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2. Culture and civilization: original elements and foreign assimilations in the historical progress of languages



c) Acquisition strategies

The strategies adopted in national languages when addressing foreign traditions are essentially four in number:


1) Inclusion

The canonical example is provided by French, in which every foreign model is rendered applying the grammatical and cultural codes of the target language. Every French language specialist should get to know the translation of Goethe's Faust attempted by Gérard de Nerval. Here, the philosophical content of the text has been distilled into pure lyrical form. Unheimlich becomes étonnant. Mikrokosmos is le ciel infini. Everything is experienced through contemplation, rather than conception. Italian too has an inclusive approach. In Italian, the apodictic phraseology of Kafka becomes an organization of subordinates. One enlightening case is that of the Greek Lyric Poets as translated by Salvatore Quasimodo, who handles the subjectless sayings of Archilochus by adding the interjections "tu dici" (thou sayest), "così è il tuo dire" (so sayest thou). Similarly, Pavese's translation of Moby Dick reflects an approach of the same type, given the 'dramaturgical' way in which the translator renders the references to the Psalms, and to biblical sayings in general, which in his hands become visual metaphors.


2) Allusion

In certain cultures characterized by the struggle to achieve a recognizable national identity, use is made of foreign stylistic conventions to mark the introduction of a parody or the definition of particular historical and social contexts. In Russian literature, there is Tolstoy's instructive device of employing French dialogue in War and Peace to illustrate the isolation of the Russian nobility from that European revolution in which the story of Napoleon was unfolding with such shattering force. In Dostoevsky's Idiot, Polish is the language used to convey marginalization and diversity. The way Nastasia Filippovna makes fun of the Poles, imitating their way of speech, is a mark of her mean-mindedness. Likewise in The Inspector General, Gogol uses the dialects of provincial Russia as theatrical sets affording backdrops on which the bureaucratization of the System casts its sinister shadows. In German, the introduction of foreign expressions takes on a parodistic aspect. Jean Paul's parodying of the Latin used by lawyers and notaries, in the spirited testaments of the Flegejare, has a connotation at once sinister and merry. Heine has the Devil speak in eight-line rhyming stanzas ¾ an Italian Humanist. In the case of 'peripheral' writers like Mörike or Keller, by contrast, foreign language interpolations become the utterances of indolent poets and drifters enlightened by some long-lost popular wisdom. Mozart on the Way to Prague and Spiegel the Cat (the Keller original) are 'submerged' works of great importance in this regard.


3) Integration

This is a somewhat rare circumstance occurring between allotropic languages, whereas borrowing from a language of the same stock is a common occurrence. Nonetheless, the practice of borrowing in this context is typified by a tendency to convey clearly definable distinctions. In Italian, for example, the French expressions arriére-pensée and cul de sac are used to indicate states of mind rather than objective situations, as in the original tongue, whereas in neo-latin languages anglicisms are subsumed with the intent, generally, of characterizing mass movements and psychological situations (such as melting-pot or background). In the opposite direction, the familiar Italian expressions used by composers of music are used to depict the spirit, or character, of an event (a crescendo of excitement, agitation, protest... or Presto con Fuoco indicating high passion). Whilst in Slavic languages one finds only autoreference to lexical variants of the same semantic root, in languages other than neo-latin this type of occurrence is unknown. In literary translation a foreign term will be left as it is, unless it happens to be in the translator's own language, in which case the translator will look for a different foreign expression providing the same characterization.


4) Rhetorical emphasis

In Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus, the guest called up by the protagonist Adrian Leverkühn, hallucinating in a syphilis-induced fever, assumes different national masks one after the other: from a Luther speaking counter-reformation Saxon to a French impresario whose only language is the jargon of vaudeville. Similarly, in Pasticciaccio by Gadda, the Roman and Venetian dialects become conduits for 'philosophical' conclusions (the gloomy thoughts of Inspector Ingravallo) on the intentionally inconsistent aspects of the case. This way of intensifying the 'rhetorical accent' of a character or of a situation by using foreign technicalisms reaches its zenith in the language of criticism and formal analysis. Terms like plot, pattern, cluster, in Literature, ground bass, Urlinie, continuo, in Music, or feedback and spin in Physics ¾ to mention just a few examples ¾ show how every national language, for reasons connected with historical contingencies or with the circulation of ideas, is able to dissociate itself in given disciplines from the normal context of will and sentiment and adopt 'neutral' modes of description, explanatory and denotative, serving to underscore the intended meaning when addressing different art fields. In Literature, this 'meta-language' can sometimes be the vehicle for exercises in alienation and parody (another example, in addition to those already mentioned, would be the linguistic melting-pot of a writer such as Sanguineti, who employs terms from Physics and Mathematics alongside archaisms and neologisms).