Thursday, March 19, 2009

I've read some student papers in English like this.

Via la Bookslut, the translator of Orhan Pamuk's recent works, Maureen Freely (ha), tells us about Turkish:
Turkish has no verb "to be" and no verb "to have." It prefers the passive to the active voice and has one word for "he," "she" and "it." It is an agglutinative language, which means that root nouns often carry a string of 10 or more suffixes. Turkish also likes verbal nouns (the "doing of," the "having been done unto") and because you do not know the verb until the end of the sentence, you often read four, five or six clauses without knowing how they are connected.

Add to that the Language Revolution, which began in the 1930s with the aim of replacing all words of Arabic and Persian origin, at the time 60 percent of the vocabulary. Though some of those words remain, the language has changed so much that the speeches of Ataturk, the republic's founding father, have had to be retranslated twice. Turkish allows for complex constructions that (to paraphrase the poet Murat Nemet-Nejat) can catch elegant thoughts in the act of unfolding, but to replicate those structures in English is to weave a knotted web in which each clause strangles the one preceding it, while the shortage of root nouns encourages an overuse of basic words and/or wild guesses as to which of 20 or so English words might reflect the writer's intentions.
Better her than me, but I'm grateful for the effort -- Snow was a surprisingly engaging and moving novel.

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