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February 24, 2005

Screens of Language

I've posted on the language barrier presented in "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock," and I've received some great feedback from peers regarding the intended meaning of the original language.

Tiffany has asked the kind of questions that I was hoping to ellicit with my post: "It makes you think back to all of the documents that we read from the Greek and Roman cultures. Have they the same meaning? What words were lost? What did translators make up just to have a passage make sense?"

All things considered, I posted back with some information on the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), when there -was- only one language in the world...

My point is that when moving words from language to language in ANY context (not just this instance), meaning is lost. Language, as beautiful as it can be, is an agent of obscurity in many cases when it is not understood by both the speaking and listening/reading parties.

Just another point, but on another note, at the "Nostra Aetate" discussion last night, a representative from the Catholic church, Islam, and the Jewish faith spoke of the meanings of the texts that are sacred to their respective religions. It was interesting to note that two of the three mentioned the language of the original text being the best way to learn and understand it.

What I was wondering is, how ought the rest of us that do not know Arabic and/or Hebrew go about learning more about their religions? They made it seem as though our monolingual efforts were feeble and insufficient. I wanted to ask a question in the discussion, but time ran out :-/

Despite all that, it's easy to appreciate when things are written in a language that you can comprehend without translation--like the rest of "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock." Although the passage Eliot gives to precede the poem can cause confusion, essentially it is supplemental to his meaning rooted in the work. His allusions give us insight to the character of Prufrock, and actually I believe that the excerpt beginning the piece speaks fathoms more than Prufrock himself does in identifying who Prufrock is and what his goals are, what sort of person he is and wants to become.

(Being an English major with a French minor and a fascination with languages goes a l-o-n-g way sometimes! :-)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at February 24, 2005 4:57 PM


I must say that I am fascinated to hear people speak in other languages; it can be very therapeutic. I listen to Dr. Dardery speak in Arabic, and I am almost in a trance.

Languages are beautiful and most understood by those who speak it. Something essential is lost in translation.

In the Bible, for example, with its numerous translations, that unity is lost in the text, but essentially the message is the same. When people interfere and say that this is absolutely one thing or another--that is when conflicts arise.

Connotations and interpretations will always be a barrier, I fear. No matter if one is speaking a different or the traditional text's tongue.

Posted by: Amanda at February 25, 2005 9:02 AM

I knew that if one person that reads my blog could appreciate this, it would be you, Amanda :-) Thanks for sharing that.

I, too, find language to be theraputic at times, but in different manners than just listening to it. I find myself entranced in thought about the actual meaning and connection to what I know and what I'd like to know more about... It's silly how wrapped up I can get!

Posted by: Karissa at February 25, 2005 11:46 PM

I find that when I am working on something for my tamburitzan group that I am being taken off into another world. That is why if saddens me when I think about things that were lost in the translation of a Greek or Roman text.

Posted by: Tiffany at March 2, 2005 4:18 PM

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