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Re: Untranslatability (was: RE: CONLANG Digest - 5 Jun 2000 to 6 Jun 2000 (#2000-155))

From:Jorge Llambias <jjllambias@...>
Date:Thursday, June 8, 2000, 23:31
>From: Christophe Grandsire <Christophe.Grandsire@...> > >From: Muke Tever <alrivera@...> > > > >"El hombre se es" > > > >It's perfectly normal Spanish, but very difficult English.
It is NOT perfectly normal Spanish. I think that sentence could only be spoken when philosophizing, and without more context it is anybody's guess what it means exactly. "Se es" is perfectly normal Spanish, but not as used there. "Se" can be used for the reflexive: "yo me lavo" (I wash myself) "él se lava" (he washes himself). "El hombre se es" is not at like that. "Yo me soy" is not meaningful. It is not the medial voice either, at least as I understand what the medial voice is: "yo me caigo" (I fall down), "él se cae" (he falls down). "El hombre se es" is not like that, otherwise we should be able to use the first person, "yo me soy", which as far as I can tell is meaningless. "Se" has a third function, the impersonal: "yo necesito eso" (I need that), "tú necesitas eso" (you need that), "él necesita eso" (he needs that), "se necesita eso" (one needs that, that is needed). This is how "se" works in the *normal* use of "se es": "yo soy hombre cuando actúo como hombre" (I am a man when I act like a man), "se es hombre cuando se actúa como hombre" (one is a man when one acts like a man). So, in the normal use, "se es" means simply "one is" and there is no untranslatability to talk about. But the normal use of "se es" does not admit an explicit subject! "Juan se es" or "la mesa se es" are as nonsensical as "yo me soy". So how can anyone argue that "el hombre se es" is perfectly normal Spanish? Before I was told that it was something said by Unamuno, I dismissed it as a mistake, surely they must have meant something like "hombre se es", which could be just a variation of "se es hombre", where "hombre" is certainly not the subject. But it is clear that Unamuno did not mean that. He used a weird expression, and I suppose we are capable of projecting some meaning into it only because "el hombre" is as close as the third person impersonal as you can get. But without more context I can't tell what it really means. If other native Spanish speakers say that they understand it but cannot put its meaning in other words, then how can we tell that they all understand the same thing? I can project many different meanings into it depending on the context, depending on what it is contrasted with. One meaning for example might be: "Man just is, all by himself". I don't claim that is what Unamuno had in mind, since I don't know that much about his philosophy, I only claim that that is one possible meaning I can read into it now. Anyway, in my opinion something is untranslatable only to the extent that it is vague or undefined. This is certainly not a good example of something "easy to say" in Spanish. Nobody says something like that in ordinary speech, and it is very hard to understand out of context. Saludos, Jorge ________________________________________________________________________ Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at