Sound across Languages

In: Philological Encounters
Ronit Ricci Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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In his insightful essay, “Silence Across Languages,” (1995) A.L. Becker suggested that every language consists of a particular balance between speech and silence: between what can be expressed in words and what must remain unspoken. One important implication of this fact, he further claimed, is that the different silences between and across languages make translation very difficult, if not utopian. Taking Becker’s essay as its starting point this essay explores the question of silence and sound in translation through a study of interlinear translation. An inter-linear translation in which each line is Arabic is followed by its translation into Malay constitutes a microcosm in which to view the act of translation from up close and in detail. The essay suggests that it is also a space in which silences are “not allowed,” or must be overcome, as these translations do not offer the luxury of adaptation and re-tellings where words, idioms, grammatical and syntactical elements can be glossed over, ignored or remain unheard. An interlinear space forces the scribe, translator, reader and listener to produce and pronounce the sounds of different languages even when they are “incompatible” and thus may overcome the silences, in however small a way, and offer us a paradigm of “sound across languages.”

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