Bilingual metaphors, the passion of place name changes, and interpreting for the Dodgers

SWEDEN-NOBEL-LITTERATURE-MUELLERNobel 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.

tanganikaAlso, 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 DodgersKenji 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.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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6 responses to “Bilingual metaphors, the passion of place name changes, and interpreting for the Dodgers

  1. Mike

    Mike Chacon
    CST 229
    Professor Tirpak
    11/3/09

    Power of Language #3
    This Power of Language post has to be the best one I have done out of all the three. I chose Podcast number 70: Bilingual metaphors, the passion of place name changes, and interpreting for the Dodgers. This podcast left me in awe. Kenji Nimura is an interpreter for the professional baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers who helps the team’s foreign players. Although he is Japanese, he is trilingual; he can speak English, Spanish, and Japanese. Though he was born in Japan, he went to school in Los Angeles. He took up Spanish in middle school after he felt shunned by Spanish speaking students because he could not understand what they were saying to him. He felt he was being shunned all because he could not understand them. Language is a very important tool for one to master and have. It avoids the awkwardness and the barriers between people who can’t understand others because of the language that they speak.

    • Mike Chacon

      Power of Language #3
      This Power of Language post has to be the best one I have done out of all the three. I chose Podcast number 70: Bilingual metaphors, the passion of place name changes, and interpreting for the Dodgers. This podcast left me in awe. Kenji Nimura is an interpreter for the professional baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers who helps the team’s foreign players. Although he is Japanese, he is trilingual; he can speak English, Spanish, and Japanese. Though he was born in Japan, he went to school in Los Angeles. He took up Spanish in middle school after he felt shunned by Spanish speaking students because he could not understand what they were saying to him. He felt he was being shunned all because he could not understand them. I can remember a time where I was with my mother in a local supermarket, and she and I were having difficult time understanding the woman at the cash register. She was of Asian descent and spoke English, but it was hard to understand what she was saying. She was having a difficult time understanding that we didn’t want to purchase an item that we were going to purchase, but we changed our minds. We politely told her not to ring it up, she did anyway, and then we couldn’t understand as to why she rung it up when we had repeatedly told her not to. My first thoughts were, “Does she not understand that we did not want to purchase said item in the first place?” After some time, with the assistance of another customer who was also of Asian descent and spoke English fluently, we politely told her the situation that was going on and she translated what we told her to the woman at the cashier, and the situation was ultimately resolved. Language is a very important tool for one to master and have. It avoids the awkwardness and the barriers between people who can’t understand others because of the language that they speak. These barriers can include language barriers (not understanding what others are saying,) direct and indirect eye contact(whether you see the person eye-to-eye in communication, or whether you just want to listen to the person communicate while not looking directly in their direction,) and lastly misreading hand movements and hand gestures while communicating. **REVISION OF PREVIOUS COMMENT**

  2. Jessica Dabaghi

    Jessica Dabaghi
    Professor Tirpak
    CST 229
    11/3/2009

    I’m a student at Northern Virginia Community College, and I’m currently taking a course in Intercultural Communications. I just listened to the podcast on Herta Mueller and her writing in bilingual metaphors. I’m constantly amazed by the diversity and intricacy of the world. It is mind blowing to think that there are over 6,000 languages spoken throughout the world, and it takes most people a lifetime to attempt mastering just one. Living in this area you meet people from all over the world and you are constantly exposed to foreign languages. One of my favorite things to do is to ask someone to repeat a statement to me in their native language, and they always seem to hit a wall in the translation process. It’s almost impossible to try and translate a word into English, and have it carry over the same meaning and posses the same intensity. It goes both ways though, my family is Lebanese and in conversation with them they have troubles trying to express a word in Arabic, so the resort to English. The best example is in music for any language; when translated into English it just doesn’t make any sense, but when the song is in its original format, its absolute harmonic poetry. I see Herta Mueller’s style of writing as a rare form of art. The combination of her Germanic and Romanian writings is brilliant, and it is the best example of language standing as the base of a culture and forming its peoples.

  3. Adela Gernandt

    On Nobel literature prize winner Herta Mueller
    I have always been fascinated by metaphors and considered them much more than just figures of speech. I was lucky to be exposed to some of the best worldwide known writers from a very young age. The way the abstract world melted so passionately into the concrete more familiar one intrigued me then and has my whole attention still now. It is wonderful how a person can express oneself in such amazing words and still convey such simple and so touchable meanings. I think the achievement of one writer must be on the ability to construct metaphors that capture the audience and get understood to the point of great appreciation.
    It is on my future plans to read something from this writer that has captivated the world with her writings. I already have great respect for her work by just hearing this podcast on her .I know form personal experience how confusing it can get sometimes to express yourself in another language especially when you speak more than two. Only a person with great linguistic skills on both languages can be able to construct astounding figures of speech like the ones used in Herta Mueller book. I have great confidence that she possesses this quality in abundance given the result that she had, wining one of the highest honors a writer might wish for in their careers.
    Adela Gernandt (Intercultural Communications)

  4. Pingback: The language of the beautiful game « the world in words

  5. Pingback: The language of the beautiful game | PRI's The World

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