The OF Blog: This is what I was working on during Super Bowl Sunday

Sunday, February 02, 2014

This is what I was working on during Super Bowl Sunday

Sometimes, I think when I post lists of what I've read, especially in other languages, there is the impression given that it is all so quick and easy for me.  Despite having an affinity for comparative grammars and semantics, I do have to spend a lot of hours working on languages that are unfamiliar to me.  Today, I can read a Spanish novel almost as quickly as it were an English novel and there might be maybe a handful of words here and there that I would not readily understand without having to parse it carefully.  But ten years ago this month, I began reading Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad and I read bits from it nearly every day.  I didn't finish until mid-April 2004.  I wrote down every word I did not understand and I looked them up in the dictionaries I had on hand and I studied them until I had learned them.  If I finished a page the first couple of weeks, I was doing well.  Toward the end, I was reading the final chapters without needing to look up many words and I was reading 20-30 pages a day.
But I had to study, memorize, and learn word order (this was easier because I had had two years of HS Spanish 15 years before, so there was at least a slight bit of prior knowledge, not to mention my two years in Florida teaching ESOL social studies did lead to some limited language acquisition) before I could read passages without needing to have a dictionary at hand.  Within six months, however, I had mastered the language enough that I could read unfamiliar words and learn them based on the words around them.  That may be fast, but still involved dozens, if not over a hundred, of hours of labor.

Tonight, I have revived this practice.  I am teaching myself how to read Romanian more fluently in order to review Liviu Rebreanu's Pădurea spânzuraților (The Forest of the Hanged) later this year for my new World War I-themed blog, World War I Literature, Art, and Cinema.  Below is a picture of the opening paragraphs, followed by my notes of unfamiliar words (some are from the preface, but I skimmed through parts of it in order to have more time to devote to the novel itself).  I am currently halfway through the second paragraph and this is after a couple hours' of work reading and re-reading for semantic clues as well as transcribing words and their English counterparts.  Just over 160 words (around 70 for the two paragraphs) have been written down:

However, looking up words is only of limited use if the reader/translator cannot connect them to create an approximation of what is transpiring on the printed page.  Here is a very rough translation of the first paragraph, one that might edited several times in the months to come as I come to learn the language's nuances a bit better:

Under an ashen autumn sky like a huge ball of steamed glass, a new and defiant hangman, stuck on the outskirts of the village, stretched his arm with the noose toward the black field, pricked hither and thither by brass-colored trees.  Supervised by a short corporal, dark, and helped by a peasant with his hairy and red-faced daughter, two old soldiers were digging graves, spitting frequently on their palms and huffing in labor after each blow of their pickaxes.  From the earth's wounds the gravediggers flung yellow, sticky clay...
Not the greatest to be sure, but I think this paragraph alone promises a rewarding experience if I stick to doing this laborious vocabulary learning/translation.  Don't think I have time to write out a draft translation for every single paragraph (if that were the case, I would still be reading this novel well into 2015 at least), but perhaps I'll write more on my language acquisition efforts in the future, provided this was of at least some little interest to those reading this.  I just only hope that in the weeks to come, I won't be writing down quite so many words in order to learn the gist of what I am reading.

So yeah, having reading squirrels is very nice and all, but when it comes to learning how to read a new language, sometimes, a lot of effort is required to make even minimal headway.  But the past has taught me that there will come a point where it'll all start to "click" and then I'll have another language whose works I can read without need for a dictionary to make sure that I do get the basic meaning of the texts correct.


Mihai A. said...

I am improving my reading in Spanish this year. I meant to do it for quite some time but other things came in the way. However, this year I read each day and I am already starting to use the dictionary less and less. And I love all this process. :)
That's a very nice choice you have there and I am very curious to see what you think of one of our most important novels. There are some very interesting particularities there.
You're doing quite good with the new language. However there are a couple of things in your translation that need correction:
"like a huge bell" for "ca un clopot uriaș"
gallows, gibbet or hanging instead of hangman for "spânzurătoare"
"stretched its arm" instead of his
"short, dark corporal" works better
"a peasant with a hairy and red face" - there is no daugther there, it is the difference between fata (girl/daughter) and faţa/faţă (face)
"huffing painstakingly" works better
Anyway, you're doing a great job, Larry! Congratulations! :)

Lsrry said...

Yeah, I knew I'd have mistakes like that (I had those written as alternates, I believe). And I blame my iPad not being able to type those letters when I was looking up the words.

Thanks for the suggestions, Mihai. I'll incorporate them into a later rendering when I do get around to writing the review later this year.

Y suerte con español! :D

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