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The Verbal Quest

  • Ilan Stavans

Abstract

For quite some time I have been interested in the link between language and religion—more specifically, in the search of a primal tongue that precedes all others, one whose virtue is not lessened by time. Can such a proto-language be at once divine and secular? Can its meaning and interpretation be standardized? My interest is also targeted toward translation: Would such a proto-language symbolize, once and for all, the abolition of the act of translation? Such miscellaneous questions rumbled in my mind not long ago, as I was reading two thought-provoking essays, one by the Mexican poet and essayist, Octavio Paz: “Edith Piaf Among the Pygmies”; the other: “The Ephemerality of Translation” by Ray Harris, an Oxford professor. While both share a common theme—the reaches and limitations of translation—their asymmetrical relationship is fascinating. Paz argues that the job of translating a text from one language to another is simply impossible. He offers as an example a television documentary he once saw about several Pygmies who heard Edith Piaf’s voice magically reproduced by a phonograph an ethnologist had turned on for them to hear. Whereas the ethnologists could identify with the song by the French pop singer, a song about jealousy and violent love, the Pygmies immediately became quite frightened: they covered their ears and ran away.

Keywords

Universal Language Meaningful Language Verbal Quest Jewish Mystic Jewish Theological Seminary 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Ilan Stavans 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ilan Stavans

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