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ALICE'S QUEL LONG NEZ AND THE WONDERLAND OF THE TRANSLATING DICTIONARY1 R. J. NELSON When the French translator came upon Alice on the beach conversing with the mock turtle and the gryphon, he obviously could do nothing with the "tortoise" who was so called because he "taught us." The best play on words that he could come up with was chélonée 'chelonian' and quel long nez! 'what a long nose!', almost identical in sound and referring respectively to the status in the animal kingdom and the lengthy proboscis of the mock turtle's tutor in his salad days. Scrooge's translator into Spanish suffered a similar fate, but with less felicitous results. He could make nothing of that crotchety old cynic's reference to "retiring to Bedlam" to escape the thought of what seemed to him Bob Cratchit's undue attachment to Christmas and instead had him predict that his impractical employee would end up in an asylum (Ie encerrarán en un manicomio).2 There is a moral to be learned from both of these literary forays: no two languages look at reality precisely alike, and the lexicographer is badgered by that uncomfortable truth every step of the way as he gingerly threads the rubble-strewn path of accurate equivalences between them. R. H. Robins lays bare the problem most succinctly: . . . the meanings of words and sentences are not universale that happen to be differently labelled in different languages, but they are in large measure dependent on and a part of the culture of the speech community. Translation is possible only in the unification of the cultural context, and the deceptively simple problems of translation between most European languages are due to the historically shared GraecoRoman -Christian cultural inheritance of Europe. The more diverse the cultures the harder becomes 59 60 The Wonderland of the Translating Dictionary translation, and, significantly, the more deeply embedded in the culture a word or a phrase is, that is to say the more revealing it is of that culture, the greater the difficulty of rendering it in a language from outside the culture area (35). Any bilingual dictionary worth its salt must take these facts into account. Värvinter in Swedish has no one-word equivalent in English; it means nothing less than 'early Spring', and the open compound must be entered under the main entry early or the English speaker will never find his way to the Scandinavian concept at all, but will rather settle for the collocation tidig vâr, an absolutely meaningless utterance in a society where the seasons are actually more than four in number. Space rather than time unlocks an equally recondite yet vital distinction in Spanish. Here perder de vista means both 'to lose sight of and 'to take one's eyes off since there is no need in that language to distinguish distance from the speaker in this context. But in English we take our eyes off someone near at hand and lose sight of someone at a distance, and the Spanish-language dictionary user needs to be made aware of the distinction. Again, space occupied by the direct object of the verb is an essential concern to the Spanish language. Thus 'to scan a book' is escudriñar un libro, but 'to scan the horizon' is atalayar el horizonte. In this case the English speaker needs help. Misplaced Synonymy No effective bidirectional dictionary should emulate the thesaurus for synonymy. "In spite of and "despite" do not mean quite the same thing, since the former occupies a much less formal register of usage. In Spanish a pesar de and a despecho de bear the same relationship to each other. Instead of the blurred status of R. J. Nelson61 in spite ofa despecho de, a pesar de* despite prepa despecho de, a pesar de the following lemmata differentiate usage levels much more clearly: in spite ofa pesar de despite prepa despecho de Lexicographers owe it to their readership to provide concise and ready reference, usable at once in an utterance and easily retrieved from its logical place in the dictionary. It will simply not do to larder an entry with near synonyms, each of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 59-68
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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