Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lost in Translation

Catlin Castan
Dr. Ellis
Humor Studies
29 September 2014
Lost in Translation
            As we encounter different types of humor, we can all agree that it is generally quite different from the type of language used by the structures in which these writers wish to deconstruct. Many humorists and satirists—like Voltaire—stray away from the conventional, expected use of language and instead, supplement their areas of emphasis with humorous diction. By the use of humor, we are able to engage in the—at times—tragic context of a situation, without positioning ourselves on the “wrong” side. Voltaire’s insertion of Dr. Pangloss serves as a perfect example of this manipulation of language. While Candide adheres to Pangloss’s wacky and warped perception of the world, through satirization—specifically exaggeration--Voltaire makes it clear to us as readers that Pangloss’s philosophy is absolutely absurd and therefore not to be taken seriously. A conclusion that we as readers may have bee unable to reach without Voltaire’s controlled use of language to convey his humor.
            Similar to Voltaire, in the introduction portion of “Betel Nut Is Bad Magic for Airplanes”, by John Kasaipwalova, the critic (unnamed) explains that the “conflict between the Aussies and the Papua New Guineans is largely verbal”(613). We also learn that the narrator in “Betel Nut…” is mistreated as a result of his refusal to severe ties with his traditional culture; he refuses to fully assimilate into the culture being forced upon him by his oppressors. In an effort to preserve his cultural context, he finds that, “one way of retaining that context is verbally, by refusing to give in and use the oppressor’s language, except in the instance of necessity”(613). As we read Kasaipwalova’s piece, we become fully aware of the cultural nuances via his use of Pidgin English as the predominant language throughout the text. As a result, we feel as though we are apart of the collective culture—the collective “we” used even when the narrator is referring to himself as an individual.
            Similarly, the retention of certain indigenous words is essential because it shows the inability of language to fully translate—sometimes the meaning of a word between languages is lost in translation. In this same way, certain cultures are also unable to fully adopt a new cultural framework, certain elements of their indigenous culture will likely abstain from change, and instead, work their way into a modified new culture—a culture that accepts change but that also encompasses fragments of their old culture. For the narrator, continuing to speak his native tongue is the way he is able to preserve his tradition. While he speaks Pidgen most of the time, each time we see the narrator’s anger reach a point where it  “wants to stand its feet”(614), we observe that an articulate dialogue systematically follows. While adhering to the oppressor’s language is important from a linguistic standpoint, it also highlights a fundamental flaw within the oppressor’s culture—it shows that while the narrator can speak and converse in their language, their oppressors are unable to reciprocate this level of aptness and comprehension. This creates a dimension of ignorance and serves as an extreme social commentary on colonization.
            I also noticed this same notion of “lost in translation” in “Ngati Kangaru”, specifically with the use of certain quoted phrases throughout the text, such as “high and holy work” or “peculiar aptitude for being improved”—here, we notice that while these quotations makes sense in the context in which that are presented to us—as trained readers, we are able to detect that something is slightly off with Grace’s usage. Instead, it seems as though these people are taking excerpts of specific quotes from legitimate documents, removing them from their “correct” context and inserting them into a framework that justifies their actions. Here, we see that although we are not dealing with two different languages, we experience a similar result with the original or intended meaning of each phrase being lost in translation between two different contexts.
            Similar to certain words that we find are unable to be fully translated—words that exist in somewhat of a liminal space—when asked about her citizenship, the narrator in “Borders”, also finds herself in this “in-between” space. Unable to identify fully with the American or the Canadian side of the border, King’s narrator is faced with conflict when trying to cross the border to visit her daughter. Classifying herself as a “blackfoot”, she refuses to be pigeonholed or stuffed into a category that only partially meets the definition of who she is. Just as we see in Kasaipwalova’s piece with his narrator refusing to fully translate foreign words into English, because of his refusal to compromise the “full” meaning of what he intends to say, King’s narrator is unable to translate her “blackfoot” identity in terms of the American or Canadian culture—it would be an incomplete translation.

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