and cultural commonality made of terminology and expressions not immediately identifiable by outsiders. Although groups in its periphery will be similar enough to establish ways of communicating, others will be proportionally more different as distance increases and communication decreases.

Geography then, even before history, determines what we look like, how we think, what language we speak. Countering that, human migrations, always somehow dictated

On another plane, the fluidity of the identification process is no secret to actors and performers in general, who can seemingly effortlessly evoke accents and moods; infuse life into characters that bear no resemblance to their everyday persona. Imagine, if you will, an actor getting so lost in a character as to completely identify with it, forgetting his original identity. Arguably, this is more or less everybody’s mode of existence; constant reiterations of acquired patterns with which we identify so completely that we habitually ignore what made our identity possible in the first place. Repeat something for a long enough time and it will turn into ritual and tradition; it will crystallize and become culture. by unfavorable spatial conditions, shuffle the deck time and again, setting up the stage for ”us vs. them” scenarios, confronting those who are not us, who are different from us. It is out of this deeply felt sense of separation that the desire to become other is born. Here is where we realize that language and identity are ultimately about meaning and perception, fluid substances, by no means carved out of stone, as we had always believed.

Armed with this awareness, the act of translating must demand first of all that one’s own idiosyncrasies be set aside in order to take on the modes and traits of the original text. Its syntactic and prosodic patterns reveal the identity of the writer, transmitted by the beats and trajectories that make the river of words flow. Once this first major task of interpretation and identification has been accomplished, an equally important decision comes to the fore: how do I make sure that the author’s intended meaning will not be lost while at the same time keeping the translated text sounding native and natural?

This is where linguistic institutions regulating national language and identity come in handy. Commonly adhered to patterns of formalized linguistic expression are periodically ratified by commission and consensus, which will issue technologically powered beams of homogeneity across the cultural and linguistic plane, a clear, easy to follow signal. Temporarily letting go of one set of rules to embrace a completely new one, for a second time, the one who translates shall accomplish the feat of becoming other.

Originally posted 2013-07-22 12:47:55.

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