Translation dependence syndrome

View from classroom 3-4-16

The photograph above shows the view from my Turkish language classroom at 9am when class starts, and (below) at 11am, with 2 more hours of class to go.

2nd view from classroom 3-4-16Inside, Americans are the linguistic lightweights (no surprise there.) It’s an intensive course so Turkish is spoken almost exclusively. Occasionally the teacher or a student says something in English, the only other language allowed. That’s where the lightweight part comes in: my fellow students come from Germany, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Singapore and Brazil, and they all know English. Many also know another language, with Turkish being their fourth.

The only writings of Evliya Çelebi I can read are selections translated to English. It will already be a major challenge to whittle what’s written in English down to a structure that can work as a film. Still, the researcher in me feels frustrated whenever I see a reference to an article or book in modern Turkish, German, or French, none of which I know.

Evliya was an accomplished amateur linguist, collecting words and common phrases from the different cultures he encountered. Scholars have found many of his language notes useful over the years.  He concentrated on practical terms such as greetings, words for family members, kinds of food, expressions of friendship and of course, insults. Here’s one of his less profane but still expressive finds: “I’ll fart in your nose.” Understanding local insults may have helped ensure his personal safety during 40 or so years of travel.

Next month when the class ends, I’ll hit the road to visit various Evliya haunts around the country. By then I’m supposed to be able to have simple conversations with Turks who don’t speak English.  I will not be collecting colorful phrases, and plan instead to keep my conversations polite and my nose clean.

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