Literary translation or butchering the dignity of a language?


In the following line pair, there is one word that places a serious challenge to a translation in English when loyalty to the expressed sentiment in the Turkish original is concerned, and that word is “can”:

neden bu kadar yanıyorsun ki, can?
seni kendine can görmemiş işte canan

hülya n. yılmaz, 7.14.2015

The short-cut I offer as my image selection is self-explanatory: there is intense pain involved. As for the sentiment of focus, it is nothing original. We have heard it many times before, perhaps even personally lived or are living through it at the moment: imbalanced love of romantic nature. To be somewhat more succinct: one of the involved persons having made a heavy emotional investment in it, while the other one has not. While all of this is too familiar to us, the particular diction is not. For in the English wording of “can” lies the literary translator’s dilemma.

I had posted the lines above on one of my social media platforms recently as you see from the original date showing, and was pleasantly surprised at the reaction they had received from Turkish readers. I thought about translating it to English based on the positive responses but never got around doing so until today. But first, I must visit the key word in question with you: “can” could be used in the meaning of “life, essence, soul, heart” and the likes, and with it, Turkish language users refer to a loved one – not at all exclusively to someone with whom they are romantically involved. However, it may be used as such. That is, if a writer or a speaker chooses to apply such meaning to it – as I do in the second line but not in the first. Also “canan” – a word derived from the same stem – is important to mention here. For it represents only the object of romantic love in the Turkish language. And I, in my line pair, make both compete with one another.

As a flavoring particle, “işte” can stand for “here, now, see, look” and the likes. Accordingly, my two line poetic attempt would have to sound something like this:

why are you burning so, oh heart?

you see,

the beloved has not found a beloved in you

You don’t like the sound of the translated version, do you? Neither do I! Because the outcome is nothing like the impact the original language is capable of leaving behind. Thanks to the different spelling between “can” and “canan” but also due to the hinted meaning of “can” as the heart of one’s self as well as the beloved him-/her-self.

So, I conclude – without a conclusion – by providing us an inner monolog option to conceive the intended sentiment as true to its origination mode as possible for today but – unfortunately – in far more mundane terms: Why are you suffering this much? Your beloved apparently did not find love in you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Before I leave you with my thanks for your visit and good wishes for the rest of your Sunday and your new week, I would like to ask you a related question: Did you in your translation efforts run into similar situations where you not just knew but felt at the core of your being what the original statement intended for you to conceive as an emotion yet you couldn’t erect the cultural bridge for the sake of further understanding between different language users? On account of the deficiencies in one language or another or of a mere word?

I already look forward to any input you would be willing to give me with your comments and thank you in advance for your time.


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