Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mother Tongue

Indigo (a world-wide design network) has put together an online exhibit called "Mother Tongue," exploring culture and language. Here is my submission to the project:

"Iconicity might be the reason for refraining from translating Hallelujah and Amen in so many languages, as if the sounds of such basic religious notions have to do with the referents themselves – as if by losing the sound, one might lose the meaning." - Ghil'ad Zuckermann

What is the relationship between the meaning of a word and its sound? Does that relationship change when a word is transposed into a different language, when it is put next to rhythms and cadences that are different than its original context?

The traveling of letters and words and their inherent meanings, if any, is something I have always found fascinating. Jewish culture seems to hold an interest in this as well, because of the cultural importance of 'the word.' I am not Jewish myself but many of the most interesting thoughts that I have read on the subject have come from Jewish authors.

This quote by Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann (used with the author's permission), was found via Wikipedia ("Iconicity" article). Professor Zuckerman is the author of Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, among other works.

1 comment:

  1. This post has me thinking of words as artifacts. In archaeology, the context of an artifact is everything. Of course, after the context is thoroughly documented, the artifact is removed and is placed in other physical contexts--storage, museum exhibits, etc. The meaning of an artifact is explored, assigned and defined by its context.
    So are the meanings of specific words assigned and defined by their cultural contexts? Yes, i believe so. Therein lies the interest and challenge in translating words and ideas from one language to another. The cultural context and language from which the meaning of a word emerges demands much of a translator. And the actual aural context of language with which one is familiar is...well...familiar. Who can really understand what is "lost in translation?" Only those people who have a thorough understanding and practical proficiency in the languages being translated. i think perhaps it is a context of culture and emotion within which words are artifacts...


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