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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: November ::
Literary Incantations Only in Non-Tonal Languages?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0560  Monday, 9 November 2009

From:       Ina Centaur <
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Date:       Thursday, 5 Nov 2009 20:57:25 -0800
Subject:    Literary Incantations Only in Non-Tonal Languages?

A rather zealous Shakespeare actor (with some alternative views) once 
told me that the most adept actor would be able to cast any spell in the 
world. Presumably, he meant the master actor would be able to intone 
each word so precisely, and with such skill, that the words would become 
more than just words  --  to use the analogy of "pitch-perfect," to 
strike the right "chords" in the universe, to turn words into a spell. 
He performs in English. This makes me wonder because . . . when 
Shakespeare is translated into another language, especially a tonal 
language like Mandarin Chinese, much of the magic "sound" of the Bard's 
words is lost. When casting a spell, a Chinese shaman typically doesn't 
utter an incantation, but uses body motion or the cauldron, and 
sometimes calligraphy. So, rather than worrying about what's lost in 
translation, I'm wondering if spoken incantations (in literature, at 
least) arise only in non-tonal languages.

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