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Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Those Days
]By Forough Farrokhzad
(from her third volume of poetry: Another Birth)


Those days are gone
those fine days
those healthy wholesome days
skies filled with sequins
branches heavy with cherries
houses leaning against each other
under the protection of thick ivies

those roofs with playful kites
those streets intoxicated with the scent of jasmine
those days are gone
when from between a crack in my eyelids
my songs would gurgle, like bubbles full of air
my eyes, as soon as they slid on something
like fresh milk, they would drink it
full, as if in my pupils
there was a rabbit frenzied, yet happy
every morning, it would explore
unknown meadows with that old Sun
at nights, it would slip into groves of darkness

those days are gone
those silent days of snow
when behind the glass, in a warm room
I would peek at the street, over and over
a soft fresh fuzz,
the snow flakes rested
on an old wooden ladder
on a slack clothing line
on the tresses of the old pines
and I would think about tomorrow
tomorrow
a white slippery mass

it would start in the whispers of grandmother’s ]chador
her tangled shadow would appear in the threshold
of a door that would release itself
into the feeling of a cold ray of light
and into the scrambled pattern of pigeon flights
on the colorful goblets by the window

the warmth of %DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%B3%DB%8Ckorsi-and-kotatsu/]korsi was drowsing, but
fearless and ferocious, I
away from my mother’s alert eyes
would wipe out worthless lines
from my old homework

when snow would fall asleep
I would meander in the yard, disheartened
I would burry my dead finches
by the dried up pots of jasmine
those days are gone
those days of amazement and attraction
those days of sleep and awakening
when every shadow had a secret
every chest covered a treasure
every corner of the cellar, in the silence of noon,
was a universe
no one was afraid of the dark
courage lived in my eyes
those days are gone
those days of ]aid*
that anticipation for the sun and flowers
those scented tremors
in the shy gatherings of the daffodils
who would visit the city
on her last winter morning
the singing of vendors, in streets
stretched out with green patches
where the bazaar would swim in mystified smells
the harsh tang of coffee and fish
the bazaar would expand under our steps, would stretch,
would mix with every moment of the walk
would swirl in the eyes of every doll
the bazaar was Mother who rushed towards colorful
objects, fluid
and would return with baskets full, gifts boxed
the bazaar was a rain that came and came and came
those days are gone
those days of staring at secrets
of a body, days of cautious acquaintances
with the beauty of blue veins
a hand holding a flower
from behind a wall, would call out
another hand,
small ink stains on this anxious, nervous hand,
fearful,
and love
would express herself in a bashful hello,
in warm smoggy noons
we would read about love, in dust, in back allies
we knew the simple language of the dandelions
we would take our hearts to the garden of innocent tea parties
and lend them to the trees
a ball carrying messages of love
would pass in our hands
and it was love, that jumbled feeling in the darkness of the foyer
that would, suddenly,
surround us
absorb us
in the mass of hot breaths and pulses
and stolen smiles

those days are gone
those days, like plants shriveling in the sun,
they withered in the sunlight
those streets intoxicated from the scent of jasmine
faded
in the boisterous swarm of no-return streets
and the girl who painted her cheeks
with leaves of geranium
is now a lonesome woman.
She is now a lonesome woman.


*"aid" could refer to many holidays, but in this context, I am fairly certain she is referring to Norwuz.

**Also, I have used jasmine in places where, in the original, Forough has "black locust/honey locust." And, I have used daffodils where she used "wild narcissus." Let me know what you think about that decision.



Last edited by deepwaters, Feb/1/2010, 4:42 pm
Jan/9/2010, 5:17 pm Link to this post Send Email to deepwaters   Send PM to deepwaters
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


This poem stops me, Shabfriend. In the face of this I could care less about myself and my thoughts.

There are so many striking lines. So many places where rhythm and censura work like music. But help me understand something please if you have the time.

How faithful to the original is your translation? Not so much the words. I know words have got to find an equivalent when carried over to another language. But is the line rhythm yours or is it Farrokhzad's? That is my big question.

Tere
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Tere-

I have been thinking about your question. I thought maybe I could find another translation of this poem, and by pasting it here try to show how (un)faithful I have been to the original. I have certainly changed line breaks, structures, and occasionally moved phrases around to make the piece read better or have the right impact.

I could not find a translation of this one, but found one of Windup Doll, which I think is much more faithful to the original than my version. I am going to paste that to the other thread for ease of comparison.

Let me know what you think.
-s
Jan/10/2010, 1:46 pm Link to this post Send Email to deepwaters   Send PM to deepwaters
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Thank you for taking the time, Shabfriend. I'll respond to the other translation's comparison on its thread. But thanks too for giving a glimpse into your method. I got to say I am flat out impressed by what you are doing. I think you've said you are new to the art of translating, at least translating poetry. If so you may just have a talent for it. It also occurs to me that what you are doing speaks to your capacity for poetry itself. Really impressive.

Tere
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Shab,

Here is one translation of this poem I found:

[sign in to see URL]

Not to put down this translator, but I like your version better. Will be back to comment on it soon.
Jan/10/2010, 2:49 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Tere-
Thank you! Your feedback humbles me.

Katlin-
Thanks for finding this translation. The translation is so unfaithful to the original, it takes my breath away. To me, it reads like a poem inspired by the original, and occasional lines stolen.

As an example, the links's ending says:
who was daydreaming of all heroes of prose,
and believed in the magic land of the fairy tales,


This is completely absent in Forough's piece, she literally ends with: that girl who used leaves of geranium to color her cheeks, oh, now she is a lonely woman. The addition of "believing in magic land of the fairy" or "heroes" somewhat angers me because I highly doubt that Forough, nor the girl depicted in the poem who buries finches in the backyard, would believe in fairy tales or daydream of "heroes".
Jan/10/2010, 3:52 pm Link to this post Send Email to deepwaters   Send PM to deepwaters
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


quote:

Terreson wrote:

I think you've said you are new to the art of translating, at least translating poetry.



Oh, forgot to say - yes, this one is my third translation, poetry or otherwise. It is a bit of a stressful process for me; for a while after I am done, I feel like I have lost my footing in both languages, and don't know Any language well - which totally freaks me out.


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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Shab,

A literal translation wouldn't work, so a translator has to make some changes, but when a translator makes drastic changes and even adds things to the original, I think she should say so.

Wow, I never realized translating could be such perilous work, but when you think about it, there is so much work involved, so many balls that must be juggled, kept afloat.

I keep coming back to read this poem. It is so rich and dense, it will take a few more reads before I begin to absorb it, let alone make any coherent comments. I will say this though: the first line is strong. It captures my attention and draws me into the poem. The ending too is strong. The reader doesn't know what the N's current life is like, except that it is the absence of everything life-affirming that has gone before.
Jan/11/2010, 9:21 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Kat: "A literal translation wouldn't work, so a translator has to make some changes, but when a translator makes drastic changes and even adds things to the original, I think she should say so."

I agree. I think the challenge is to maintain the idea communicated in the same voice as the poet. Of course, the translator's sensibilities come through.
Jan/13/2010, 4:32 pm Link to this post Send Email to deepwaters   Send PM to deepwaters
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Shab,

I think I am starting to get a feel for these poems, both for Farrokhzad's poetry and your method of translating them. Very cool. I was able to read and enjoy the first four stanzas of this poem without a hitch. So much there I like: all the images clearly yet artfully rendered. I read the last two lines of S4 and thought, "Wow, what a precisely captured image.

I stumbled a bit in S5 but that might just be me. Here's how I thought you might tweak it:

fearless and ferocious, away
from my mother’s alert eyes
I would wipe out worthless lines
from my old homework

That next long stanza, S6, I thought might work better if you broke it up somehow. Maybe before or after the two lines: "those days are gone." That would be consistent with S1, 3 and 7.

The use of jasmine and daffodills works for me. I like many of the word choices you have made, both for the sound and sense. Just to give you one example: "that jumbled feeling in the darkness of the foyer." This poem is so full of feeling and of the 10,000 things that make up a life in this world. You may know the saying, "A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost." It comes through that Farrokhzad is just such a person.

HTH.
Jan/17/2010, 2:46 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Shab,

I've been thinking about that spot I said I stumbled on. I think maybe it was just me having a brain fart. LOL Sorry, please disregard!


Last edited by Katlin, Jan/17/2010, 6:40 pm
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


quote:

Katlin wrote:

I read the last two lines of S4 and thought, "Wow, what a precisely captured image.


I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. What she has there in slightly different, but I was hoping that I was able to capture the essence of that scene.

quote:


That next long stanza, S6, I thought might work better if you broke it up somehow. Maybe before or after the two lines: "those days are gone." That would be consistent with S1, 3 and 7.


Gosh, excellent suggestion. Thank you!

quote:

You may know the saying, "A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost." It comes through that Farrokhzad is just such a person.


emoticon

Thanks again for your help.
-s

Jan/20/2010, 12:03 am Link to this post Send Email to deepwaters   Send PM to deepwaters
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


quote:

deepwaters wrote:


Oh, forgot to say - yes, this one is my third translation, poetry or otherwise. It is a bit of a stressful process for me; for a while after I am done, I feel like I have lost my footing in both languages, and don't know Any language well - which totally freaks me out.





Hello, deepwaters (and a very apt name, because as I know from my own experience that that's exactly where you are when you get into translating: in deep waters.) I'm a new member here, and you've just given me a very rich and satisfying laugh. Someone who understands! I know exactly what you mean--except that I never said I was freaking out. I said I was fritzing out.

You've hit exactly on the problem of translation. You're on to something that I was discussing in an essay that I wrote and which Terreson posted on this forum.

This is my theory of language: ultimately thought does not depend on words. As someone (and, sorry, I can't remember who) said, "A thought is a happening in the brain." It is something chemical, something electrical. It is neurons passing impulses along the line--but it is not words.

Words are a tool that we attach to our thoughts after the fact. And they are a very handy tool indeed. But they are not primary. It is the impulses that are primary.

Hence the problem with translation. You take a sentence or a line in one language, and what it does is structure, organize the concepts that you have in your mind. But you want to express those concepts in another language. Unfortunately, that language structures, organizes concepts in a completely different fashion.

My definition of a language is that it is your way of organizing the concepts that you have in your mind. A language is a filing system. It is not just a mass of words. What counts is the way those words, which express concepts, are organized, filed away. And there are many different possible filing systems.

So in order to translate, what you must do is detach the concepts in your text from the words themselves. You must be able to hold those concepts in your mind, see them in your mind without words. And that is very difficult to do, because we are so used to attaching words to concepts.

Then, while you have those concepts floating wordlessly in your mind, you must find words in your target language to attach to them. But the chief difficulty is that often you must rearrange those concepts before you can attach new words to them. E.g., what one language expresses well with an adjective modifying a noun, another language might express better with an adverb modifying a verb. So you have to be able to shuffle concepts around in your mind with no words attached to them.

That's why it is an exhausting experience that can freak you out. I've worked in Latin a bit, and Latin is so differently constructed from English that nothing is easy. In every single sentence you have to make major shifts. And we're so used to using words to think that it can be unsettling to think without them. So many times when I was trying to express a Latin sentence in English I could feel wires popping and sparks flying in my brain. You feel like you're coming apart.

One thing I often do when I'm stuck on a phrase or sentence is to get up from the desk, walk away, get the original text out of mind. Forget the original words. Let the concepts settle. And once you've got the concepts in your grasp without the original words to interfere with them, the good, natural way of expressing it in your target language quickly comes to you.

I know exactly what you mean when you say you've lost your footing in both languages. You lose it because you're dealing in pure concepts, without words. I remember Michael Grant, in his preface to his translation of Tacitus for Penguin Books(and this was a great translation by a great translator), thanking his wife "for reminding me what is and what is not readable English." It is very possible to lose your feel for your own native language.

Translating can really mess up your mind. Fortunately, it's only temporary. Once the day's work is complete, you settle down again.

All this has nothing to do with the poem you've posted here. But when I read your remarks, I couldn't help but reply to them. And sorry for being so long-winded while I was at it.



---
It's not the dress, it's the woman!
Nov/5/2010, 5:04 pm Link to this post Send Email to SenecatheDuck   Send PM to SenecatheDuck
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


This is it. This is the window view onto the process I've been hankering after. I get it. The difficulty, the challenge, the damn near impossibility of success, and the sweat equity involved. Rather like trying to make something original out of a language constantly pressured to succomb to the cliche, ne's pas?

A happy day for the board. Two committed translators of poetry gracing the scene.

Tere
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This is my theory of language: ultimately thought does not depend on words. As someone (and, sorry, I can't remember who) said, "A thought is a happening in the brain." It is something chemical, something electrical. It is neurons passing impulses along the line--but it is not words.

Words are a tool that we attach to our thoughts after the fact. And they are a very handy tool indeed. But they are not primary. It is the impulses that are primary.

. . .

One thing I often do when I'm stuck on a phrase or sentence is to get up from the desk, walk away, get the original text out of mind. Forget the original words. Let the concepts settle. And once you've got the concepts in your grasp without the original words to interfere with them, the good, natural way of expressing it in your target language quickly comes to you.


Very cool post, Seneca. I keep rereading it. I don't know why I find this sort of insider's look into the translation process so intriguing, but I do.
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


A British novelist, might have been Trollope, said something that struck me. Struck me because it tallied with my experience. He said something like 'How can I know what I think until I write it down?' So I don't know, not sure yet about this relationship of thought to word. So many times I've written out a thought only to be surprised, having to ask myself if that is what I actually think. Not sure if the distinction is all that categorical. Or if one comes before the other. It could be that thinking and language work, at least, in tandem.

Tere
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I'm not sure if we're talking about the same thing here. My notion is that thought is primary, that words are things we attach to our thoughts after the fact.

I think there are various ways of proving this. One: if our thought was absolutely dependent on words, we would have to have a different word for every concept that we are capable of having in our minds. We could not have words that mean more than one thing because that would cause a lot of confusion. In fact, we have lots of words that mean more than one thing.

You would also have to ask the question, how do we invent new words and expressions? If we cannot have a thought without a word to go with it, then we can't invent words because we can't have the thoughts they express to begin with. In fact, we think a thought, we realize we currently have no way of expressing it, so we come up with a way to do it.

Or as the writer of a book I read long ago pointed out: if our thoughts are dependent on words, then how do we ever learn words in the first place? When we're newborn, we don't know any words. And not knowing any words, we wouldn't be able to think and hence would be unable to learn words. In fact, a little child will know many things long before he is able to express them himself in words. E.g., he will know what the family dog is--it's not a critter like us. Eventually he will cop on that the word "dog" indicates this animal that he's already familiar with.

For me another very good proof that thought is primary, language secondary, is the fact that we understand puns. As I've said elsewhere, a word is a file in which we store meanings. When we hear a word, we search the file (very, very quickly) until we locate the correct meaning. We understand puns because we correctly identify two correct meanings in that file.

E.g., some inadvertently funny newspaper headlines that the author of a book reported seeing:

"Kids Make Nutritious Snacks"
"Prostitutes Appeal to Pope"
"British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands".

We understand these (unintended) puns because we correctily identify two different meanings for "make", "appeal", "left" and "waffles" (this last example being difficult because there are two sources of confusion in it).

So to repeat: if thought was absolutely dependent on language, we would need a different word for every possible concept in order to differentiate concepts and avoid confusion. This is not the case: we have many words that can express any number of concepts. This for me proves that concepts are primary.

Having said that, another thing I believe is that language is very deep in us, and it gets deep in us at a very early age. This is why we have difficulty separating language from thought. It's easy for them to appear to be one and the same thing.

To illustrate, I was recently reading an autobiographical novel in French. There was a passage in which the author was recounting an incident that occurred when he was very little (probably no more than 3 or 4).

He had slipped out of the house and gone running up the road in the middle of a storm. Then he fell down, and the howling of the wind and the swaying of the branches all around scared him. He began shouting at the wind and the trees, "Naughty! Naughty!" Then he pounded the ground with his fist and again shouted, "Naughty!" Only this last time, he used the feminine form of the adjective because in French the word for "ground" ("terre", which can also mean "Earth", "earth" and "soil") is feminine.

People who speak languages with grammatical gender very quickly and effortlessly cop on to how it works. A French woman who is a contact of mine explained it like this: "The first time I hear a word, I just feel like the gender is part of the word." And so the gender gets deep inside them along with the actual meaning of the word. And thus even a little child will automatically use the correct gender when he's talking to the ground. The association is deeply ingrained in him.

So, I'm not denying that language is very deep in us. On the contrary, from my own personal experience with language, I've come to believe that language is something that we "feel" rather than intellectualize. There are things that we do with our language that are very complex, and yet we do them effortlessly and without even being aware that we're doing them.

At any rate, before we get into any sort of argument over the question, I think we need to decide what we're saying. E.g., if Trollope says, "How can I know what I think until I write it down?", I think we'd need to know exactly what he meant. Obviously he'd be capable of knowing, "I want a stack of blueberry pancakes and a cup of black coffee," without having to write it down.

---
It's not the dress, it's the woman!
Nov/18/2010, 5:34 am Link to this post Send Email to SenecatheDuck   Send PM to SenecatheDuck
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Tere,

I wonder if this is the quote you were thinking of:

"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" E. M. Forster

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I think you are both right in what you are saying, or perhaps better to say, it all depends on what your definition of "know" is. We can "know" things emotionally, intuitively, physically without necessarily having to put what we know into words in order to understand it. OTOH, sometimes we can know things we don't know we know until we think about them, put them down in words. (See below.)

I am reminded of how I fell in love with Roethke's "The Waking" as a senior in high school and sped through my typing class assignment so I could type up copies of the poem for myself and my best friend:

"We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow."

But, then, I became a person who thought you could arrive at enlightenment through thinking. Wishful thinking! Still, the closest thing I've known to a mystical experience involved communication without language and the heart was more essential than the mind.

"The heart has reasons that reason cannot comprehend." Blaise Pascal

Quote I came across earlier today when I was searching for the Forster one:

"Write what you know because sometimes you know more than you know you know."

Rambling off. . . .
Nov/18/2010, 6:35 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Thank you once again, Kat. That is the quote. Ya'll may find the circumstance interesting. Forster wrote it in response to something Orwell maintained. That one thinks first and then writes.

Chasing after this rabbit, I am not so sure that on any level one can say thinking comes before the word, the expression, language itself. The latest (theoretical) findings by neurobiologists I've come across indicates we think by association. This at the level of neurons firing and synaptic connecting. That is what they say. Some years ago I read a fascinating book called "The Roots of Civilization." Author's name: Alexander Marshack. He said he found in the paleolithic evidence bones and antlers calendrating the 28 day lunar month, the 13 lunar month year. It seemed to him he found the birth bones, so to speak, of complex language, and that it originated in the need to measure time. When would the great (migratory) herds leave, when would they return? For how much longer would the village or clan need to tighten its belt before the return.

For him this is the root of civilization, by which he meant this is the root of complex language.

So here is my provisional approach. Word and thought, language and thinking. Thought is not primary. Just a substrate, a capacity (some of) the species enjoys, probably because of a chance throw of the genetic cards. Maybe other species enjoy the same capacity. But at some point, probably in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 thousand years ago, there was what we would call a genius, some individual who figured out a certain lunar pattern, measured it, notched it on a bone. The info proved successful to the clan's survival, got communicated, and I'll bet a dollar on a donut it resulted in selective breeding. Those who got it were in. Those who didn't were out.

My gut is this. There is not one without the other. Without the capacity for thinking there is no complex language. Without language there is only the capacity for thinking.

Oh hell. It all just makes for a binary system, right?
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From Book review: 'The Mind's Eye' by Oliver Sacks:

"...Sacks invites readers to imagine their way into minds unlike their own. When he admits to
animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, who 'thinks entirely in terms of literal images she has seen before,' that he 'cannot summon visual images at will,' she is baffled: 'How do you think then?' (Here lies the fundamental tension between perception and language: How do you translate mental experience into words?..." reviewer, Meehan Crist

"There is a paradox here--a delicious one--that I cannot resolve" if there is indeed a fundamental difference between experience and description, between direct and mediated experience of the world, how is it that language can be so powerful?"

Oliver Sacks

experience/mental experience/perception/thought/ language...

Chris


 

Last edited by Christine98, Nov/20/2010, 3:36 pm
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What a good find, Chris. A fundamental tension. A delicious paradox. Indeed.

Tere
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I know, I know, I have been MIA. Everyone in my life is complaining.

Nice to meet you, Seneca. I have to just jump in and say that the timing of this discussion is perfect.
quote:

This is my theory of language: ultimately thought does not depend on words.


I am teaching an intro course this term "introduction to the study of language", in which I introduce a linguistic theory in which thought and language are proposed to be independant of each other. The evidence comes from a variety of sources, including the fact that cognition can be severly damaged (profound retardation), while linguistic ability is present, and vice versa. There seems to be enough evidence to support a theory of language/thought independence.

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I'm not sure if we're talking about the same thing here. My notion is that thought is primary, that words are things we attach to our thoughts after the fact.


I don' know what kind of evidence would prove this. Intuitively, I know what you are talking about. I need to have a thought or idea, in order for the need to express it arise. But, it would be nice to have a way to confirm it.

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So in order to translate, what you must do is detach the concepts in your text from the words themselves. You must be able to hold those concepts in your mind, see them in your mind without words. And that is very difficult to do, because we are so used to attaching words to concepts.


Sorry to bore you with my class stories, but I often ask in any level linguistics course "what do you think is the most human characteristic?", and I think because they are in a ling course, they usually reply "language." And then, I launch into this idea that it is our capacity for symbolic thinking, and that while it is true that language is very human (communication and language being independent, similarly to the thought argument) but language IS a type of symbolic thinking.

So, what you say makes perfect sense to me. We have a great capacity for symbolic thinking. Imagine a 3 year old who draws some crooked traingle and calls it a 'house.' To me, that is symbolic thinking, to be able to understand that this crooked triangle is a stand-in for a house with a lot of details.


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Chasing after this rabbit, I am not so sure that on any level one can say thinking comes before the word, the expression, language itself. The latest (theoretical) findings by neurobiologists I've come across indicates we think by association. This at the level of neurons firing and synaptic connecting. That is what they say. Some years ago I read a fascinating book called "The Roots of Civilization." Author's name: Alexander Marshack. He said he found in the paleolithic evidence bones and antlers calendrating the 28 day lunar month, the 13 lunar month year. It seemed to him he found the birth bones, so to speak, of complex language, and that it originated in the need to measure time. When would the great (migratory) herds leave, when would they return? For how much longer would the village or clan need to tighten its belt before the return.



Could it have been the emergence of this capacity of symbolic thinking?


-s
Nov/21/2010, 2:48 am Link to this post Send Email to deepwaters   Send PM to deepwaters
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


And nice to meet you, too, deepwaters. An interesting post here. The notion that language itself is a type of symbolic thinking--that is something worth thinking about.

quote:

deepwaters wrote:

quote:

I'm not sure if we're talking about the same thing here. My notion is that thought is primary, that words are things we attach to our thoughts after the fact.


I don' know what kind of evidence would prove this. Intuitively, I know what you are talking about. I need to have a thought or idea, in order for the need to express it arise. But, it would be nice to have a way to confirm it.




In my earlier post, I mentioned the fact that words can have different meanings; that we can understand puns; that we can invent words and expressions; that we can learn words at all. For me, all these considerations are decisive in showing that thought precedes language. Others may disagree, but if they're not decisive, I'd really need to be shown why they're not.

To repeat one point: if our thought were absolutely tied to language, every concept in our minds would have to be denoted by a different word. Otherwise, all sorts of confusion would arise. We wouldn't be able to say, e.g.,

Cinderella got ready for the ball. and
Tiger Woods drove the ball down the fairway.

Two different things entirely so we would have to have two different words for them. As it is, we can use the same string of sounds/letters to denote them because in our minds we can distinguish them. We're not making this distinction verbally, since we're using the same word. We're doing it with our little brain cells, without the need for words. Now it is true you can verbally describe the difference between Cinderella's ball and Tiger's--but the point is, you don't have to. When you hear the word, you immediately see what it means in the context without having to verbalize it.

But so far we've been focusing on the meaning of words. When it comes to language, there are other considerations--e.g., one I pointed out on another thread: the fact that meaning in language is also conveyed by relationships between words.

In that other thread I gave this example:

(1) I gave the book to the man.
(2) I gave the man the book.
(3) I gave the book the man.

We're all agreed on (1) and (2), but no native English-speaker would make the mistake in (3). This is because people instinctively, correctly manipulate direct and indirect objects--because they have a feel for them. My guess is that probably nine people out of ten at least would be unable to define the difference between a direct and indirect object, but it doesn't matter. You don't have to have a formal knowledge of your language to use it correctly: much of language is feeling: there are things you simply know, and you don't need words to know them.

This notion of relationship is one thing that makes learning another language difficult, because languages use different relationships to express meaning. E.g., Latin might express with a genitive what English expresses with a prepositional phrase. One reason you can be uncomfortable in a foreign language is that relationships are different. The meaning of words can be easy, but you're still tripped up by the relationships between them.

Prepositions also express relationships between words, and it's a commonplace that prepositions are the most idiomatic part of any language. In French, e.g., you're told that "à" means "to" or "at". Look in your French dictionary, however, and you'll see that in fact "à" can translate into English by just about any English preposition, depending on circumstances.

And try to define a preposition. The fundamental definitions my dictionary gives of "at", e.g., are "used to indicate location or position/position in time". In other words, you can't define it. You just have to know what it means. Which doesn't prevent us from picturing the situation when we hear, "They were at the table."

I've gone on at length about relationships between words because our understanding of them is essentially non-verbal. But I think that we can find other examples of non-verbal understanding.

Consider the difference in English between continuous and habitual tenses--that is, between, "He is going" and "He goes", e.g. This distinction doesn't exist in French and some other languages I'm acquainted with, and those languages get along perfectly well without it, so why do we insist on it in English? I don't know, but again it's something we feel: I don't think anyone would say, e.g., "I went down the stairs when I realized I had forgotten my umbrella." It would be "I was going. . ."

But look at what we do sometimes with a continuous tense: "He's always complaining!" Now obviously nobody (not even someone like me) complains 24/7. It may be something they do often, repeatedly, habitually--and it is precisely for this sort of usage that we have habitual tenses. So why (illogically) use a continuous tense? Because we want to emphasize just how often it is, so we picture time as continuous, rather than broken up, and that way we can picture him always in the middle of complaining. And furthermore, I think this use of the continuous tenses generally expresses some kind of emotion: "He's always complaining," or, "He's always doing those nice little things for her."

So when we feel something, we look for and find a way of expressing it. And what often strikes me is just how seemingly arbitrary our ways of expressing things are. Why do it with a verb tense, when an adverb or adverbial phrase would seem much more logical? Where does this connection between a verb tense and an emotion come from? And if you hear someone say, "He's always complaining," ask them why they're using a continuous, rather than a habitual, tense, and it's my guess that almost nobody would be able to give you an answer. Yet everybody uses verbs in this way. It's another example of non-verbal understanding--non-verbal understanding connected to language, no less.

I've already pointed out that there are words that simply cannot be defined. But people who often use a dictionary (which is probably all of us here) have probably noted how often a dictionary fails them. Look up a word and you might agree that in the main the dictionary tells you what it means. But you'll also note that the dictionary doesn't come close to expressing the richness of the word. Words contain so many different concepts and nuances, so much emotional content that a mere definition of a word has a hard time summing up. We often feel that a word contains so much more than the words we use to define it. There's a lot going on in these little brains of ours that we have a hard time pinning down.

Now I feel that this discussion is to a certain extent academic. But it does have practical value for me as a translator: I do have to be aware of what is going on within and underneath words. If I want to be able to translate well, I have to be able to get at the concepts and nuances that underlie a word.

Does a poet not have to do the same thing? Does a poet choose words without being aware of what they contain?

It's simply my notion that just as an ability to think preceded the invention of language, thought underlies language. A word is a file in which we store concepts. We have concepts in our minds; we assign them to words because there are all sorts of advantages in doing so. But it is thought that is the source of words, not the reverse.

---
It's not the dress, it's the woman!
Nov/21/2010, 7:24 am Link to this post Send Email to SenecatheDuck   Send PM to SenecatheDuck
 
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Re: Those Days (Forough Farrokhzad)


Shabfriend, Shabfriend, it is so good to see you here. You have been missed. I know from your FB comments you have been hard pressed with teaching, your students, even with your TAs it seems. Such a treat that you've joined in on the discussion. Gracious of you also that you are not upset, at least I hope it is the case, how the discussion has taken up residence in your Forough thread. If, however, you feel the thread has been side tracked, please let me know. The discussion can always be moved.

I am neither a linguist or a translator. Just a poet. So I am barely qualified to take up with you both. In a sense, however, I have a foot in your camps. I have long considered poets the foot soldiers, the grunts, of linguistics. We are the ones who create language. Time and time again we reinvent it. Chaucer and Shakespeare both being supreme examples of that. We are also the ones who constantly fight against "the pressures and seductive power of ordinary language to falsify experience in easy, slack cliche." (a Scottish philosopher said that about poetry.) Same philosopher said poets are often up against the limits of language and sometimes forced to modify, even do violence to syntax. In another sense I am also a translator. I am not sure what is poetry's primary job. And maybe it would be pointless to assign poetry a primary job. Communication? Sure. Expression? Of course. But it is also about bundling up, packaging, and translating perception. Rimbaud taught me that who, after turning his back on poetry, briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a linguist.

I am still not dissuaded of Forster's fundamental insight: "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" This speaks to my experience first hand. Time and time again I've written a poem, a story, an essay, even a journal entry, only to sit back in surprise. Who the hell wrote that, I might ask? Where did that notion come from, again I can ask? And the big quandry: is that what I really think? So no. I neither think, feel, or sense that thinking comes before the word. And there is a difference, in my mind at least, between language and complex language. Without the latter, as said above, I feel that thinking remains a capacity only, a plasmic possibility, not an activity. I am wearing a long sleeve jersey shirt. An old shirt a friend gave me. At the time she was in an MFA program. She had an assignment having something to do with the theme: what makes poetry public. In an exchange I offered that: Poetry is public when it puts in the forum what people conspire to ignore. For her assignment she had shirts silk screened with the sentence and gave me two. One day, when the shirts were newer and not so worn, I wore one at work. A friend, a good man, a kind man, but a little lacking in depth, started reading the caption, got half-way through, physically, actually shuddered, turned away as if he had seen a ghost and said: way too deep for me. True story. So there is language and there is complex language. And thinking remains a capacity only until actively brought out through complex language.

In the end, in all likelihood, mine is an intuition only. But it is born from first hand experience as a poet, story teller, sometime thinker. Upthread I suggest there is a binary relationship between the two activities. Maybe not. Maybe there is a better way to describe this partner dance. I rather like what Chris offered above: that the relationship describes a fundamental tension and a delicious paradox. That strikes me as coming pretty darn close to the matter.

A really fun discussion, my friends. Thank you.

Tere
Nov/21/2010, 3:55 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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