For the translators

Today’s post is from Leila Seitkhalilova, who teaches in the English and Crimean Tatar language departments at the Crimean Engineering and Pedagogical University, Simferopol.  Leila made the translation of Dream Land into Crimean Tatar; here she writes about the challenges of translating into her mother tongue.

Translation between related languages which share a similar structure is relatively simple. Translation between unrelated languages is more problematic. English and Crimean Tatar fall into this category: they are directly opposed (Crimean Tatar belongs to the Kipchak group of Turkic languages).

However, there is an additional issue which makes translation into Crimean Tatar language particularly difficult. The Crimean Tatars were forcibly deported from their historic homeland, Crimea, on 18th May 1944. They were sent to destinations throughout the former Soviet Union. A proportion ended up in logging settlements in the Urals, but the majority was scattered across the entirety of Central Asia.

In conditions when it was a struggle just to survive, people practically lost their native language. There were no schools, no newspapers or books in Crimean Tatar. People had to communicate in other languages – mainly, of course, Russian.

Now the Crimean Tatars are trying to revive their language in their homeland. Books, including school textbooks and dictionaries, are being published, but dictionaries are still not of a high enough standard. There are no dictionaries of terminology or good phraseological dictionaries.

This makes translation work very difficult. Because of the limited vocabulary of contemporary Crimean Tatar, translators have to fall back on dictionaries from related Turkic peoples. For example, while working on the translation of Dream Land I had to use an English-Turkish dictionary (the Larger Redhouse Portable Dictionary).

In the process I noticed the following: if the Turkish dictionary gives a number of synonyms for one word, one or two of them are invariably words currently used in Crimean Tatar. I had to conclude that the remaining synonyms were also once actively used in Crimean Tatar, but were lost during the deportation and exile. For this reason, reading and understanding their native language is hard enough even for older Crimean Tatars, let alone the younger generation.

When working on the translation of Dream Land I came across several other curiosities or difficulties. One concerned the translation of kinship and family relations. In English  the words ‘aunt’, ‘uncle’ and ‘cousin’ cover relatives on both sides of the family. Crimean Tatar is more complicated and specific. For example, my mother’s sister (older or younger) is my ‘tize’, my father’s sister is my ‘ala’; my father’s brother is my ‘emdje’, my mother’s brother is my ‘dayyi’.

I can give an example:   ‘I remember a story… and it’s one you can tell to your history teacher, because it’s about how Grandpa’s cousin Khatije joined the partisans…’ (Dream Land pg 104). I had to imagine on which side (mother’s or father’s) Khatije could be grandpa’s cousin. Thus I had to return again and again to the beginning of the novel to track who is in what degree of relationship, otherwise it was impossible to understand the kinship of the main characters.

Difficulties also arise in the use of personal pronouns. The English pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’ are rendered in Crimean Tatar as one pronoun: ‘o’. In order to determine who is speaking or acting, you have to add explanatory words (‘kyz bala’ for a girl, ‘oglan bala’ for a boy), and so on. Particularly in dialogue, I had to be especially attentive to who is who and what was said.

But in translation, nothing is impossible. After all, if one man says something, then the other, so long as he has enough desire to do so, will be sure to understand. And learn to understand each other we must, in the name of peace and understanding in the world.

Children's books in Crimean Tatar at the Gasprinsky Library, Simferopol (photo by barbara Wieser)

Children’s books in Crimean Tatar at the Gasprinsky Library, Simferopol (photo by Barbara Wieser)

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A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland


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