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Sunday, 14 June 2015
A Polyglot Mentality

After Babel: Aspects of language and translation, 3rd Ed.,
George Steiner, OUP, 1998, page 124-125

Steiner claims to be fully tri-lingual (in English, French and German) with two other 'family' languages (Yiddish and Hebrew) in close support, as well as having acquired a number of other languages by learning. Apart from being very intimidating to those of us with just one mother tongue and smatterings of one or two others acquired at school, on holiday or in later life, he wonders about the way these work within himself.

Does a polyglot mentality operate differently from one that uses a single language or whose other languages have been acquired by subsequent learning? When a natively multi-lingual person speaks, do the languages not in momentary employ press upon the body of speech which he is actually articulating? Is there a discernble, perhaps measurable sense in which the options I exercise when uttering words and sentences in English are both enlarged and complicated by the 'surrounding presence or pressure' of French and German?

He concludes that such interference from other languages may in fact assist in generating a rich blend of resource that must have marked influence. He then asks:

How does a multilingual sensibility internalise translation, the actual passage from one of its first languages to another?

This is an important question for one concerned with translating not just language but culture. Apparently, professional translators feel that the best translator will be one who who has learned his second language by conscious design. The bilingual does not see the difficulties. More formally,

the bilingual has his own private semantic correlation

he may not actually translate 'true' but according to his own private understanding. Again,

The polyglot mind undercuts the lines of division between languages by reaching inward

Consider how this may be at work in the question of expressing a Jewish identity in church? The Jewish believer in Yeshua is the bilingual, the one who has a foot in both the Jewish and Christian camps: the cultures, the languages, the unspoken assumptions. He may not always recognise the need to translate because he understands, or speaks out of his internal equivalence table which has no direct meaning or context for either audience.

Posted By Jonathan, 8:00am Comment Comments: 0