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Terms of Affection and Their Gradience

Languages differ in their capacity to grade words according to the emotional set of the utterer or writer toward the person or thing named by the word. In this respect, Russian (like the other Slavic languages) is incomparably richer than English or any other European language, let alone an East Asian one like Japanese, which is almost totally lacking in affective vocabulary (or profanity, for that matter) . Whereas an English name like Robert can only be diminutized (thus rendered the affectionate instantiation of the full name) univerbally as Rob, Robbie, Bobbie, and Bob, a Russian forename like Avdót’ya (as in the name of Raskol’nikov’s sister in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment), which is the demotic form of Evdokíya = Евдокия (< Classical and ecclesiastical Greek Εὐδοκία), can be turned into Dúnya, Dunyásha, Dunyáshen’ka, Dúnechka, Dúnen’ka, Dunyáshechka, etc. (A full registry of the pet names in Cyrillic could include Доня [Дона], Дося, Доша, Дуся, Авдоня, Авдоха, Авдоша, Авдуля, Авдуся.) Beyond the dropping of all but the medial consonant –d- (preceding the stressed syllable of Avdót’ya) in this case, each addition of a diminutive suffix to the remaining consonantal stem comports a further grade of affection, so that the speaker or writer can vary the emotional investment in the person so addressed by the build-up of affective suffixes. (This is not to touch upon the ramified means at a Russian speaker’s disposal when going in the opposite direction affectively by adding pejorative or augmentative suffixes to nominal stems, to those of common as well as proper nouns.)

While other aspects of the language of the original may cross over easily into a translation without appreciable loss of meaning in the round, the force of affective vocabulary––as the Russian case demonstrates––is  liable to be lost completely when trying to convey the nuances of affect the characters in a novel like Crime and Punishment feel when speaking, especially when its author evidently places so much stress on their variable forms.

No wonder one of the older (now obsolete) meanings of traduce was ‘translate’! Or as they say in Italian, “Traduttore, traditore.”

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

 

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