Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

What Words Can Hold

AquamarineAura's picture

This particular web event would have been tricky to post in serendip's format without a lot of extra time. I have instead opted to post it in two documents attached to this post to preserve a bit of the formatting that makes it easier on the eyes to read.

It may seem backwards, but the first file is the final translations and thoughts on this projects and the second file will be the process I went through to reach those final works.


PDF icon final translations.pdf337.57 KB
PDF icon translations in process.pdf360.77 KB


Anne Dalke's picture

as I said when you first proposed this project, I was drawn to it because it took the question of “interpretation” (and the by-now conventional belief that “everyone has a different interpretation”) to another, more structural level: how do different language systems represent the world?

I am not familiar with most of the languages you translate “through” in this project, so not really able to enjoy much of the nuance here, but I am certainly appreciating both your initial move—your decision to select two passages of your own writing, one poetry, one prose, both in English—as well as your final one, your realization that your poetry “fared better” in translation than your prose did. Do you think that might be because it was already “crystallized”—tighter, more structured—so that there was less space for variation, play—and error?

You had mentioned a possible further variation on this exercise, asking individual humans (rather than internet programs) to do the translating. It might also be interesting to see what two different translators of the same language (two Spanish speakers, for instance, or two of your peers who speak Mandarin) might make of this exercise, for there is bound to be individual variation @ play here as well.

My real question, though, is what you have learned here, in terms of our recent conversations about eco-linguistics. What does this project contribute to our discussion about the varieties of ways in which language might vary, and might be used more “ecologically”? Your last project was a “bi-directional” one, re-reading a text through your experience, re-reading your experience through a text; it focused on the ethical behavior and education of field researchers. It would be interesting to go back to The Hungry Tide again, now that you’ve completed this new project, and focus on the gap among languages, on what is said and cannot be, without a shared language. How able should field researchers be, do you think now, to speak the language spoken in the field where they are studying? What gaps in understanding and miscommunication might be closed?