I am fast becoming a disciple of Flow. I believe I have referred to it elsewhere in these articles as "muscle memory". Now, having read up on facts due to a rogue podcast I stumbled on, I prefer this definition. It carries a sustained rather than an only reactive connotation which I feel matches the true experience. The facts I will spare you, not only because I am still digesting them and frankly they are not entirely in my possession yet, but mainly because it is a bad habit to develop a habit and then a theory to justify it. It happens with coffee and chocolate, say. First you drink/eat it, then you look up the unfailingly scientific article on why it's good for you.
That nagging feeling... Not one of my posts, so you can relax!
I increasingly feel we are obsessed with outcome-based behaviours. The bottom line. All things, in one word only, teleological. So what's the problem now, you may ask? Well, let us imagine we come across a wad of banknotes as we walk to work. Nothing wrong with a little unexpected bonus, of course. But we wouldn't leave our job in order to comb the streets to increase the chance of that happening again...or would we? Put more subtly, do those rare occasions in which our conference is cancelled but we get paid anyway entice us to hope this may happen again? And is it right? Could praying for easy speakers who also supply a text become a habit? I just cannot imagine a colleague as un-cool as one who actually feels sorry the challenge is taken away by these little advantages yet I believe care needs to be exercised. Well, no matter right now, I'm going to change the subject. Only slightly. I used "teleological" at a job once, and was reprimanded by a colleague: these guys are just regular folks, he said, they don't understand what you are on about. Our job is to transmit a clear message. Sure. But that was the message - in fact the very word - in the source language. The speaker had decided rightly or wrongly to use it, either because she thought the audience would get it, or because she actually wanted to come across as sophisticated, superior, intellectual, obscure, whatever... So now I'm entitled to decide how clever listeners are, and how articulate the speaker is. And to shine a light on what in my...interpretation...was not meant to be bright. Again, I get worried. And this time it's not one of my conservative policies against acronyms or company-speak (read back for that, there's plenty of it). Just to be transparent: if Mr Speaker wants me to take him down a notch, or to sound like an Italian who knows English so well he has forgotten his Italian, or for me to interpret backwards like a subliminal message from a Stones' record, I'm at your service. I'll do most things it says in my contract, and more. But this is different. It's a bit like those enlightened travellers who choose a cheap and cheerful hotel, and then feel the need to enhance it and prove they have seen better by complaining about most of the experience. The vulgar equalization of it all, just because you cannot judge a restaurant from the outside by its livery, or worse because you can't keep up with a register hitherto unknown is to be frowned upon, and probably dangerous in a continent such as Europe where too many people speak too many languages badly. We should serve, I agree, but as mentioned elsewhere, with proficiency. Perhaps said register could become a direction of study - probably a more fruitful one than spending time oversimplifying already simple messages which, quite simply, don't want to be simplified - yes? Sorry. I meant: what is behind words must be part of the message, and that is what we have to deal with. The unspoken interpretation is often neglected, always underrated. Not what she said, but what would she say if she knew the language like I should? Am I entitled to make this interpretation? Well, at least as much as the one my colleague advocated above. Am I going to be worthy of a Speaker's steel? Or just hiding and hoping for that free stash of cash? Not game. It's a pirate's life for me...
I never did like short forms of language. Mind you, I can clearly see why they keep coming about. I remember when sms functionality happened in my youth. The point was of course to save money, and naturally I immediately invested the same amount on a txt dictionary, the first of its kind. Few people then (and now) realised that the incompleteness, the terseness and the speed of the exchanges made for what is in fact an oral language in written form, if you see what I mean, hence the need for body language, i. e. emoticons - some of my learners who still read me will recall my enthusiasm in class. But acronyms! That's a different kettle of fish. A more subtle aroma, though I am pushing my metaphors. Here, we are peddling added value. You do not need examples, but it is easy to see how KPI-toting executives are not trying to be parsimonious in terms of breath usage. Rather, they are keeping that necessary step ahead, the millisecond it will take you to decode the spec which is really the gulf between the world made of easy ideas your kids, your old parents and a prosaic plethora of simpletons surrounding you force you to live with and the sleek clickable clipped sharpness of the man who knows exactly who he is.
The temptation cannot be resisted: you will sneer in disgust at the artificiality of it all only to champion it when your turn is due. And here it comes, the BQ (big question): why should I care? Well, for one I just can't forget that language professionals are not only followers, but are called to be trendsetters in their field. Translators have always been, and they have historically more often than not become literary giants in their own right. Why not other practitioners? Then there is the argument that the prosodic features really also entail stuff like sound and function, the ripe fruit of which is more than just a message getting across. How can you love a town or a country which is hypertextually atrophied, or a woman whose name your cannot taste in a rosary of syllables? Moving swiftly away from Latin spirit, here's my line: words are a bridge, not a cool accessory. Sure, even an edifice must have a style, but its peculiarity still cannot fall short of general appreciation, or we are back to the carbonari and their secret codes. Diversity is surely an asset, but fragmentation is a limit, and originality at all costs vulgar. A skilled craftsman may produce works of beauty using traditional tools and techniques - the newness is in the concept, the unit of meaning. An artist employing at once exclusively new implements, hitherto-unknown methods and unheard-of messages is to be viewed with suspicion. Never trust what is too recent only for novelty's sake, the Romans used to say, and their language may now be tricky to decode for some, but it retains its charm beyond meaning, like a middle-aged true lady who finds a half light more flattering now, yet still evoking a dream of lust evolving from the shadows exactly through that subdued brightness. How did I get talking of things Latin again? Silly me, I got lost in another aimless promenade, in a...fruitless undertaking chasing...credibility. I was going to say kudos, but I will refrain. Just in case the above expression acquires some academic dignity and becomes cleft and re-assembled. This Frankenstein soundbite could not hope to live. XOXOXOXO
Abount this blog
A sideways glance at conference interpreting, living bilingual and balancing the composite identity. The poetics of a craft and a repository of past thoughts. (Some links may no longer be active).
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