Nobel literature prize winner Herta Mueller grew up in Romania. She spoke German at home, and Romanian at school. As a result her writing is infused with mixed metaphors. Not as in “he careened between lovers till his private life went completely off the rails.” No, Mueller’s metaphors are linguistically mixed. She connects Romanian images and metaphors with German ones. That’s what she did with the title of one of her novels: Hertztier (which literally means “heart animal”). That’s an invented German word with roots in a piece of Romanian wordplay. The Romanian for heart is inimă and for animal is animală — the words sound quite similar. In German, hertz and tier don’t sound at all similar. That suggests that in every language, thoughts and ideas cluster uniquely and somewhat randomly. Yet if, like Mueller, you’re bilingual, you’re more likely to transpose word clusters, punning and otherwise, from one language to the next . Of course, by the time an expression like inimă-animală is translated into English (via German) it loses resonance and meaning. Which is why translator Michael Hoffman avoided it completely. He called the novel The Land of Green Plums.
Also, a conversation with Harry Campbell, the author of Whatever Happened to Tanganika? The Place Names that History Left Behind. This interview is long and full of infamous, and some less well-known, episodes from colonial history. Typically, colonists like to leave their mark in the form of a place or two, whether they were British imperial officers, unscrupulous Belgians or Soviet true believers. The names, of course, rarely stick. Local populations have a healthy disrespect for the monikers of their former masters. But this leaves some people nostalgic for the old names, and others wondering what those names, and their replacements, reveal. I’m struck by how important place names are to people, even in cases where people have never visited the name in question. Much of comes down to power and influence. And occasionally, money. A shorter version of the interview ran on The World’s regular broadcast; it generated a ton of posts and comments. Post your own at this site or here.
Finally in this week’s podcast, a profile the Japanese interpreter for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kenji Nimura is actually trilingual — he speaks Spanish, as well as Japanese and English — which comes in handy in Major League Baseball, where those three languages are most used.