Научная статья на тему 'Cultural heritage in a current context: case of Olonkho translation'

Cultural heritage in a current context: case of Olonkho translation Текст научной статьи по специальности «Языкознание и литературоведение»

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Ключевые слова

Аннотация научной статьи по языкознанию и литературоведению, автор научной работы — Находкина Алина Александровна

The Yakut folklore tradition is represented by a powerful and picturesque genre the heroic epic known as the Olonkho. In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the Olonkho ‘a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. This highly significant new status prompted a series of important events in the Sakha Republic, including the implementation of the State Programme on Preservation, the Study and Dissemination of the Yakut Heroic Epic Olonkho, the establishment of the NEFU Research Institute of Olonkho, the Olonkho Theatre, the Olonkho Land, the Olonkho Portal, and many others. In 2007, at the M.K. Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, UNESCO’s proclamation also prompted the start of the Yakut-English translation project of the greatest of the Olonkho stories known as Nurgun Botur the Swift, written by Platon Oyunsky.

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Текст научной работы на тему «Cultural heritage in a current context: case of Olonkho translation»


yflK 24-31

Alina Nakhodkina1

cultural heritage in a current context: case of olonkho translation*

*This paper is presented at Scientific conference "Landscape in narrative memory. Reality. Image. Modeling" supported by Russian Foundation for Humanities - Fondation Maison de Sciences de I'homme (France). Project №15-22-08501.

1. introduction

The Yakut folklore tradition is represented by a powerful and picturesque genre - the heroic epic known as the Olonkho. In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the Olonkho'a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This highly significant new status prompted a series of important events in the Sakha Republic, in- cluding the implementation of the State Programme on Preservation, the Study and Dissemination of the Yakut Heroic Epic Olonkho, the establishment of the NEFU Research Institute of Olonkho, the Olonkho Theatre, the Olonkho Land, the Olonkho Portal, and many others. In 2007, at the M.K. Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, UNESCO's proclamation also prompted the start of the Yakut-English translation project of the greatest of the Olonkho stories known as Nurgun Botur the Swift, written by Platon Oyunsky.

2. about olonkho

'Olonkho' is a general term referring to the entire Yakut heroic epic that consists of many myths and legends. Epic forms of folklore are created during the early stages of ethnos when such massive oral forms of folklore as epics appear. There are famous world epics such as the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the Finnish Kalevala, the Buryat Geser, the Kirghiz Manas, the Armenian David of Sasun, and many others. And among them our Yakut epic Olonkho takes its own place.

As the Yakut epic researcher Innokenty Pukhov, the Olonkho is an epic of ancient origin; by name, it is directly related to the Buryat-Mongol epic, the ontkho. The epic originates from the times when the Yakut ancestors lived on their former homeland in the South and

1 Doctor of Philological Sciences, Head of Department of Translation, M.K. Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University. E-mail: aa.naxodkina@s-vfu.ru

had a close connection with the ancestors of the Turkic and Mongolian tribes living in the Altay and Sayan regions.

The Olonkho is written in an archaic language enriched by symbols and fantastic images, parallel and complex constructions, traditional poetical forms and figural expressions ('picturesque words' or 'kartinniye slova' in Russian - a term used by A.E. Kulakovsky, a famous Yakut writer and philosopher - and word-pairs). The language of the Olonkho is rich in various figures of speech, especially metaphors, similes, epithets and hyperboles. The Olonkho is full of descriptions, as it is generally a descriptive work.

Thus, constant epithets are linked to the names of characters thereby connecting various fragments of the narration:

Of the front-faced,



Urankhai Sakha (Song 9)

In a traditional epithet "People with the reins on their backs" 'reins' symbolize the sunbeams as specific energetic threads. It points out that the Sakha as descendants of the Upper World still live according to the rules of their gods.

The Olonkho's bright artistic images and stylistic devices, elaborate poetic language and metaphors are close to the linguistic consciousness of the English-speaking readers knowing the poetic tradition of world epics.

3. translation issues

The most difficult aspects of translation are traditionally phonetics, syntax and lexical and cultural gaps.

Phonetic problems started with the transliteration of diphthongs. There are four diphthongs in the Yakut language that are as frequent as monophthongs: yo [uo], ^ [ie], bia p3], Y0 [ye]. The diphthong consists of two elements - a nucleus and a glide - and the nucleus has priority in pronunciation. We, the group of translators - Albina Skryabina, Zoya Tarasova, Sofia Kholmorova, Lyudmila Shadrina, Varvara Alekseeva-Neustroeva, Alina Nakhodkina and Svetlana Yegorova-Johnstone - used this phonetic peculiarity in the translation to make Yakut names and nouns shorter and more readable, for instance 'Cyoga^6a' [suodaTba] became 'Sodalba'; ^^xcmt' [iejeh'sit] - 'Ekhsit'; 'bihbiax' [Phieh] - 'Esekh'; 'KYere^flbMH' [kjuegePjin] - 'Kegeljin'. We made an exception for diphthongs in one-syllable names and nouns such as 'yoT' [uot], which was translated either as 'Uot' as part of a name, or as 'Fiery' as part of a constant epithet attached to the name.

We transliterated some exotic monophthongs based on their phonetic environment and the context, e.g. the Yakut letter 'bi' [i] is transliterated either as 'y, which is more traditional, or 'i. In general, while translating the epic, we ignored almost all the rules of transliteration, since it seemed to me that words transliterated according to these rules would be cumbersome or at best slow down the reading. Our goal was not to put off the English-speaking readers but to inspire them to go on reading this long poem.

Another phonetic obstacle was long vowels, for which we used the same strategy: we shortened long vowels in polysyllabic words and transliterated their approximate pronunciation, e.g. 'TyfiaapbiMa' [tuja:ri"ma] was translated as 'Tuyarima'; but kept to similar graphic forms in short words, e.g. 'enyy' [e^lju:] - 'Eluu, 'Afibibi' [aj"i:] - 'Aiyy, 'a^aac' [a'la:s] - 'alaas, etc. Some words are spelt with 'h' in order to show their length or different pronunciation: 'M^re' [iTge] - 'ilgeh, 'cэpгэ' [sefge] - 'sergeh'.

Consonants were also a challenge. Thus, g [g] does not have a direct counterpart in English and may be interpreted as both [kh] and [g]. I chose the last variant as the closest equivalent, e.g. 'Boxcogo^ofi' - 'Bo(k)hsogolloi'; 'ogo' [o'g(kh)o] - 'ogo'. This choice was motivated by a word 'ygagaH translated as 'udagan' (shamaness) in earlier translations. Sometimes I used data from Russian translations, e.g. the words 'bihbiax' and 'yga5aH' in Russian have the following graphic forms 'bicbiax' [Psieh] and 'ygaraHKa' [uda'ganka]. That is why we used 's' in the English translation 'Esekh' instead of 'Ehekh' - besides, there is a demon in the Olonkho who has a similar name 'Ehekh' spelt with 'h'.

We use the following principles of proper names' translation worked out by a modern Russian scientist Dmitry Ermolovich:

- the principle of the national-linguistic association;

- the principle of euphony.

Cf. leyekhsit [IPA transcription] - goddess Ekhsit [my transcription].

If one translate the Yakut word «BooTyp» (Hero) as "Bootur" it undoubtedly brings the reader to the English "boot", that is why we chose the form "Botur" without doubled <o> in order to avoid an unwilling association.

Some Yakut turcologists felt suspicious of the quality of the English translation of Yakut because they believed that it was impossible to transfer all the richness and depth of the Yakut language into another language, especially an unrelated one. In response to this view, it is appropriate to cite the words of Roman Jakobson: 'All cognitive experience and its classification is conveyable in any existing language. Whenever there is deficiency, terminology may be qualified and amplified by loan words and loan translations, neologisms or semantic shifts, and finally, by circumlocutions.' [R. Jacobson, 'On the Linguistic Aspect of Translation, 1959.] This implies that in order to convey the same notion expressed in the Yakut language by a single term, a speaker of English must resort to employing different lexical strategies, such as circumlocution, neologisms and/or loanwords. Our English translation keeps some exotic words where there were lexical gaps -- for example, when expressing units of measures (kes, bylas). To avoid transcribing too many Yakut words we add their English equivalents, e.g. 'mamm' [i'li:] is translated as 'finger-sized'. All such transformations were necessary to concentrate the reader's attention on the unfolding plot, which is already overwhelmed with bright unusual images and metaphors.

According to Dr. Lidia Romanova (The International Olonkho Forum, June 2015, NEFU, Yakutsk) Olonkho is a prosaic oral text written by Oyunsky into poetic lines still with no rhymes and metre but organized with the help of phonetic means: alliteration, consonance, assonance, anaphora and so on. Structural differences in the Yakut and

English languages make it impossible to achieve an accurate transmission of these phonetic means involving equal length and number of lines. But these phenomena can be compensated in translation by other linguistic means to transfer phonetic and syntactic features approximately. Fortunately, English poem - as well as Yakut one - is based on alliteration. Of course, nowadays alliteration is almost transformed into a nonfunctional supplement to the modern English verse and becomes an ornamental element of it. However, alliteration is a traditional part of old German poetry (Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian). In many cases only alliteration gives a structural certainty to old English poems that are not free from some monotony and colourless rhythm. Therefore we see that alliteration is a key element of the old English verse and in this respect to use alliteration in the Yakut-English translation of an ancient epic poem is relevant. There is an example of vertical alliteration or anaphora given below: Black horse lost, Broil broke out... Bride was contested, Battle commenced, Blood was shed, Bayonetted eyes, Broken skulls -Brouhaha brewed (Song 7) Some examples of horizontal alliteration: The fire burned

As big as a birch-bark barrel. (Song 6)

His strong muscles

Swelled and strained; (Song 5)

Where a fantastic sorcerous storm swirls and plays (Song 8)

We use compensation as the most efficient means to transform Yakut parallelism typical of the epic language into English parallel constructions: Buhra Dokhsun oburgu, Who has never been tamed, Whose father is Sung Jahin, Who has the thunder chariot, Who flashes lightning! (Song 7)

Compensation also helped much in our attempts to transfer word-pairs - a rhymed couple of words where the second component does not have any meaning and is added only for rhyming purposes but in our version both components have meanings: The eight-rimmed, eight-brimmed, Full of discord-discontent, Our Primordial Motherland Was created-consecrated, they say... So, we do our best to tell the story... (Song 1)

Another example of the word-pair is a popular Yakut expression «эрэйдээх-буруй-даах» [erej'de:h] [buruj'da:h], where each element means "unfortunate, unhappy, poor, pitiful, desolate, etc."It is often translated into Russian as a word pair with a diminutive too - «бедненький-несчастненький». We translated it like one word: Your name is Orphan child Ogo Tulayakh Of the Middle World, Owner of a foal and Of the batyia made of a rib bone, Your other name is The late-in-life child, The Miserable, the life-long sufferer, The Lonely Man Er Sogotokh, Eredel, the marksman...

All exotic words including interjections are written in italics: I am standing here, In the centre of a wide tuhulgeh, As big as a deep blue lake, Surrounded by a yellow chechir. Today I am praising The sacred white sergeh With seven seleh ropes, For I am seeing My dear golden-chested Skylark,

My dear copper-chested Birdy leave... (Song 7)

There was also a problem of "faux amis du traducteur" for example, the Yakut word «барахсан» often translated into Russian as «бедняжечка», «бедный/бедная» and into English as the same "poor" which is absolutely wrong transmission of the literal meaning. It doesn't correlate with Tuyarima-Kuo - the most beautiful young healthy girl from the richest family in the Middle World. In this context this word has the other meaning "dear/ darling" with a diminutive. Cf. Тунал5аннаах ньуурдаах Туйаарыма Куо барахсан. In the room There was dear, fair-faced Tuyarima Kuo With the nine-bylas-long braid, Her eyelashes fluttered lightly, A faint smile stirred on her lips,

Then she beamed happily, Shining as bright as the sun, Dazzling Like sunbeams. Her tender, silver cheeks Blushed prettily...(Oyunsky, 2013: 312)

The literal translation of the same Yakut expression "туннал±аннаах ньуурдаах" demonstrates also another semantic violation while translated in the previous editions as "white-faced" or "bright-faced" instead of "fair-faced". "White-faced" and "bright-faced" have the meaning of a temporary effect, not a constant quality. Fair-faced Tuyarima Kuo With the nine-bylas-long braid (Song 1)

While translating polysemantic words there was also a problem of a correct choice of a meaning. Thus, a Yakut word «обургу» - a traditional epithet attached to the names of heroes. According to the Dictionary of the Yakut language by Edward Pekarsky it has the following meanings: обургу [cf. with Mongol «абур^у, абур^а» huge, big] 1) average, quite, mediocre; quite big ДП.; bigger, more; big in size: однако! Изрядно! - Quite!; ай да молодец! Ай да парень! - these expressions are close to an American expression "good on you!". 2) an addition (sic) to the names of mythological heroes богатырь удалой - literally hero brave, молодец - literally young brave hero, and a loan word обургу и пр. [Pekarsky; 1958: 1777-1778]. But in olonkho the ord has more differential components including "bold", "mighty", "brave", "cunning", "smart and quick", sometimes it may be used both in negative and positive senses. But it always expresses "awe". In the Russian translation all differential components are omitted that again proves the idea of the importance of cultural factors in overcoming the untranslatability: «... удалой его сын Бохсоголлой Боотур», lit. "... his brave son Bohsogolloi Bootur', «Удалой Нюргун Боотур», lit. "Brave Nyurgun Bootur" [Derzhavin, 1975: 181], «...исполин Нюргун Боотур», lit. "...the giant Nyurgun Bootur" [Derzhavin, 1975: 188]. Born in the age of enmity Ehekh Kharbir, Three Shadows, The night stalker, The deceiving twister

Whose whirlwind turns everything upside down, Mighty Timir Jigistei, The famous Ajarai. (Song 3)

Borrowings are met quite seldom but still are a problem. Mostly there are borrowings from the Russian language. For example, Чэлгиэннэх чэрчитигэр Чэрбиэнкэ кемус курдук Чэрэлийэ эргиэн (ДНБ, Якутск, 2003, Song 2 : 80)

"Чэрбиэнкэ» is a corrupted form of the Russian word «червонец» - 10 roubles. The name of the coin comes from the golden coin issued under Russian Tsar Nikolay II. It was made of highly qualified gold of a reddish colour, that is why it was called «червонное золото» - "pure gold". In our translation we stress readers' attention on the material of the coin to create a simile and do not transliterate the Yakut form.

Shining bright

Like a golden coin

(Song 2)

4. conclusion

The Yakut heroic epic Olonkho is a text with a high percentage of national-cultural components that make the process of translation extremely difficult. An epic text contains a high degree of national-cultural presence of a specific ethnic group with ancient roots and history without a direct Western cultural analog. This significantly constraints the choice and the realization of a translation strategy and hence, heavily complicates the process of translation from Yakut into English. Therefore, in translation it is always important to consider the cultural factor, and when necessary to appropriately adjust the text, in each case, trying to find the best solution possible. This article discussed some of these problems, giving clear examples of each, and suggested some ways of obviating them.


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Derzhavin, Vladimir. (1975) Nyurgun Bootur Stremitelnyi. - Yakutsk : Yakut book publishing company. - 432 p.

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