Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Red Oleanders by Tagore – I

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The journey of the theme and the meta-theme, encoded into one language, to another language, is the kernel of the translation process. We need to remember in this connection that the translation process is no longer considered a mechanistic one. Mechanical transfer of theme and linguistic features from one language to another is impossible. But at the same time a translator needs to be faithful to the original text, opines Basudeb, in the first part of his two-part research, exclusively for Different Truths.
The purpose of translation is primarily to carry the theme and the meta-theme of a source language text (SLT) into a text written in another language, i.e., target language (TLT). This journey of the theme and the meta-theme, encoded into one language, to another language, is the kernel of the translation process. We need to remember in this connection that the translation process is no longer considered a mechanistic one. Mechanical transfer of theme and linguistic features from one language to another is impossible. But at the same time, a translator needs to be faithful to the original text.

Of course, there are certain translation works — particularly those rendering scientific and technological contents written in one language, which demand relatively mechanical substitution for facts written in a particular language. The process of translation of scientific and technical writings is thus different from that of a creative and literary work. I will not examine here the translation process of scientific and technical writings. Translation is not an attempt at implanting any subject matter or any content written by a creative writer in his mother tongue or a foreign or second language into another language. Tagore did not transplant the subject matter of Rakta Karabi into a linguistic framework of English. Had it been so, it will have been a transplantation of a tree, grown-up steadily on a particular soil, into an alien soil and atmosphere. Indeed, translation is a creative art. It is not a mechanical transfer of a theme and meta-theme written in one language into another.  Perhaps for this reason, there is hardly any set procedure for translation.

A good translation can be an artistic creation. In that case, it transcends translation; it then becomes a new creation. A good translation shows a spontaneous and creative process of the journey of a theme and meta-theme from one linguistic framework to another linguistic framework. Translation of this nature, the aim, and objective of which is recreation is also an artistic marvel.
There are divergent opinions about the efficacy and possibility of translation among translation theoreticians. Roger Bacon of 12thcentury thinks every language is indivisible, unitary, and single. According to his journey from one text to another is impossible. Language is culture-specific. Human societies with different cultures, with different mores of lives, have been growing independently from time immemorial. Moreover, one of the expressions of those cultures in the form of their languages.

Even at the materialistic level, no human thought can be conceived of without any pre-language or whatever it is called. The pre-language or language at the mentalistic level in which a person belonging to a particular society at a particular point of time thinks is determined by the culture of that community. In addition, the varieties of cultures persisting from the recorded history of men’s society resulted in the different forms of surface languages and corresponding forms of pre-language or languages at the mentalistic level. This view is termed ‘Monadist’. (It comes from GK. mono, meaning only, lone, single, indestructible, and impenetrable. It is a unit in Greek philosophy constituting the number one or an individual. ) 

An American linguist Edward Sapir strongly supports this monadist approach. In his article in Selected Writings in Language Culture and Personality, he comments:

“No two languages are very sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds not merely the same world with different labels attached.”  
If we subscribe to this monadist view, any attempt at translation will be a futile endeavour. In this context, the theses made by Benjamin Lee Whorf seem to be relevant. In one of his final papers in Language, Thought and Reality (1956) Whorf presents what he envisions, “Actually, thinking is most mysterious, and by far the greatest light upon it that we have is thrown by the study of language. This study shows that inexorable laws of pattern of which he is unconscious control the forms of a person’s thoughts. These patterns are the unperceived intricate systematisations of his own language—shown readily enough by a candid comparison and contrast with other languages, especially those of a different linguistic family. His thinking itself is in a language – in English, in Sanskrit, in Chinese. And every language is a vast pattern-system, different from others, in which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates, but also analyses nature, notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, channels his reasoning, and builds the house of his consciousness”.   
What Whorf suggests is that translation is impossible. Noam Chomsky, on the other hand, holds the opinion that the underlying structural commonalities among all human languages—commonalities that the terms universal grammar are factors that make translation possible and effective.  In his Syntactic Structure, (1957) Chomsky shows what the transformational generative grammar is and how it is applicable to all human language.
Differences among languages are the difference of surface structures. “The human child is born with a blueprint of language which is called Universal Gramma.”  Indeed Chomsky’s transformational-generative grammar presents a faithful and objective description of the internal structure of all human languages.
Chomsky’s concept of language universals may be referred to this context.

A leading translation theoretician of the present time, Edwin Gentzler’s comment on the importance of Chomsky’s concept of the ‘Universal Grammar’ in the context of translation theories seems relevant, “Chomsky’s deep structure/surface structure model, his transformational rules, although mono linguistically derived, lend themselves to justifying a theory of translation. Whether one accepts Chomsky’s beliefs on how the human mind is structured or not his deep structures, postulated to contain all the necessary syntactic as well as semantic information for a correct transformation into surface structure and interpretation, lend themselves well to the translation practitioner trying to represent an ‘underlying message’ in a second language”.
Without questioning the validity or otherwise of these two sets of intricate opinions about the possibility of translation let us accept the premise that translation is possible; ‘the human actually does communicate across the linguistic barrier, and this is the pivot of universalism’. Accepting this premise, let us see what goes on in the mind of a practicing translator when he is engaged in the act of translation. Moreover, one may consider whether a creative piece of writing can at all be translated successfully.
Before doing this investigation, let me refer to different types of translation which Roman Jakobson classifies in one of his articles on translation. They are:
1) Intralingual translation or rewording, which is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs of the same language. (Translation of Shakespeare written in Elizabethan English into Modern English.) Diachronic translation – It can also be translation at Synchronic level. Translation changing the mode of Discourse). 
2)  Interlingual translation or translation proper which is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language. (From English to Bengali or vice versa.)
3) Intersemiotic translation or transmutation, which is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign system. (Taken from On Translation, Edited by Brower, Jakobson’s article is on linguistic aspects of Translation, 232-239) e.g., translation of a dramatic text into a theatre text of dance drama. Note in this connection the following items
1) Interpretation— to make clear or bring out the intended meaning
2) Transmutation – transmute means change something into something completely different.
3) Jokobson has not referred to self-translation – e.g., Tagore’s Red Oleanders, which is a unique form of self-translation.

©Basudeb Chakraborti

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Basudeb Chakraborti is a retired professor of English and Faculty Dean, University of Kalyani. He founded the Department of English in Sikkim Central University (2013). He taught in the USA and India. He wrote more than 100 articles in different literary journals in India and abroad. Among his books, Thomas Hardy’s View of Happiness, Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Tagore’s Red Oleanders, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation, etc.