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Edward Sapir, Despre limba: o introducere in studiul vorbirii.

Edward Sapir, Despre limba: o introducere in studiul vorbirii

(Iasi: Casa Editoriala Demiurg. 2016)

American linguist Edward Sapir (1884-1939) may have produced more complex, notable and innovative texts, but none is probably so famous--and quotable--as Language: An introduction to the Study of Speech (1921). Making his book available to the Romanian reader was then a long overdue enterprise, a gap that was filled when academic and linguist Teodora Ghiviriga offered the complete Romanian version published by the Iasi-based Publishing House Casa Editoriala Demiurg in 2016. Beside the actual text, the present volume also includes the author's Preface to the 1921 edition and images of the cover page and the first page of Chapter X, a thoughtfully put-together list of his main works for the eager reader, and an Index (by Alexandrina Ionita) based on the original one, rearranged to accommodate the new order of terms (names of languages, geographical names, authors cited), according to the initial letter of their Romanian form.

The volume opens with a generous compendium under the title Translator's notes, which provides a compact, yet thorough outline of the linguist's life and distinguished academic career, with interesting details on his formative years, private life, scholarly endeavours and even literary and musical tastes. This section ends with the translator's actual reference to the translation process, the difficulties raised by the linguistic terminology used in the early days of linguistics in relation to today's expanded and more sophisticated terminology, the struggle to preserve the personal flavour of Sapir's style and to do justice to his remarkable ability of compacting complex meanings in dicta. Such catchphrases are sometimes so widely circulated that the relation with their originator may be lost--as is the case of the famous "All grammar leak.", rendered in Romanian as "Nici o gramatica nu este perfecta." (p. 20)--thus moving from the evocative power of a metaphor based on another metaphor ("this theory doesn't hold water, a grammar leaks") to a more abstract form that seems to better suit Romanian.

The present edition faithfully follows the original's outline--the divisions into chapters and subchapters and the author's footnotes, which are Sapir's further remarks, additions, personal stands and opinions on the primary text. On the other hand, the translator, who doubles as an editor in this case, adopts the same strategy of the footnote (labelled n.t., i.e. translator's note, as opposed to n.a., i.e author's note) to introduce valuable linguistic information, which makes the sheer number of such notes (345) and the amount of added text somewhat overwhelming. The paratextual contribution includes mainly copious information on the languages mentioned by Sapir and grammatical explanations of the English system for the benefit of the Romanian reader, which testifies to the editorial thoroughness and effort to increase approachability. One other notable contribution of the translator-editor is the rendition (signalled by the square brackets) into the target language of the examples in English that Sapir uses to illustrate a theory or make a point: lexical units, morphological elements, syntactic structures, pronunciation of some words or phonemes; some may seem superfluous, an unnecessary load to the apparatus, but without them comprehension by the linguist with less than extensive knowledge of English would be frustrated, if not hindered altogether.

The Romanian text is fluent and mirrors Sapir's elegant and personal style, which is mostly marked by an elevated informality and spiced by rhetorical questions ("Si atunci care sint conceptele absolut esentiale in vorbire, cele care trebuie exprimate pentru ca limba sa poata functiona ca un mijloc de comunicare satisfacator?" (p. 101--"What, then, are the absolutely essential concepts in speech, the concepts that must be expressed if language is to be a satisfactory means of communication?"), by the use of inclusive we meant to attract the reader into the reasoning ("Este oare justificata ipoteza noastra ca este un element radical?" (p. 41--"Are we, after all, justified in identifying it with a radical element?"), by irony bordering on the sarcasm ("Un celebru scriitor american despre cultura si limba s-a exprimat cu privire la acest punct [the alleged lack of subtlety of non-inflected languages] enuntind urmatorul dicton: ... ar fi o crima din partea unei femei vorbitoare a unei limbi flexionare sa se casatoreasca cu un barbat care vorbeste o limba aglutinanta... Oamenii sentimentali sint fiinte dificile" (footnote 156--"One celebrated American writer on culture and language delivered himself of the dictum that, estimable as the speakers of agglutinative languages might be, it was nevertheless a crime for an inflecting woman to marry an agglutinating man... Sentimentalists are difficult people."), by comparisons and metaphors (the parallel between linguistic and musical discourse, between Chopin's focus on the unique quality of the piano sound/tone colour and Bach's focus on content can be adjusted to any instrument, as follows: "A Chopin etude is inviolate; it moves altogether in the world of piano tone. A Bach fugue is transferable into another set of musical timbres without serious loss of esthetic significance." ("Un studiu de Chopin este inviolabil; se misca cu totul in lumea tonului de pian. O fuga de Bach este transferabila intr-un alt set de timbruri muzicale fara pierderi importante de semnificatie estetica.") In her Notes, the translator confesses to having struggled with the author's ample periods and sometimes rather convoluted syntactic structures; while most of them have been "tamed" through reorganization of the linguistic matter into more manageable chunks, some--few--may still be a challenge and require repeated reading--but then, the author's genius is worth the effort.

More than 130 years after Sapir's birth, this version of his celebrated book on Language is a welcome addition to the set of books on linguistics that made history and forever altered the way we think about language. The translator has raised to the challenge and has provided the Romanian readership with a text that is both inspiring and enjoyable. It is to be hoped that more translations of this type and quality will find a place in university libraries and on the linguists' shelves in the future.

Rodica Albu, PhD. Professor, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University. Iasi, Romania;
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Author:Albu, Rodica
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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