No one else can hear the baby speak, but I can. I can hear her say ‘up’ and ‘clap’, I hear ‘stairs’. I hear ‘string’. No one believes my baby says ‘string’, but I know she does, because she loves the bit of string that is tied to the door of the car, and she says ‘shing’. You have to listen hard, I admit that.
For months we have been on call and answer. ‘Ah da da dah,’ says the child. ‘Ah dah dee doo dah,’ I say back. This conversation is surprisingly complex, and gives me a new respect for birds, whales and chimpanzees. With three or four syllables, in all their variations, we can say, the two of us, all that we need, for now, to say.
Still, I dream of the baby turning around, and opening her mouth to say something wonderful and long and syntactically amazing like, ‘Can I go to the shops?’ I know it is in there somewhere — before her first word was ever uttered, there were full sentences playing across her face. The trick is getting them out of there — like pulling down the weather.
There is nothing so exciting as speech. A baby looks at your face as you say a word, and whatever passes between you as you hear the word back, is love and love returned. It is the gaze made manifest. Teaching a child to speak is giving them the world. It is better than feeding them, I realise, as I stand beside the kitchen counter, dropping scraps of words to my daughter’s up-tilted face. And I think that all words are sublimated nurture, or a request for nurture, or its provision. All words happen in the space between you and your dear old Ma.
I develop a theory that all writers have Major Mothers, Serious Mothers, sometimes Demanding Mothers — the kind of women you always know when they are in the room. I test this theory any time I am at a reading or conference, I float it across the dinner table. The last time I did this, one of the writers did not answer. He had started to cry.
Anne Enright, ‘Speech’ in Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 171-72.
Nimeni altcineva nu poate auzi bebelușul vorbind, însă eu pot. Aud cum spune „sus” și „bate palme”, aud „scară”. Aud „sfoară”. Nimeni nu crede că bebelușul, copiluța mea, spune „sfoară”, dar eu știu că o face, fiindcă ea adoră bucățica aceea de sfoară legată de portiera mașinii și îi zice stâlcit „șfală”. Trebuie să asculți cu mare atenție, recunosc.
De luni de zile tot povestim, ea mă întreabă, eu răspund:
- A da da da, spune copiluța.
- A da di du da, îi răspund eu.
Conversația asta e uimitor de complexă și mă face să respect mai mult și oarecum altfel păsările, balenele și cimpanzeii. În trei sau patru silabe, cu toate variațiile lor, noi două putem spune tot ceea ce e nevoie, deocamdată, să spunem.
Totuși, visez la clipa în care copila mea se va întoarce către mine, își va deschide gura ca să spună ceva minunat, lung și surprinzător de corect din punct de vedere sintactic, cum ar fi „Pot să merg la cumpărături, în magazine?”. Știu că e undeva acolo, în ea; fraze întregi îi jucau pe chip înainte chiar să fi rostit primul ei cuvânt. Șmecheria e cum să le scoți de acolo – ca și cum ai încerca să îmblânzești vremea.
Nu e nimic mai emoționant ca vorbirea. Bebelușii îți privesc chipul atunci când rostești un cuvânt și ceea ce se petrece între voi când auzi cuvântul spus înapoi, repetat, este iubire pură, reciprocă. Privirea oglindește iubirea. Să înveți un copil să vorbească înseamnă să-i oferi lumea întreagă. E chiar mai bine decât să îl hrănești, îmi dau eu seama, în timp ce stau lângă blatul din bucătărie, lăsând să cadă frânturi de cuvinte către chipul înclinat al fiicei mele care se uită lung la mine. Și mă gândesc că toate cuvintele sunt fie hrană pură, sublimată, fie o rugăminte stăruitoare de a fi hrănit, fie asigurarea hranei. Toate cuvintele se ivesc în spațiul dintre tine și draga ta mamă.
Dezvolt o teorie conform căreia toți scriitorii au Mame Impunătoare, Mame Serioase, uneori Mame Exigente – genul de femei cărora le simți întotdeauna prezența când se află în încăpere. Testez această teorie ori de câte ori sunt la vreo prelegere sau la vreo conferință, o aduc în discuție în timpul cinei. Ultima oară când am făcut asta, unul dintre scriitori nu mi-a răspuns. Începuse să plângă.
The first challenge I encountered was translating the word “shing”, in the beginning of the text. As it describes a word uttered by a very small child, who is still unable to speak correctly, it was difficult to translate as such. Therefore, I tried to remember what my children used to speak like when they were very little, and so I came up with the translation “foală”, which is what, in my opinion, a small child would call “string” in Romanian. The actual translation of the word string is sfoară, so in my Romanian version, I omitted the first letter s-, because it is difficult for a child to pronounce these two consonants consecutively, and I changed the -r- in the middle to -l-, since this is the way children pronounce it in the beginning.
Next, I translated the expressions “Ah da da dah” and “Ah dah dee doo dah” by reading them out loud and simply transcribing what I heard myself say, which was in fact similar to small children’s utterances. A very challenging expression was “pulling down the weather”, which I first had to understand in order to find a Romanian equivalent. I had a hard time finding its meaning, and so I translated it to “a schimba vremea”, which in English would be “to change the weather”. A beautiful expression which I enjoyed translating was “there were full sentences playing across her face”. I could almost see that little baby trying to speak, her eyes communicating with her mother, before she was able to clearly express what she wanted to say.
Therefore, the expression in Romanian in “chipul ei exprima fraze întregi” (En. “her face expressed entire sentences”). “It is the gaze made manifest” is another example of a tricky expression. I connected it with the word love mentioned in the previous sentence, and I translated it to “Este un manifest de iubire făcut prin intermediul unei priviri”. My reasoning was that the baby expresses her love simply by gazing at her mother. “…I realise, as I stand beside the kitchen counter, dropping scraps of words to my daughter’s up-tilted face.” Although the meaning of this sentence was very clear to me, the Romanian language does not allow for the same choice of words and word order (scraps of words, dropping, up-tilted face). Major Mothers, Serious Mothers and Demanding Mothers preserve their capital letters in the Romanian translation, as I consider that capital letter to be carrying a great deal of meaning. These are categories of mothers who are of great importance in the development of their children and in them becoming writers. Therefore, the Romanian reader should be shown just how important their role is, including by preserving that capital letter. All in all, the text was both interesting and challenging, and I enjoyed translating it.
The challenges I encountered while translating this text were less related to grammar (like in the other text, “Unforgiven”) and more related to finding the Romanian equivalents of certain words and expressions. First of all, the grammar related challenge: I instinctively translated the word “baby” as “bebeluș”, which, of course, means “baby”. But, in Romanian, words have genders and bebeluș is masculine. The text then refers to the baby as “she” and I thought it might be a little bit odd or it might sound a little unnatural to refer to a masculine noun using “she” in Romanian. Therefore, I tried to find a feminine noun for baby, but all I could come up with was “copilă” and this word refers more to a female child, often understood as being older than a baby. I eventually decided to leave the translation as “bebeluș” because I do not think there was another option in Romanian and maybe it is just something that stood out to me but would be totally normal for other Romanian speakers/readers.
Secondly, the challenging words and expressions:
• “clap” – in English, the word “clap” is an onomatopoeia that sounds like the sound made when you clap your hands. However, in Romanian, the word “clap” as a verb is “a bate din palme” and could not be used in this context. Therefore, I used an onomatopoeia that sounds similar to clap (“pac”), even though it does not bring the idea of clapping to mind. • “call and answer” – this was an expression that was actually hard to find explained in English. However, I learned that “call and response” in music refers to the type of song in which two characters have a conversation and I felt that is what “we have been on call and answer” refers to in this context – the conversations the mother and child have with each other. I did not find a Romanian idiom that means the same thing, so I translated it into “ne răspundem una celeilalte”, meaning “we respond/answer to each another” (assuming that sometimes it is the mother that “calls” and the baby that “answers”, and other times it is the other way around).
• “pulling down the weather” – this is another expression that I have never encountered before and I could not find explained in English either. Considering the context, I assumed it meant something like “trying to force something” or “to make something happen by force”, where that “something” is extremely hard to do – because it is impossible to change the weather just like that and it is just as hard to have a very young baby repeat after you. Thus, I translated it as “ca și când ai încerca să forțezi vremea”, which literally means “like trying to force the weather (in a certain direction)”.