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.
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