THE INESTIMABLE TREASURES OF LANGUAGE

  • 2007-12-12
  • By Nick von Stranz
As an expatriate of Anglo-German descent, so privileged to live out his days amid the quiet spleandor of the Estonian countryside, I feel compelled to express and share an unqualified enthusiasm for a proposal contained in the columns of your newspaper. This news article emanated from your November 22 's 28, 2007 publication [TBT #583]. Tonis Lukas, the Minister for Education and Science, announced his intention to organize and stage a "language beauty contest."

It is enjoyable, educational and now almost imperative that, in our closer global communities, we learn to taste something of special flavor and uniqueness in other peoples' languages and cultures. On the spur of the moment I dabbled myself with this poetical gem of a quotation in Estonian, "Soida tasa ule silla." I wanted to test out what a translation into English, German and French might sound like:

(i) "To move discretely over to the other side of the bridge." (I was reminded immediately of General "Stonewall" Jackson's 's of American Civil War fame 's purported last utterance, which went something like, "Let us now cross over yonder to the shade of the trees and rest." Almost biblical!)
(ii) "Mit stillen Fussen uber die Brucke entlang zu gehen."
(iii)  "S'en aller doucement a travers du pont."

Alas! I am not able to continue the experiment in Italian, Russian, Lithuanian, Chinese, etc. My faulty attempts, however, in just these few tongues render the sounds too pedantic and unnatural. An exception could be made for the French. Ultimately I feel that the Estonian candidate stands out as the most economical and best captures the essence in meaning and spirit.

Now I ponder whether, from your host of readers, more apt and idiomatic translations would be stimulated. I am sure of this and hopefully the idea will spread in a variety of ways. We ought to begin to respect and relish even more the rich, diverse languages and cultures of all peoples. Too sadly we regard them as just foreign.

Nick von Stranz, Tuhalaane village, Viljandi County
 

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