Volume 15, No. 4
Bridging Worlds Through Language and Translation
Baris Bilgen, PhD Candidate
School of Translation and Interpretation
University of Ottawa
he book by Üstün Bilgen-Reinart entitled "Porcelain Moon and Pomegranates: A Woman's Trek Through Turkey" (Bilgen-Reinart 2007) translates Turkey, the author's country of origin, home for the author for over 30 years, into English for Anglophone readers, primarily for Canadians.
Born out of the author's need to bridge her two worlds, the book takes its place within the genre of travel literature, yet with several differentiating characteristics. The author's identity is significantly influenced by both Canada and Turkey. She was born and raised in Turkey, and her mother tongue is Turkish. Yet, since she has experienced transformation into adulthood in Canada, settling down in Manitoba in her late teens, she is foreign to many things in Turkey, and her identity as an adult carries a significant Canadian influence. The exceptional advantage she has, which renders this book distinctive, is her mother tongue: Turkish. She is a traveller, alright; but her identity has its roots both in the Canadian and in the Turkish culture. Neither culture is entirely foreign to her. She is not a total outsider trying to tell the stories of Turkey, but an insider who has been away for a long time, who feels a connection with and a longing for her origin, but who also has difficulty in recognizing and reconnecting after such a long time apart.
Post-modern thinking has argued that there is no original, and everything is translation.
Why is the book of interest from a translation studies point of view? First of all, as mentioned above, it is the translation of Turkey into Canada. Hence one of the objectives in writing this paper: exploring the notion of writing as translation through the use of the book as a case in hand. Then, the translator's instinct comes into play: how could the problems of translatability be overcome? Besides more evident ones, for example the multilingual nature of the book, the main question of translatability stems from the book's nature as translation. It presents Turkey, the Turkish culture and the Turkish language as foreign. They are sources of exoticism. Then, would it be possible to translate the book into Turkish? Would it be desirable? Why?
All the questions above make up the motivation in writing this paper. The first part will explain the relevance of the idea of "writing as translation" in this case, thus affirming why the book is considered to be a translation. The second part will be an attempt to foresee translation challenges and strategies such a book would bring about if it was to be translated back into the language of its source culture, to demonstrate how and why such a translation would be desirable, and to comment on a possible outcome.
Writing as Translation
Post-modern thinking has argued that there is no original, and everything is translation. The original text is not the origin; it is the transcription, the textual representation of non-textual phenomena by the author. Then, translation is not that much different in nature than writing, since it is representation as well. In that case, the only difference is that the original translates non-textual phenomena into text, whereas translation translates the textual system of one language to another.
Asad puts forward the following comparison of ethnographic writing and translation in terms of textuality of the source:
One difference between the anthropologist and the linguist in the matter of translation is perhaps this: that whereas the latter is immediately faced with a specific piece of discourse produced within the society studied, a discourse that is then textualized, the former must construct the discourse as a cultural text in terms of meanings implicit in a range of practices.
The parallel between ethnographic writing and translation is even more evident, as both represent source cultures to target cultures. Hence, writing, ethnographic writing and translation can all be considered as representations, perceptions through different perspectives, or reflections. Levine's analogy of mirrors illustrates this point: "translation is just one more reflection in an endless mirroring of images, that is, the activity of writing" (Levine 1975:267). The observed, observation, writing, translation, perception: all reflections.
Ethnographic writing involves reflections from two points of view: reflecting on the exotic from the outsider's point of view, and reflecting on foreign aspects of the familiar from the insider's point of view. This dichotomy is parallel to the categorization regarding the role of the writer/observer by Schwartz and Schwartz as passive observation, where "the observer remains an outsider", and active observation, where "the active participant observer maximizes his participation with the observed in order to gather data and attempts to integrate his role with other roles in the social situation." (Schwartz & Schwartz 1955:348-349). Bilgen-Reinart's book involves active observation in this sense; the author is immersed within the culture she is observing. Yet, there is no question of choice or effort. She does not choose to be an active observer; she was born and raised within the culture she is observing. She even speaks the language: it is her mother tongue. She goes back to be part of it after a long time away. The book reflects the foreign aspects of what is to some extent familiar to the author, because the object is after all her homeland, her country of origin. Most importantly, the author has full access to the language. Yet, the country, the culture, and the language in question make up 'the other' for Anglophone readers, as well as for her own Canadian identity.
The author can be considered among people anthropologists refer to as "transnationals who have feet in two societies", a concept emerging within the context of accelerating information flow and mobility (Tandogan and Onaran Incirlioglu 2004:100). She is both part native and part foreigner in both contexts. Or, from the reverse angle, she is neither a true native nor a complete foreigner in either context. Hence, she plays the role of translator, bridging two societies with the advantage of having access to both. Her mother tongue being Turkish, she has the privilege of having "the full engagement with the text to be translated in order to capture all its nuances" (Cronin 2000:87), even though in this case, the source is not text per se, but the textualization of an entire context. Moreover, her mother tongue spares her the "hostility and suspicion" she would experience if she spoke a foreign language traveling around Turkey (ibid. 37). It is the hybrid nature of her cultural and linguistic identity that both enables and pushes her to embark on this translation. From this aspect, the book is a testimony to the role of language in understanding cultures. Bilgen-Reinart avows:
For fifteen years, as a journalist, I told Canada's stories. My own days were woven into the texture of life in Canada. It was my country - it still is. But Turkey is also my country, and it also has stories: mysterious, compelling, dark ones. Until now I haven't attempted to tell any of them. Now I want words to connect my two worlds.
What is translation if it is not connecting worlds through words?
Translating Turkey back into Turkish
This part of the paper will first provide a brief overview of the linguistic character of Bilgen-Reinart's book as translation, looking at certain examples from several chapters. Based on this assessment, the challenges and strategies for a translation into Turkish will be discussed followed by comments on the motivation and possible outcome.
On the Challenges, Strategies and Possible Outcome of Translation
The first formal trait that strikes the reader, common in travel literature, is the presence of italicized words, proper nouns, and place names in Turkish, whose abundance signal the foreignness of the object of narration. They are usually accompanied by translations.
Good day," an elderly woman calls to me from the terrace of the apartment building next to ours. "I've noticed your husband is a foreigner. He hangs laundry. Turkish men wouldn't do that."
Nadire Hanım (Lady) putters on that terrace, tending lemon trees and geraniums that grow in large tin cans.
In some cases, their meaning is to be inferred from the context.
çıs. Crowds pour in and out of pastry shops.
- Seventh Avenue, near our apartment, is like a fairgrounds every evening. The smell of grilled meat drifts from kebap
It would be fair to say that the meaning of "kebapçı" is not a great mystery here. A place on a busy avenue disseminating the smell of grilled meat: probably some kind of a grilled meat restaurant.
Looking at random pages from chapters from the beginning, the middle and the end of the book affirms the continuity of the estranging effect created by the use of proper nouns and place names accompanying italicized words and expressions in Turkish.
Later in the evening, Mavili tells me about a solitary, recent grave on the east side of the mound. It belongs to a kötü yola düşmüş kadın, a fallen woman, of Mavili's parents' generation. The villagers didn't want the body in their cemetery, so they buried the woman at Çatalhöyük. Mavili puts her arm through mine and leads me to the stone that marks the grave: "Güllü Aysa. 22-2-1933. Ruhuna Fatiha" - "A Prayer For Her Soul."
Feride wears a flowered cotton skirt and a purple embroidered kerchief tied behind her ears as she sits on the bed, the only piece of furniture in her one-room squatter's shack in the Batı Kent Mahallesi district of Diyarbakır in south-eastern Anatolia. She was married at age thirteen and became a widow with five children at twenty-two. Four of her children are lined up beside her on the bed. Her eldest son, twelve-year-old Abdullah, watches us from the doorway.
"I walk through Çamköy at night and tap gently on the windows," Oktay Konyar tells me when I sit with him on the balcony of his house in Dikili over-looking the Aegean Sea.
The frequent use of italicized words or expressions, proper nouns and place names strike the reader as obvious manifestations of foreignness. This is a fairly expected stylistic quality in a book of this kind, and involves smaller units of text.
Another strategy of estrangement appears when larger units of text are presented through foreignizing translation. Such translations strike the reader as odd, because it is evident that native speakers of the language, English in this case, would not express themselves in such a way. The peculiarity imposes certain norms of the source language on the target language. The resulting discourse creates the impression that the speaker/enunciator is speaking the source language in the target language, in this case speaking Turkish in English. (see Berman 1985 and Venuti 2004 on the representation of the foreign in translation and foreignizing translation.)
The example below includes the author's translation of a letter sent to her by a villager, followed by the author's reply.
- "I send you greetings, my lady daughter," she writes. "Greetings to my gentleman son. [She means my brother.] I kiss your eyes. I hope you are well. Your letter made my heart glad. I'm sending this to you hoping that you'll receive it and it will make you glad." Then she breaks into rhyming verses in an oral tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages:
The birds of this village fly high
To drink from open waters in wide spaces
Misty mountains, give passage
To end separations.
Weep, my eyes, in longing.
Hürü woman sits alone, no one hears her voice.
Give passage, smoky mountains.
No one protects the one who has no kin.
I alone wear the rough shirt of separation.
Give passage, smoky mountains.
She ends her letter with: "Forgive me. This is the best I could do. I kiss your eyes and wait for your speedy reply."
I write back to her: "Dear Hürü Abla [Older Sister]. Your verses have made me glad. I think often of your village. I, too, kiss your eyes. Be well."
A random villager referring to the author as her daughter ("my lady daughter"), and to the author's brother as her son ("my gentleman son") are the first things that signal strangeness. Out of context, the reader would think that the villager's letter is addressed to her daughter. However, the expressions reflect how the role of family and kinship references in Turkish culture is carved in the Turkish language. In Turkish, even people who are complete strangers may call each other using kinship references. For example, it is common, and appropriate in an informal context, to use "amca" (uncle) to address an old gentleman, "teyze"(aunt): old lady, etc. (See Spencer 1960 for more about kinship references in Turkish). And Bilgen-Reinart carries this use into English through translation.
"I kiss your eyes" is a literal translation of a warm greeting or closing in a letter or conversation, usually where distance and longing are in effect. It, too, reflects aspects of Anatolian culture, such as the value of sincerity, hospitality, affection, reflected in the use of language. The peculiarity of the expression is obvious in translation. Unlike the visible foreignization brought about by the use of italicized words or expressions in Turkish, or Turkish proper nouns or place names, the foreignizing effect of such translations are based on the manipulation of English.
The resulting discourse constantly signals the foreignness of the object of narration, Turkey. The following discussions will focus on why and how such a book, a translation from the point of view presented above, could be translated into Turkish, the language of its source culture, even its source language in cases where it involves translations done by the author.
The estranging quality of the italicized words and the foreignizing translations of the larger units of text would be lost in translation, since the source of exoticism -i.e. Turkey, the Turkish language- would lose its exoticness. Yet, the originality of the tone can be preserved as the Turkish-Canadian point of view brings an original perspective to the observation. Accordingly, the strategies for translation suggested below do not attempt to recreate the original's particular system in translation, "that is, the relationships between the words, and between the levels of writing within the text, as well as the relationship between the text and its author, and between the text and its reader", as Levine claims to be the priority in translation (Levine 1975:268). Instead, the objective is to create a new system and the result is estimated to be a version rather than a translation, because the book's perlocutionary effect -i.e. its effect on its readers- would inevitably be altered (Hickey 2004:57). While the original is written to explain Turkey to Canadians, the translation would be explaining Turkey to Turks through the perspective of a Turkish-Canadian. The effect on Canadian or Anglophone readers would be exposing them to an encounter with an unfamiliar culture, history, and language through the perspective of an author who has experienced the culture, history, and languages of Canada. The effect on Turkish readers, on the other hand, would be exposing them to a detailed examination of what they take for granted, a revelation of taboos that surround them, through the perspective of an author with a hybrid identity, looking at her origin from a wider perspective. Of course, these estimations do not disregard the possibility of "an infinite and indefinite number of perlocutionary effects" that any utterance may generate (Gu, quoted in Hickey 2004:58).
The author's references to Canada, and quotations from her family and friends in French and English present a good opportunity to emphasize the originality of the Canadian perspective in translation. Although they are not as dominant as the italicized words or expressions in Turkish, or the foreignizing translations from Turkish into English in the original, they can still serve to highlight the Canadian influence on the author's identity in a translation into Turkish. The fact that Canadian references are more numerous in the first chapters of the book presents an excellent opportunity to establish the tone from the beginning.
"Tu connais cette voix..."
- Oh, the prairies of Saskatchewan, I moan before a photograph in the lobby of the Canadian embassy - those long, snow-covered, desolate stretches. I remember a church service at Ponteix, Saskatchewan, a town where families were losing their farms. Sunlight streamed in through the stained-glass windows while the congregation sand, "So sings my soul, my Saviour unto thee. How great Thou art, how great Thou art." And I had tears.
- "Écoute!" Jean says one day while we search for canned chickpeas in GIMA, the supermarket at the corner of our street and Seventh Avenue.
"Please, no," I say. "Not Céline Dion!"
"Si. Céline à Ankara!" He giggles and cheers at the triumph of the girl from Quebec, while I cringe at "canned" culture, a marvel of globalization.
In late May, Jean and I rent a car to take Normand, Jacques, and Lucie, three friends visiting from Quebec City, to Hattuşaş, the capital of the Hittite Empire.
We take rooms for the night and set out on foot to visit the ruins.
"It's going to rain," the motel owner warns.
"We don't care," we answer, in English, Turkish, and French.
These examples are indicative of cases where the presence of Canadian references and expressions in English and French could compensate at least partially for the loss of linguistic authenticity in a translation into Turkish. Instead of presenting Turkey and the Turkish language as foreign, such a translation could underline the originality of the Canadian perspective, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal has already shifted from presenting Anglophone readers an encounter with the foreign, to presenting Turkish readers an encounter with an insight into what is superficially familiar to them, from an original perspective. While the observed is the source of exoticism and strangeness in the original, it would be the authenticity of the observer which would make up the novelty of the reading experience for readers of the translation.
Another discursive characteristic appears where the author investigates ancient Anatolian history. The historical and mythological names are as estranging for many Turkish readers as they are for Anglophone readers. This is another opportunity that could be benefited from in a translation into Turkish to underline once again the originality of the author's perspective, and to compensate at least partially for the loss of the authenticity of references to Turkey and Turkish, thus maintaining the book's quality as presenting an unprecedented encounter.
- Ancient Greek scholars tell us that according to Phrygian mythology Cybele was born from the earth on which Zeus had spilled his sperm. Originally, she was a hermaphrodite named Angdistis, but other gods, jealous of her power, castrated Angdistis and she became the goddess Cybele. An almond tree (or pomegranate in some versions of the myth) sprang from the severed genitals of Angdistis. Nana, the daughter of the River Sangarios, ate an almond from that tree (or put a pomegranate against her breast) and conceived a child named Attis, who became the goddess's beloved. (p.50)
- By the end of the third century BC, the Romans embraced the worship of Cybele. During the reign of King Attalus I of Pergamon, an oracle prophesied that the only way to end the war between Rome and Carthage was to bring the great Phrygian goddess to Rome. The Romans asked the Phrygians for the sacred black meteorite, and in 204 BC they transported it from Pessinus to Rome by boat. They placed it in a temple built for her on the Palatine Hill. From then on, the Anatolian goddess called Magna Mater, her chariot pulled by lions, and her orgiastic rituals became a part of Roman life. (p.63)
Besides the linguistic elements pointed above, one last point, though rhetorical rather than linguistic, which plays an important role in setting up the original tone and discourse of the book, is the author's approach to taboos in Turkish society. This aspect is evidently more related to the book's content than its form, and it is not to be considered as much of a challenge for translation as the book's linguistic characteristics. Its importance for translation is that it makes up one of the main factors motivating a translation of Turkey back into Turkish. In the course of her travel and exploration, both metaphorically and literally, Bilgen-Reinart breaks taboos and investigates taboo issues in Turkish society, such as the massacre of Armenians during World War I, the Kurdish separatist movement, religion, restrictions imposed on women by Islam, sexuality, prostitution, social and regional inequalities, ethnicity, and honour killings. Consequently, the potential to provide access to the bridge that Bilgen-Reinart builds, and to the insightful presentation of the enrichment brought about through experiencing the other makes up the motivation for a possible translation.
The starting point of this paper has been the perception of Bilgen-Reinart's book as a translation of Turkey. The linguistic characteristics of the book have been examined, and this brief examination has lead to the realization of the originality of the book's discourse. Unlike most cases in travel literature where the author does not speak the language of the observed and translation is indispensable for observation, or where the author writes in the language of the observed where translation is not involved, Bilgen-Reinart observes Turkey without having to recur to translation, and translates for the purpose of explaining her country of origin to her Anglophone Canadian readers.
Due to the reader-oriented nature of the purpose in writing the book, and due to its multilingual character where the Turkish language, together with Turkey and the Turkish culture, is the source of exoticism, it can be inferred that the result of a translation into Turkish would turn out to be a version rather than a translation due to the inevitable shift in its perlocutionary effect. Thus, the strategies proposed in this paper are based on this estimation, and suggest the creation of a new textual system rather than recreating the system in the original.
The originality of the insight and the perspective provided by the author is the main source of motivation for a possible translation into Turkish. Although it can be considered a back-translation, a Turkish version has a lot to offer in terms of content. In addition, the shift in the formal characteristics of the book, especially regarding the multilingualism and the exotic representation of Turkey, would not necessarily mean a loss of formal quality. Together with the alteration of its perlocutionary effect, the transformation of formal characteristics in translation would lead to the creation of a new textual system making up the Turkish version, where the source of authenticity shifts from the observed to the observer.
Getting involved with intercultural works of this kind, be it in the form of writing, reading or translating, reveals the role of language in understanding cultures, and thus the role of translation, its potential and implications. It is the author's mother tongue that gives her access to the depths of culture in her country of origin, and it is her knowledge of English, together with her experience of Canadian culture, that enables her to bridge her two worlds with words.
The contrast between the two languages and cultures also points to the role of form, together with content, in shaping systems of meaning and shows how each language has its unique system of meaning made up of characteristics pertaining to both form and content. For translation studies, this shows once again that abandoning linguistics, turning away from formal considerations, or turning attention to merely functional and cultural aspects of translation would impair the interdisciplinary nature of the field. That is to say that translation studies cannot turn away from any of the disciplines it is interconnected with, and this leads one to think that there is something wrong with the 'turn' metaphor which is frequently used to refer to trends in translation studies (Vandeweghe, Vandepitte, Van de Velde 2007). If the use of metaphor is inevitable, it would be fair to suggest the use of a 'crossroads' metaphor to point to the convergence of the fields, rather than their change of direction, to point to the indispensability of each and every field involved, and to imply that neither the path nor the direction is changing, but the interdisciplinary field is moving towards a more comprehensive approach.
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