Monday, 8 August 2011

Once again into a linguistic gap

Today's missing word is 'impostor'. The sense in English - 'someone who attempts to deceive by using an assumed name or identity' (Wiktionary).

This has caused many intellectual contortions among my students over the past week. Stanislawski, compiler of what is regarded as one of the best English-Polish dictionaries, gives oszust, szalbierz, szarlatan. Yet these all miss the mark. Oszust is simply 'cheat'. No attempt to assume another's identity. Szalbierz -'fraudster'. Ditto. Now, szarlatan - 'charlatan' - a word of Italian origin, is nearer the mark.

Does this mean that maliciously impersonating someone else with a view to personal gain is something that does not happen in Poland? Remember the hold-ups of TIRs by gangsters posing as traffic police? Or kradzież 'na wnuczka'? [For my non-Polish readers: A guy phones up an old lady pretending to be her grandson. 'Hi, Babcia, it's your grandson. I'm right out of cash and in a tight spot. Can I come round and you'll give me some money to help me out?' Most babcie will see through this, but some dim ones will tell wnuczek what his name is "Kubusiu, dla Ciebie, oczywiście!". Then "Kubuś" calls, says he can't make it, and says he'll send a friend over for the money.

So impostors are plying their nefarious trade in Poland too.

The phenomenon whereby a word or phrase is missing its direct equivalent in the other language has long fascinated me. 'Table' = stół. But stoliczek? Simple. English lacks the function of creating diminutives (or indeed augmentatives - formy zgrubiałe). And those words where a direct match is lacking in the other language. Brak odpowiedniego słowa. Not really a problem when writing business emails, but when tacking a literary translation - especially poetry - the lack of that precise word causes difficulty. Here, experience and talent mark out the good translator from the poor one.

So when you come across a word that seems to be lacking a direct translation - don't just let it be - analyse it, research it, ponder it - and share it with others who have an interest in the Polish- English linguistic space.

This time last year:
Running with the storm

This time three years ago:
London's St Pancras station

This time four years ago:
Mountains or sea?

4 comments:

toyah said...

Mike
Stanisławski - "one of the best"? Of course, it's been years now, but I still remember how we would jeered at him for (one small example) translating "terrific" to "straszliwy;przerażający, przeraźliwy; okropny". And - opposite direction - "dyskoteka" as "library (collection) of gramophone records".
The problem with Stanisławski was that for many many years he was the only one within the business. Everything that came out after him was better.

toyah said...

Jeer. I know. Jeer.

Kolin said...

sobowtór: double, look-alike

The lack of a exact 1:1 correlation from Polish to English in this case (and others you raise from time to time) is, in my mind, of little consequence. "Nieuczciwy sobowtór" *might* give you the meaning you're looking for.

What I DO find interesting is how different people need to break down language in different ways. Some students are quick to draw a picture to remember simple words. In more complicated cases, I often remember new concept or idiom with an illustrative example. I quickly tire of students who stubbornly seek 'THE perfect' one word translation for foreign words. If language were that simple, we could just memorize a set of charts, map existing vocabulary to a mirrored set in the second language and become fluent without difficulty.

For example, to me, 'komórka' doesn't mean 'mobile phone.' When I read of think 'komórka' I SEE a phone in my mind. Taking the extra step stepping through 'mobile phone' is a crutch that doesn't help me any in the end.

There ARE certainly lots of gaps if one is looking for a 1:1 matching of languages. Try to translate 'się' simply and clearly into a one word equivalent in English. A bit of a challenge. Instead, learn how it is used in all its forms, and forget looking for an equivalent in English.

But I digress. Michał, you already know how to use and understand 'się' whenever needed. I do not, so I will get back to my Polish books!

Kolin said...

I'm sorry:

"I often remember *A* new concept or idiom with an illustrative example."

Try living in Poland for a few years and NOT skipping the occasional article!