Pick a power:

  • the ability to speak and understand all languages
  • the ability to travel through time
  • the ability to make any two people agree with each other.

Language, of course.

I’ve written about the infinite dangers of time travel in a previous Daily Prompt. In fact, I think they recalled all the PastMaster3000s after space-time was smashed to smithereens, slivers and shards of alternate timelines flung across nowhere through nothing. Kind of like a sci-fi version of the Tower of Babel. Now there’s an idea: I could write a sci-fi series based entirely on the bible. The Sci-Fible? Then again, it’s probably been done before.

Speaking of the Tower of Babel, here’s a cheat: one could get the time travel power, go back to the building of Babel when humanity was united and spoke a single language, learn this language and use it to unite the world when one returns to the now. Viola! all the powers, baby. Kinda.

However, je disgresse. Why language? Well, there are las razones obvias (danke Google Translate), such as employment potential or the relative ease with which I could travel or move anywhere in the world. And there are perhaps more profound reasons – language playing a crucial role in the construct (verb) and construct (noun) of culture, in both its being brought about and its being. With the ability to speak and understand all languages (an ability I have dreamt about since I was a child: it was always one of my three wishes from the djinni in the lamp) comes the ability, potentially, to understand all cultures.

But the thing that I find fascinating is all the literature that would unlock itself to me, if only I had the key. Sure, there are translations, but we all know that translation translates to change; translation is mutation, and in mutation some things are lost (and perhaps others are gained). Par example:

Nasiir stood atop the tower. Below him, the Grand Bazaar was a rippling patchwork, a wailing sea of silk awnings, seething with buyers and sellers and beggars and thieves.

Now, filtered through a few translations:

Nasiir standing on top of the tower. He under, Grand Bazaar is screaming silk curtain, is a mosaic waving sea of buyers and sellers and beggars and thieves and a kitchen.

See how it mutates. The tense has changed. Where the hell did the kitchen come from? I like ‘screaming silk curtain’ and ‘a mosaic waving sea’.

Of course in this exercise the translation/mutation has been amplified as I had to give a short, notable example, but the point remains: a translation will change a text. To read a novel in the language in which it was written would, I think, be an entirely different experience to reading the translated copy.

That said, this exercise has yielded some interesting results – the translations/mutations can produce some striking lines as words are grouped together in unusual combinations. And that’s what contemporary writers should be doing, avoiding clichés and producing original, interesting prose. It seems there’s something I could learn from Google Translate.


Daily Prompt: A Bird, a Plane, You!


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