If we want to know what a country’s culture and psychology are like, we just have to listen to how its inhabitants cheer. Whether formally during national holidays or casually in sports events, each country has a particular way of celebrating their identity and that of its people, with almost ritualistic phrases that strengthen the bond between citizens. The words, the tone, the accompanying claps or movements, even the melodies used to cheer on the country are a reflection of its people, their history and their national identity.
In 1969, project ARPANET managed to send a message from a computer at University of California in Los Angeles to another computer at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. Originally developed for military communications, and later for higher education centers, the network kept growing and making more connections until it was finally commercially available for the public. Almost fifty years after its birth, the internet is an inseparable part of our lives. This tool experienced its greatest growth during the 1990s and continues to grow: in the year 2000, 51% of telecommunications occurred through the internet; by 2007, this number had risen to an astonishing 97%.
Every day, about 2.5 million terabytes (the equivalent of filling 28.75 billion iPads) of information are added to the existing 1.1 zettabytes (the equivalent of about 36 thousand years of HD video) on the internet. Ninety percent of the content is less than two years old, and great efforts are being made to upload as much of human-generated information as possible to “the cloud”: the unreal, untouchable space where information can be stored forever.
A widely accepted “truth” of translation is that it should be a faithful representation of the source text. Unfortunately, most translators who try to follow through on this end up peeling back their eyelids or chewing on their keyboard as this faithful representation eludes their bloody grip. What they should do is ask the question whether a faithful translation is possible or even desirable.
One of the barriers that our ever more globalized world still faces is the language barrier. With almost 7 thousand different existing languages in the world (2009 data, Summer Institute of Language International, quoted by Linguistic Society of America), learning them all would be a herculean and impractical task. On the other hand, given that language is a fundamental part of identity, trying to unite humanity under a same tongue, whether fabricated (like Esperanto) or existing (like English, considered “default” in many international scenarios) might be considered almost offensive. Humans tend to avoid conflict and communicate with each in their mother tongue through an intermediary who speaks both languages: an interpreter.
There are certain words whose mere utterance is usually followed by the unleashing of a whole arsenal of human gestures and expletives indicative of unrepentant incredulity, ranging from a rolling of the eyes to howls of utter contempt. One such word is “fairies”. Another is “ghosts”. And yet another is “Anunnaki”.
The interesting thing, however, is that the notion of the Anunnaki which, at a stroke, turns all our conceptions of history, anthropology, archaeology and even genetics on their respective heads, was obtained from a translation.
For this first ever Babel blog I thought it would be a good idea to open with the subject of bananas. And while I’m at it, I might as well mention the topic of national security too.