terça-feira, 19 de fevereiro de 2013

About translations, crosschecking and national anthems

The other day I was talking about translation, and I didn’t mention what is, in my opinion, the true beauty of translating things: the possibility of crosschecking meanings. When you are translating, you understand things better, ‘cause you have to dig deeper into the meaning to better explain an idea. That’s something you may not need to do very often when you are using only one language, especially if that’s your native one.

A good example of that situation is a national anthem. Here’s my point: I am Brazilian, and, as a Brazilian person, I’m used to listen to my national anthem since I was a little boy. It’s stuck to my brain in some kind of subconscious level, so I don’t have to think about it that deeply, ‘cause the lyrics usually pop up in my mind as I sing along; as a Brazilian, I don’t have to actually process the words. And I imagine it’s the same with other people when it comes to their own national anthems. But once you are translating it, you do have to think about them and crosscheck the meaning in Portuguese and in the other language – English, in this case. Sometimes you don’t even need to think about the word itself, but about its inner meaning, the true abstract concept behind the letters and the grammar. And then, as you go deeper, you understand it more.

Oh, and since I mentioned the Brazilian anthem, here’s its English version as I translate it. (And I do think it’s one of the most beautiful anthems, since it talks about love and peace – things that other anthems don’t always care about. But that, as everything else, is my opinion, and that’s a topic to de discussed another time.) Here we go!

Brazilian National Anthem
(Original lyrics by Joaquim Osório Duque Estrada)

The calm riverbanks of the Ipiranga river
heard the blaring yell of heroic people,
and the sun of freedom, with shining light beams,
has shone in the homeland’s sky at that moment.

If this equality pledge
we were able to conquer with strong arms,
oh, freedom, in your chest,
you defy our chest to death!

Oh, beloved homeland,
idolized homeland,
hail, hail!

Brazil, an intense dream, a powerful gleam
of love and hope comes down to earth,
if in your beautiful, smiling and clear sky
the image of the Cross glows.

Giant by nature,
You are beautiful, strong, a brave colossus,
And thy future mirrors this greatness.

Beloved homeland,
among other thousand,
it is you, Brazil,
oh, beloved homeland,
to the sons of this land you are a gentle mother,
beloved homeland,

Eternally laying down on a magnificent crib,
among the sound of the sea and under the light of deep sky,
you shine, oh Brazil, America’s jewel,
enlightened by the light of the New World.

In comparison to the most elegant land,
your smiling beautiful fields have more flowers,
“Our woods have more life,”
“Our life,” within your chest, “has more love.”

Oh, beloved homeland,
idolized homeland,
hail, hail!

Brazil, may the starry flag you show
be a symbol of eternal love,
and may the green-laurel of this flag say:
“Peace in the future and glory in the past.”

But, if you raise the mace of justice,
you will see that thy sons do not flee from a fight
nor fears their own death the ones who adore you.

Beloved homeland,
among other thousand,
it is you, Brazil,
oh, beloved homeland!
to the sons of this land you are a gentle mother,
beloved homeland,

segunda-feira, 4 de fevereiro de 2013

About things that are lost in translation and the quest for ya la suo

I’ve been studying Chinese for a while now, and I truly have a relationship of love and hate with it. I hate when I cannot pronounce perfectly the tone of a simple syllable, but I do love the knowledge it brings. I believe the study of different languages can give one new perspectives about the world that surround us, ‘cause, in many aspects, languages sum up the spirit of the people who created it throughout the centuries. People shape the language, but languages also shape people. And that’s the problem of translating stuff. Sometimes you cannot just translate a single word directly, ‘cause in the context of a particular language it has different layers of meaning that are likely to be lost during translations. People who work with translations or are used to translate things know that very well.

Words are not natural things. They don’t grow in trees or pop up from the ground, they are created and shaped to express things people feel. They are like tools. Or like paintings. And when you study more than one language, you start to realize that different people in different ages and locations across the planet sometimes developed similar ways to express their feeling. The grammar may differ a lot, and also the structure of the language and so on, but sometimes the way isolated words relate to each other are curiously similar. Sometimes, however, they have nothing to do with each other and can’t even be translated. The point is that once they are created and accepted by people, they become something that stands alone. And, as I said, they do carry a handful of meanings. So we come to my story…

A few months ago I started a personal quest to understand the meaning of the expression ya la suo (呀啦索). I heard it for the first time in the lyrics of a Chinese song about Tibet, and I could not understand it nor find a direct translation, once it’s not in Mandarin, but in the Tibetan language. I don’t know why it called my attention so much, but it surely did. So I started an unpretentious research on that, and, to be honest, I didn’t find many useful things – at least not in English or Portuguese. But I did gather a short amount of information, so I could start talking to Chinese people about it. I asked them when would it be used, and how would they describe the meaning, and they could not explain it to me perfectly, ‘cause it’s not something they use in a daily basis. So I started picking puzzle pieces… I heard that people say ya la suo to express the magnitude of something, like when something is too beautiful – a landscape, for example, as I was told by some Chinese friends. I also read an article that described someone saying ya la suo in the middle of a sentence, like some kind of mantra used to reinforce a statement. And then I talked to someone else, and this person told me that it doesn’t have any particular meaning (“just a way of expression to call for the spirit, just ahhh”, as she said). Somehow, I could feel all of them were right, but there was something missing.

Well, by now, my best guess is that ya la suo means something like “Everything is alright”. It’s more like a sigh, and I think it may have Buddhist roots. I say that because I’ve been reading about Tibetan Buddhism for a while, and, considering Buddhist beliefs that everything is ephemeral and one should not get attached to happiness or suffering (once they will all vanish eventually), it’s reasonable to think that everything is always alright, ‘cause every little thing will go away. If you are used to accept whatever life gives you, you are likely to believe that everything is always ok. That’s beautiful, and ya la suo makes sense in that perspective. But I may be totally wrong, who knows? My point here is that not everything  is easy to translate; sometimes some words or expressions are quite hard, and they can give you a lot of trouble to unveil what they represent. But, after all, if you dig them deep enough, you may find more than what you were looking for. (G.P.)