Posts Tagged ‘Greek’

Translating Aristophanes


In the Translator’s Preface of this edition of Aristophanes’ Clouds (on p. 90 and p. 94) are a couple discussions of grammatical gender in Greek, and the way in which it presents problems for the translator.

In one case, some jokes that are dependent on grammatical gender cannot easily be rendered in English. I.e., it’s not really a joke if you have to read a footnote to get it. What should translators and editors do in a case like this? Translate literally and the sentence doesn’t read like a joke at all. Readers will go right past it not realizing it is a joke. Add a footnote (and footnote after footnote after footnote) and you slow the reader down and make the text less enjoyable to read. There’s really no good answer here, but pertinent to this discussion it’s notable that it may be possible to translate the joke intact if Aristophanes’ ancient Greek is translated into a language that employs a system of grammatical gender.

Gender of 84 Nouns in 14 Languages


This paper, Evolution of Gender in Indo-European Languages by Harry E. Foundalis, explores whether and how the language one speaks influences the way one perceives reality.

Of special interest to this discussion is “Appendix A: Words Examined” which contains charts showing the gender assignment of 84 common words in 14 languages (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, German, Icelandic, Irish, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Albanian, Greek, Kurdish). As one might expect, gender assignment appears arbitrary and varies from one language to another, though closely related languages (Portuguese and Spanish, for example) often classify a given noun the same way.

An example:

Paper (a sheet of)
Language M, F, or N
French M
Italian F
Portuguese M
Spanish M
Dutch N
German N
Icelandic M
Irish M
Polish M
Russian F
Serbo-Croatian N
Albanian F
Greek N
Kurdish F