Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Talking about languages: Connecting peoples and cultures - Fotini Anastassiou

A Latin phrase said: “Omnis traductor traditor” which means that every translator is a traitor since he/she has to realize that every translation is a corruption of the original text. This could be a warning for both the translator and the reader. The translator should take note while she is translating that she can never achieve a perfect rendering of the initial meaning and the readers should take note that every time they read a translated text there is a high possibility of imperfections. The imperfections are not made on purpose of course, at least when the translator is a truly devoted person who wishes to deliver a work of art to the public. The majority of the translators have given us valuable translations that have been helping people and cultures to get closer to each other. Therefore, we had the chance to educate ourselves to innumerous texts which were written to different languages than our mother tongues or than the ones that we spoke.

Robert Frost’s famous definition of poetry is notable: “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”. The basis of Frost’s statement is the concept of the creative originality of the poet who creates a work where the meaning lurks somewhere beneath the surface of words. The translator, it is assumed, cannot ever hope to capture the ‘meaning’ of the original source language which tends to fall through the gaps of the target language. Overenthusiastic translators can also unintentionally pad up the text by adding more to it than is necessary with the result that the translation might have more allusions in it than was originally thought of.

The reason I began talking about the value of translation is because we all acknowledge the fact that without it dialogue and understanding between peoples and nations would not be achieved – at least not in a successful and productive way. The language barriers are strong and can get in the way of a Constructive Dialogue. Besides, when a person is either translating or interpreting he/she must try to comprehend not only the linguistic codes but also the cultural ones which are usually the most demanding. For this Mary Snell-Hornby (1988) went so far as to say that a good translator has to be not only bilingual but bi-cultural.

The fact that we are all here in ancient Olympia to talk about “the need for a constructive dialogue between peoples and cultures and the Olympic idea” is an excellent opportunity for people coming from different fields to exchange ideas and promote the next steps towards the appreciation of communication. But why do we need to communicate if not in order to understand each other and work and live together? Language is the medium for a deeper understanding and a better coexistence. Wars have started because of the lack of understanding for the neighbor’s views. How many wars could have not happened if there was a system that would enable heads of state to decode the cultural aspects of a certain phrase?

I understand that this may sound a bit romantic or over-ambitious, however Umberto Eco hypothesized that the Crucifixion happened because of a translation problem. Eco explains that when Jesus was asked by the Roman judges whether he believed he was indeed the king of the world there was an interpreter who was facilitating the communication between Jesus who spoke Aramaic and the Romans who spoke Latin. The closest term he thought to interpret what Jesus was saying was “King”, although the term that Jesus used in his own language did not imply any cosmic aspect and therefore he did not wish to rule the world the way the Romans perceived. What did the Romans think Jesus meant by “truth” or “God”? Umberto Eco is thus pointing out that the best as well as the worst outcomes may occur because of both the linguistic and the cultural ignorance when two different systems try to communicate with each other. However, how can we avoid clashes and create more opportunities for Dialogue? Why is it that we have reached 2015 and we are still talking about the Need for a Constructive Dialogue and not about the Improvement or Promotion of the Constructive Dialogue?

Is there a missing link between the word “Διά-λογος” in Greek and “Dialogus” in Latin which became “Dialogue” in English? The Greek word contains the term “Logos” and it was invented by the pre-Socratic philosophers. It means both “speech” and “reason” too. It also means “Ratio” which denotes that there was a unity to be separated, a relation.

It thus seems that for the ancient Greeks you needed the verbal means to communicate but they deemed that there was no communication without Reason, without Logos (Λόγος). How can one hope to achieve a constructive dialogue if there is not the element of reason in his words and arguments? Is the lack of actual Logos in the Dialogue the main reason that most of the communications between peoples and cultures fail and they are not successful? Do we hope that when two ambassadors who represent two different nations will use their Logos but something seems not to work out after all? Is it that the arguments used are not based on the virtues of dialectics and only aim to conquer without any sort of mutual understanding on the other side’s views and needs?

It may be that these questions are partly correct. What seems to be evident though is that individuals do not aim for an understanding between the Cultures before they try to understand what is verbally expressed by the people. We tend to neglect the fact that there are no people without culture and there is no culture without its people and that these two interconnected elements are the essential links to the dialogue between them.

People carry the weight of their own cultural heritage every time they talk to either people from their own nation or people from another one. Even people coming from the same country have different regional heritages since these have been shaped throughout time according to specific characteristics; the islander has different experiences compared to the mainlander. They have mutual understanding of the general characteristics of their nation, however they do have different views of their own environment and they have distinct customs. They might have the same sense of hospitality, for example, but this can be expressed in different ways. Even two different families coming from the same town may have different views on how they need to deal with certain situations. This can cause misunderstandings too when their children decide to form a family of their own.

Is it Logos then that needs to be in everyone’s heads when they communicate with each other and they try to solve problems? Do we communicate with our impulses and our emotions more than we do with our Logos? Don’t we need logos so as to comprehend and estimate accordingly what we need to do and say when something does not exactly fit in the general picture we had initially shaped?

Scientists use Logos every time they need to solve their puzzles. Even them though, when they leave their labs and the amphitheatres and they go home or they meet their friends and relatives probably neglect their Logos and use their Emotions much more. This is surely only natural, we are only humans, we tend to live with our Emotions and try to think more with our souls than with our minds. If we did made a priority list and stuck to it while we communicated with each other we would most probably lose our nature and we would become something else, something resembling the robots. We should not neglect our souls and our emotions; we should embrace our impulses but try to keep them in a certain level and most importantly we should keep in mind that there is no chance of a dialogue without the use of Logos.

Logos gives a balance to our communications. There is not a perfect balance to anything in peoples’ lives; therefore we should not aim for perfection. On the contrary we should aim for a sense of understanding that everyone around us is there to coexist in the world’s imperfections.

The athletes at the Olympic Games are expected to be able to compete amongst other excellent athletes and realize that they might lose. Is there any rationality in competing with others when you know that you might lose? Isn’t there a huge emotional effort in the athlete’s soul when he knows that his own abilities might not be enough? Of course there is, that is why I believe that the athletes have achieved a Constructive Dialogue between them since they acknowledge both their own strengths and their competitors’. Therefore, although they might lose they are still on the same stadium communicating with people from several cultures. Of course these games are quite competitive, a Dialogue is not supposed to be competitive although it tends to be as such. If we entered a Dialogue with the view that not all of our arguments can win then maybe we would be more able to accept our co-speaker’s views and we would probably be better communicators of our own arguments.

Finally, it might be the case that in all of the crises that nations and humans go through are mostly caused by the lack of a Constructive Dialogue between peoples and cultures. If we did think and act to “build bridges” we would create better ways to interact with each other. The solution to this could be a more interdisciplinary approach to problem solving so that we can gain the knowledge and the experience from different participants who come from different fields. Thus, an architect, a physicist, an astronomer, a linguist, a lawyer etc could work all together to produce results on several matters. People have been too focused on their own fields and have not been involved in a Dialogue to solve problems. This could indeed be a rather interesting project that could give us a new form of thinking and acting. We need to use souls and minds, so that Logos can go through (διά-) the people. We literally need a “Παν-επιστήμιο” (a collection of sciences as Greeks named “University”) so that we can move forward and create another kind of human coexistence. Not a romantic one, just a more prosperous one.

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