Bilingual and vocal

by Tia on May 8, 2011

“In a language we understand, we have replaced opacity of sound by transparency of idea”

~Marcel Proust



A few months ago, I wrote a guest blog post for EURO RSCG’s blog. The staffs of EURO RSCG were kind enough to have the post translated into Bulgarian – you can read the translated version here. Reading my own thoughts, originally expressed in English and then translated into my native Bulgarian by someone other than me, was an unusual experience. Why did my translated writing sound so foreign to me? I knew that if I had created the blog post in Bulgarian from scratch, I would not have chosen the same words and expressions I used when I wrote it in English. While thinking about this, I came across an article in the Guardian by Rick Gekoski, where the challenges of translation are briefly but poignantly described:

And there is – no shirking this – the problem of translation. My generation of critics was raised to attend to the words on the page. That is what matters, that is what literature is (Jonathan Miller says somewhere that characters in literature “are sentences”). So are writers whom one encounters only in translation not significantly denatured when the words we read, however excellent, are not their own?” 

This is exactly how I felt – my words and ideas were accurately translated, yet they did not come together in the sort of harmony and rhythm I would have strived for, had I been writing in Bulgarian to begin with.

I often worry that when writing and speaking English, I subconsciously resort to idioms and memorized expressions and use them like crutches. I try to be cognizant of this possibility when I write in this blog. I spend time thinking about what I would like to say and try to view the first words that come to mind with great suspicion. I want to be the master of my words and not allow them to make me a captive of any morphological or syntactic limitations. I have considered whether there would be any merit in thinking about what I would like to say in Bulgarian first and then trying to express it in English. Perhaps all these questions can be reduced to one – does a brain think differently depending on the language you are thinking in? In searching for information about this I came across an article in the NYT, called “Does Your Language Shape How You Think”, which I actually remember reading last year so perhaps I was somewhat influenced by it. Time to reread it and give the subject some more thought, whatever language my brain chooses to use in the process!

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