I have dreams of being a polyglot but so far all I’ve managed is English and some French. Spoken French is still a mess for me; I can pick out certain words and take an extra few seconds to translate them, by which point the meaning is lost and the conversation has moved on. But I keep practicing, listening to the same songs and hoping someday I’ll understand the lyrics as effortlessly as I would in English.
Learning languages is difficult. Words are packed full of meaning, not just at surface level but deeper, with context overlaying literal interpretation overlaying etymology and connotation all swirled around in there too. The difference between yell and shout is subtle, but they sound different to our (or at least my) mind’s ear–the former being sharp and painful, the latter being lower and generally more frightening.
When we translate words to other languages we lose meaning. It’s why translators often appear on book jackets–translating a work isn’t just flipping a word from one language to another. It’s analyzing all those other elements like connotation and context and wordplay and literal meaning to create something like, but not exactly the original. It’s an art in itself, and different translations will yield dramatically different responses from readers.
Case in point: my least favorite work of Greek literature is The Iliad, not because it’s particularly bad but because the translation I read was so poor in comparison to Fagles’ Odyssey and all the other texts I read, it forever feels inferior, amateurish, in my head.
When I write about words from other languages I can only rely on translation and hope I don’t lose too much of the meaning along the way.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
(Verb:开 Kāi [open, fire out, begin] +花 huā [flower, colorful])
To bloom, to blossom, to explode.
Hunched over an old book with tattered pages, Ming swallows a thousand curses and drags her finger over the ragged paper. She can’t read the words through hot tears but her lips form the letters, and a long moment passes, quiet, as she says the last syllable.
There’s warmth between her fingers like she’s clutching a hot lightbulb. Heat licks at her palms, growing, blossoming into a red chrysanthemum of flame. It burns but doesn’t hurt, spreading to envelop her arms and shoulders.
She curls her hands into fists. The flame extinguishes, reigniting when she opens her palms. She smiles.