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JAN 03, 2021 • 7 min read
This essay is part of a collection of personal statements written by Crimson students who were accepted to their top-choice universities in the US and UK. By bringing together nearly 25 of our best students’ essays, we want to provide inspiration for future students with the same aspirations and goals. This series will showcase the wonderful variety in our student’s essay creations — powered by their personal voice and supported by their dedicated Crimson essay mentors. Ready to be inspired? Let’s go...
Does a joke lose its impact if you have to read the footnotes?
This is the question that crossed my mind when reading the poem 'Brinco de Freira' from 'The New Portuguese Letters'. The translator described the poem, which is full of 'linguistic playfulness', as virtually 'untranslatable'. Wordplay hinges on immediate recognition of cultural references; it seemed to me that this could not be captured in the footnotes and the humour had been lost in translation. Initially, the pitfalls of verse translation appeared vastly more complex than my experience of translating captions for Pre-Hispanic artefacts during my World Challenge expedition to Ecuador. I realised, however, that thousands of years of historical and social change involving a transition from indigenous languages to modern Spanish and then into English would have inevitably seen a gradual loss of the artefacts' cultural resonance.
These obstacles on the journey between languages also exist at the minute grammatical level. I have recently been fascinated by 'el lenguaje inclusivo' in the Hispanic world as, due to the gendered nature of the grammar that underpins Romance languages, many feel as though they need to go through 'an act of translation' to be included in a group that is both historically and grammatically masculine. It was through my interest in this grammatical development that I discovered the Latinx poetry movement, with the 'x 'including those excluded by binary gender, but also with poets such as Juan Felipe Herrera defying external translation by writing bilingually himself. For me this has highlighted the immense power of language: for even through something as seemingly insignificant as a single letter (the 'terreno micropolítico' as Silvia Gil described it in the Hispanic Review), one can prompt others to question the language that they use and the social norms that are contained within.
From the national stage to the internal monologue, language is intrinsic to the human experience and therefore a command of multiple languages is an immense responsibility. At a lecture I attended at KCL, Dr. Tessa Hauswedell explained the link between language and nation building, commenting on how throughout history governments have cultivated a singular language to foster a national identity. This insight into the political power of language prompted me, whilst at Salamanca University's Summer School, to use their libraries to compose my A Level Spanish Independent Project on the co-official languages system in Spain. There I read the Catalan academic Jesús Tusón's chapter 'Patrimonio Natural: Elogio y defensa de la diversidad lingüística' and was struck by a fictional city he used as a metaphor for monolingualism: the inhabitants never encounter any other language and therefore lack not only the ability to comprehend difference but also fail to recognise the value of their own language. Sitting in this library surrounded by more Spanish literature than I had ever seen, I felt very much like the inhabitant of that city who ventures outside and discovers the vast linguistic world that exists beyond their experience. It is this feeling of intellectual and personal fulfilment that propels me to study modern languages at a higher level.
Outside the academic sphere, I have seen the power of language to change opinion and aid progress. Whether it be running a panel with politicians at my 'Stay Connected' knife crime prevention event, chairing the Sixth Form debating society or as a member of my local Youth Parliament, my agency as a young person has been entirely shaped by my ability to express my experiences and be persuasive in my campaigns for change. A Modern Languages degree will begin to enable me to do the same in the Hispanic and Lusophone world.
NEXT WEEK: Read the essay that got Sam T. into Harvard and Yale!
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