Thursday, June 26, 2014

Persian-English Translations: A Scene from Paytakht

I've been catching up with the third season of one of my favorite Iranian TV shows, Pāytakht, Capital. For the past few years, they've been showing this series during the 2 week Nowruz holiday. Everyone kept telling me that a Chinese character was introduced in season three, and I finally got to that part last night. But before that was a scene that, as a language teacher, really struck a cord with me, and my first thought was: must blog about this! 

So let me set the scene up a bit: Arastoo, Aristotle in Persian, is one of the main characters and engaged to a Chinese lady. He's taking his cousin, Naghi, and cousin's wife, Homā, to meet her. In the taxi on the way, Naghi asks Arastoo to teach him some English phrases that he can say to her. Arastoo says it's not necessary because she speaks fluent Persian, but Naghi insists that as the head of the family, he should be able to say a few English words. He wants to say man Naghi Mamuli hastam, pesar khāleye Arastoo, bozorge fāmil. Arastoo and Homā translate this in English together, but get stuck on how to translate bozorge fāmil. Arastoo says large of family is correct, but Homa says large is used for clothes and they should say big of family instead. Then Homa realizes they should say head of the family, but Arastoo says that doesn't make any sense and sounds bad because head means kaleh [the head on your shoulders]. 

Next, Naghi wants to be able to welcome her to the country. Homa translates this for him, but it's difficult for him to say, so he says look, I just want to say khosh āmadid, ghadam sare cheshme mā gozashtin. Arastoo translates this literally, and Homa is horrified that he's literally saying put your leg on my eye in English. Of course, that's what we actually say in Persian, but Homa says they need to come up with something else that has the same meaning. It all turns out to be too much, so he settles on simply saying welcome to my country. 

I loved this scene as soon as I saw it. It just shows how hard it is to translate, how ridiculous things sound in direct translation, and how the way we phrase things in a language may sound silly in another. Hope you enjoyed!


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