Saturday, August 10, 2013

AMQ: Star Wars in Ge'ez #2

For our last Ancient Movie Quotes (AMQ) we translated Luke's line to Obi-Wan in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi ("You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father!") into Ge'ez.  This time we will translate some of old Ben's response.  If this Ge'ez stuff intrigues you, be sure to cruise the resource page.

"Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force."

ተአብደ ፡ አቡከ ፡ በክፍል ፡ ጸሊም ፡ ዘነፋስ ፡ ሕያው ።
(ta'abda 'abuka bakefl ṣallim zanafās ḥeyāw)

We started our translation with the passive form of the verb አብደ ('abda; "was seduced").  The ተ- (ta-) prefix is a marker for the passive verb.  We then have the subject አቡከ ('abuka; "your father").  Recall that passive verbs are ones in which the subject of the verb is acted upon -- something is happening to the subject.  With passive verbs we can talk about things like agents, means, and instruments: who is the agent doing this thing to the subject or who/what is being used to do this thing?

In Ethiopic "the passive verb is usually employed when the writer (speaker) does not wish to specify the agent (active subject)." (Lambdin, 89).  Ethiopic can express agency, however, using prepositions like በ-, በኀበ, እምኀበ.  Lambdin notes that when it is not connected to a person, በ- indicates instrument rather than agency.  In our translation we used James 2:14 as a model, where በ- is used.  This verse speaks of one being tempted by their own desires, which seemed like a fitting parallel.  (አላ ፡ አሕዱ ፡ ይትሜከር ፡ በፍትወተ ፡ እንቲአሁ ፡ . . .)

Translating "dark side of the Force" is an interesting challenge.  Unfortunately, Leslau and Dillman don't have a special appendix for space opera vocabulary.  We chose ክፍል (kefl) for "side" and placed our adjective for "dark" in the typical attributive position, directly following the noun.  This word choice might give the impression that the "dark side" is a "dark portion," as though there is one part or section of the Force that is dark and another that is light.  Is that what the dark side really is?  Or is it more like one aspect of the same reality?  Perhaps there is a better word.

"Force" also creates an interesting translational challenge.  I think a word like this illustrates the value of what to some might seem like a silly exercise.  Translating "the Force" helps us realize the difficulty that is involved in bringing an important religious or philosophical concept into a new language.  This is something that is faced all the time by those who translate works of eastern religion and philosophy into western languages, where a perfect equivalent for something like Xi or Tao may not be available.  For "the Force" I chose ነፋስ ፡ ሕያው ("living wind").  This is to be distinguished from ነፍሰ ሕያው or ነፍሰ ሕይወት ("living soul," which means "creature).  Do you have other suggestions?

To express the genitival relationship between "dark side" and "the Force" we used the relative pronoun ዘ-.  The basic way to express a genitive relationship is to use the construct: place an -a suffix at the end of the head noun.  However, there is not a great deal of flexibility there:
"The expression of the Genitive by means of the Constr. St. always demands that the two words, -- the word to be determined and the determining one, -- be ranked immediately together: no third, extraneous word, as for instance an adjective, can ever come between the two; for otherwise the ordered combination, which is the very condition of the Constr.St.-relation, would be destroyed." (Dillman, §145)    
Fortunately, Ethiopic developed some other ways to express a genitive relationship.  One of these is the use of the relative pronoun.  (Dillman, §145, §186, a)  ". . . the pronoun za- became quite generalized as a 'preposition' expressing the genitive case relationship.  Its frequency varies from tex to text, but it appears most commonly where the construct is prohibited by an intervening adjective or suffix or when proper names are involved . . ." (Lambdin, 25.1.g)

So there we have it.  Would you translate anything differently?

You Star Wars geeks might find this snippet on the origins of the concept of the Force interesting.  This and Yoda's words about the Force on Dagobah inspired my choice of "living wind."
One of the audio sources Lipsett sampled for 21-87 was a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and Roman Kroitor, a cinematographer who went on to develop Imax. In the face of McCulloch's arguments that living beings are nothing but highly complex machines, Kroitor insists that there is something more: "Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God."
When asked if this was the source of "the Force," Lucas confirms that his use of the term in Star Wars was "an echo of that phrase in 21-87." The idea behind it, however, was universal: "Similar phrases have been used extensively by many different people for the last 13,000 years to describe the 'life force,'" he says.
("Life After Darth")

ተአብደ -- (Leslau, 139) Passive form of አብደ.  Active meaning is: "be insane, become enraged, be mad, be out of one's mind, become a fool, become foolish."  In the passive it can mean "be seduced, be led astray."

ክፍል -- (Leslau, 158) "part, portion, share, lot, division, fraction, category, chapter, section, verse"

ጸሊም -- (Leslau, 223) "black, dark, gloomy"

ነፋስ -- (Leslau, 130) "wind, air, spirit"

ሕያው -- (Leslau, 25) "alive, living, healed, whole, safe and sound"