Is Language the problem, The English Language ?

Tanglefoot

New member
The stuff that many or perhaps some of us struggle with regards the dance that we do to what is to all intents and purposes foreign music, are we as English language users limited in our expression through the English language being limited in it's expression ?

As I have seen it myself and had it explained for the purposes of choreography the word used as a translation from the Arabic doesn't mean exactly what it says in English, where English speakers struggle to explain what is really meant in the Arabic language and those of us with mind boggling struggle to translate what is trying to be said into dance movement, where I have come to understand the English language is somewhat mechanical in nature, where were the mechanical is the artistic often struggles.

For example take the romantic languages French, Spanish and Italian, all derived primarily from Latin and to a lesser extent Greek have two pronouns - a personal singular that can double for intimate and thereby enhance the intimacy of verbs following them, and the more formal form in the plural.
Nothing like this exists in English. Using a single word to cover all forms of love means that we must include many more words and phrases with the word to get at what kind and type of love we mean, where we still might not get at exactly what we are trying to say.

What we think and what we feel we try to fit into our language to communicate with others, does anyone think what we struggle with in dance could the English language be responsible for in part for through the English language not having a large range of human expression and expression particularly where the romantic is concerned ?
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
Just some random thoughts:

1) English is one of the most difficult languages on earth to learn as its literally a polyglot of many other languages.

2) Idioms don't translate. They just don't.

3) I distrust Anglicizations/transliterations. My "second language" is (VERY bad) Greek. Most of the time an Anglicization of Greek is misleading at best, downright wrong at worst - I want to read the original Greek if possible, even if I have to have my Greek/English dictionary in hand. Greek & English share alphabetical roots - I am forced to assume that Anglicizations from "alien" alphabets such as Arabic or Hebrew have to be even less reliable - not to mention oriental languages such as Chinese (whose transliterations often make zero sense to me)!
 

Roshanna

New member
3) I distrust Anglicizations/transliterations. My "second language" is (VERY bad) Greek. Most of the time an Anglicization of Greek is misleading at best, downright wrong at worst - I want to read the original Greek if possible, even if I have to have my Greek/English dictionary in hand. Greek & English share alphabetical roots - I am forced to assume that Anglicizations from "alien" alphabets such as Arabic or Hebrew have to be even less reliable - not to mention oriental languages such as Chinese (whose transliterations often make zero sense to me)!
I taught myself to read Arabic script a couple of years ago, and can confirm that the transliterations used by a lot of dancers are... odd. There *are* reasonable, consistent transliteration schemes out there that do things like consistently represent the sounds that don't exist in English, but they still don't take into account stuff like regional dialects. And they don't generally seem to be used in the dance world. The plus side is, learning the script isn't actually that hard, and there are some good self-study resources out there (I used the "Mastering Arabic" book by Wightwick & Jafar).
 

Roshanna

New member
I do think the language barrier is a problem if you want to go down the route of really appreciating and responding emotionally to Arabic music. This is the main reason I am interested in learning Arabic. At the moment I spend a reasonable amount of time listening to songs whilst following along with the lyrics in Arabic and the translation, which is the best I can manage as an English speaker but still doesn't help with idiom and metaphor unless the translator has included an explanation...

(on a bit of a tangent, I get really frustrated when I see dancers correcting each other on the spelling of words which have been transliterated from Arabic and therefore have no 'correct' spelling in English *facepalm*)
 

Aniseteph

New member
I don't think English is mechanical or limiting in terms of conveying subtleties of meaning. Tell it to Shakespeare or <insert name of favourite poet here>. I was listening to an Arabic speaker translating a song for a dancer recently - there were all sorts of nuances and shades of meaning that didn't translate directly but nothing that was so esoteric that English couldn't cover it.

I'm not saying that learning Arabic so you can appreciate it better isn't a good thing, and of course it's important to know what you were dancing to, and it helps if you can hear the words and understand directly. But for me it's dancing to the music that matters. Getting to the point when you're worrying about whether she loves him like the air she breathes or like the sunshine on her face or with a heart-whole ecstasy that withers and burns and scorches and stings, or some idiomatic way that doesn't translate... I think it's missing the point. Interpreting a song at that level is acting, not dancing. IMHO.
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
(on a bit of a tangent, I get really frustrated when I see dancers correcting each other on the spelling of words which have been transliterated from Arabic and therefore have no 'correct' spelling in English *facepalm*)
Exactly!
 

Kashmir

New member
Just some random thoughts:

1) English is one of the most difficult languages on earth to learn as its literally a polyglot of many other languages.
<snip>
3) I distrust Anglicizations/transliterations. My "second language" is (VERY bad) Greek. Most of the time an Anglicization of Greek is misleading at best, downright wrong at worst - I want to read the original Greek if possible, even if I have to have my Greek/English dictionary in hand. Greek & English share alphabetical roots - I am forced to assume that Anglicizations from "alien" alphabets such as Arabic or Hebrew have to be even less reliable - not to mention oriental languages such as Chinese (whose transliterations often make zero sense to me)!
1: this is something I hear lots - surprisingly often by English speakers. In my experience - I've some experience in a dozen or so languages - although most not to very fluent - and English is one of the easiest. No genders to memorize. Very few endings to remember - Hungarian has about 70 - just for present tense of standard verbs - and there are quite a few irregular ones. No tonal system like Mandarian - or worse Cantonese! English has become so popular because it is easy to learn to speak.

3 - yes ! I so wish people would use standard transliterations rather than trying to sound out how a word sounds!
 

Kashmir

New member
Drat! The timer on the free WiFi ate my main reply. It popped up just as I transmitted.

Basically what I think I said was that culture is probably more of a factor. Language and culture do interact - but it is the Egyptian culture that I think people struggle with - not translations. The way they interact within families and communities is probably different. Their values of what is important is different. Heck - this morning there was a discussion about people's OE and how in ENGLISH speaking countries it is difficult to get a handle on other people's lives. I've often been confused by how people have taken some of my posts - here and elsewhere; trying to see what on earth could be offensive. (And from hints I suspect that is also true between different parts of the same country - what is "normal" in New York might seem very rude in the South)

So, getting translations are a start. But you also have to talk to native speakers. A classic was when an embarrassed shy young man gave me a translation and said this is what it says - but not what it is about. The whole song was a sexual metaphor that was widely understood by native speakers (it was obscure enough to fool a Lebanese though).

But go beyond song lyrics. Meet and talk with recent immigrants. Sign up for workshops with Egyptian or Lebanese teachers - but don't do just the movement workshops. Go to the folk ones, the film evenings, the dinners where teachers may be a little more open (being then often human beings rather than teachers). Learn Arabic. Visit Egypt - not just the tourist stuff connect with ex-pats who can take you where real people live and play. See the poverty and try and understand what it must be like to live with your parents until you marry (if you do) then move into the apartment above theirs - or to live in a slum with no running water or sewage or roads.

It is not a problem with English language - rather a problem with missing experience.
 

Sophia Maria

New member
I agree. There is definitely more to do with culture than there is a problem with language. I think it's a very interesting point that the OP brought up, but it would be too simple to point a finger at language as the main communication barrier here. I personally speak both English and French, Spanish decently, a little bit of Italian, and I am learning Arabic--so this conversation is fascinating to me, because, as you can see, I spend my whole life obsessing over language anyway :dance:

I actually disagree with English being a very hard language to learn...but I'm leaving that up for debate because it is my native language. I base this off of talking to many people who learned it as a second language, saying it really wasn't that bad. Looking at from my own language-studies perspective, I would say that English pronunciation is quite frustrating and there many irregular patterns in past tense verb forms, for example--however, the grammar itself is actually pretty basic. For example, we barely have to conjugate verbs, don't have genders, and barely even acknowledge the subjunctive tense anymore.

I would definitely disagree with the description of English as a mechanical language...I'm not sure where that's coming from, or what the OP means? Do you mean non-romantic? I'm not even sure one can say that. I know that there are wealth of ways to say "love" in Arabic and also in Spanish...but don't forget that there are actually a fair amount of ways to say "love" in English, and like these other languages, they have their own subtleties and context: love, adore, admire, have a crush on, fall for, head over heels, sprung...(just off the top of my head). Perhaps other languages have more richness than English where this is concerned, but each language has its own particular richness.

I think it's important to learn some Arabic, to understand what you're dancing to, and to understand the context and culture. However, there's really no need to worry so much about translation between languages. Just because certain languages have single words that aren't translatable into a single word in English, doesn't mean we anglophones are somehow missing out on everything. All you have to do is learn some of the language and learn these different words, and then you will have a grasp of their significance. Take the word طرب (tarab) for instance (did the arabic show up for people?). Technically we don't have a single specific word for it in English, which, yes, is culturally interesting. But for goodness sakes, that doesn't mean we don't understand what it means or have never felt it. Just because we don't possess a word in our vocabulary doesn't mean we haven't ever experienced it.

So honestly it comes down to the culture. I can dance to Zay el Hawa and understand what it means, and feel it, despite my rusty Arabic. However, the nuance that I might not get, is that I have had a very different experience, quite simply, with falling in love. I have loved Americans in an American social context. Love in an Egyptian social context will entail a different experience. So when Abdelhalim Hafez talks about falling for someone, of course I will be thinking of falling for someone. But I'm going to be thinking of my experience, which is going to be (and maybe look) different.

ETA: a) very interesting topic. b) ooo! It's my 500th post!
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Sophia Maria, I tried to give your rep for your 500th post but the system wouldn't let me do it yet. So CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!

One of the things I like about English is if we don't have an English word for a concept, we appropriate an appropriate foreign word. :)
 

Daimona

Moderator
As a non-native English speaking member of this forum I don't agree that the English language is the problem.

I agree with the former posters that it is a cultural challenge, but I also think it is a personal challenge. In addition to different personal experiences, some are more receptive to and expressive of the non-verbal communication we have when we dance than others might be. There are wonderful dancers that actually do this without even knowing more than a few Arabic words. Others need to work harder to get it. One way of doing it is immersing oneself in the culture of origin to actually get the grip of the social and cultural context is actually more important than expressing a song word-by-word (which in many cases doesn't make much sense without the social context), but not all of us have the same possibilities to immerse ourselves in the culture and we have to find other ways of finding our way through. Ways of getting there may be studying the culture from the outside by learning languages, studying in videos of native dancers as well as general body language, music, poetry etc.

Lyrics are still difficult on their own, though. As Roshanna said, it "still doesn't help with idiom and metaphor unless the translator has included an explanation..."

A good translator will find his/her way around the different idioms and metaphors and really need to know both the languages fluently as well as the cultures. There are still nuances that will be lost, but this is the price we have to pay as we're all different individuals with different experiences living in different cultures. Even if there was only one language on the planet, there would be loads of cultural differences causing people to use the (basically same) language differently. Just think about all the subcultures that exist in your daily life and how you behave and speak in different settings.
 
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Roshanna

New member
I'm not saying that learning Arabic so you can appreciate it better isn't a good thing, and of course it's important to know what you were dancing to, and it helps if you can hear the words and understand directly. But for me it's dancing to the music that matters. Getting to the point when you're worrying about whether she loves him like the air she breathes or like the sunshine on her face or with a heart-whole ecstasy that withers and burns and scorches and stings, or some idiomatic way that doesn't translate... I think it's missing the point. Interpreting a song at that level is acting, not dancing. IMHO.
Personally, having some kind of real-time understanding of the song when I dance to it doesn't necessarily change how I dance at all on a 'which movements I do when' level (i.e. I don't use it to do cheesy acting-out of the lyrics!). But it increases my enjoyment of the music and changes my internal emotional state when I dance, and maybe (hopefully) that comes through to the audience in a more subtle way. It certainly means I have more fun. I just don't get the same enjoyment from dancing to music without knowing what the singer is saying, and sometimes a song that I was fairly indifferent to before seeing a translation becomes one of my favourites when I know the meaning.

Learning Arabic would mean that I didn't have to do as much work each time I heard a new song to actually get to that stage. Going through songs with a line-by-line translation to the point where you know which bit comes where is quite labour-intensive, but I still find it worthwhile - but to be able to get there without having to put in so much effort every single time (or when a translation isn't available) would be very gratifying.
 

DancingArabian

New member
I think it's not so much the English language but the interpretation behind the translator in addition to how it's translated.

When I was helping my husband learn Spanish be bad a hard time with the concept that many things had more than one translation - literal and conceptual. The conceptual one was always easily understood and the literal one was often a little dramatic.

For example, to thank someone some of us will say 'mil gracias' which literally translates to "one thousand thanks" and conceptually translates as just "thank you very much".

I'm sure the same is true with other languages.
 

Sophia Maria

New member
Thanks for the rep :D :D

Personally, having some kind of real-time understanding of the song when I dance to it doesn't necessarily change how I dance at all on a 'which movements I do when' level (i.e. I don't use it to do cheesy acting-out of the lyrics!). But it increases my enjoyment of the music and changes my internal emotional state when I dance, and maybe (hopefully) that comes through to the audience in a more subtle way. It certainly means I have more fun. I just don't get the same enjoyment from dancing to music without knowing what the singer is saying, and sometimes a song that I was fairly indifferent to before seeing a translation becomes one of my favourites when I know the meaning.
This is a very good way to put it. I've had the same experience before, where I liked the music, but didn't connect with the song and actually love it until I knew the lyrics.
 
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