Thursday, November 24, 2011

So now we know it: they sound ridiculous

Some Portuguese academic writing makes use of a high-flown literary style that is entirely alien to English. For example, we find the city of Coimbra referred to as 'Lusa Atenas' ('Lusitanian Athens' or 'the Athens of Portugal') and 'Morada de Sabedoria' ('the Residence of Wisdom'), without any indication of quotation or irony. The University is described as 'instituição mater cujo corpo ilumina o tempo com as luzes do saber' ('alma mater, whose body illuminates time with the lights of knowledge'), and elsewhere, the same author uses highly emotive terms to describe the construction of the organ for the University chapel: '. ..o grito de madeiras feridas, mordidas pelo impiedoso ferro e adoçadas pelo artífice' ('...the scream of wounded timber, bitten by merciless iron and sweetened by craftsmen').
This kind of diction risks sounding ridiculous if rendered literally into English, for which reason it usually has to be neutralized in translation.

Karen Benett, Academic Writing in Portugal, 1: Discourses in Conflict, Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 2011

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