Lecture explores cultural connotations for ‘love’


Tamil, Hindi and English have very different forms of the word “love,” said Subramanian Shankar, professor in the Department of English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Shankar analyzed the word in his colloquium, “Love in Three Languages: Translation, Affect and Cross-Cultural Inquiry,” yesterday in the Pane Room of the Alexander Library.

Anjali Nerlekar, assistant professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures at Rutgers, said she brought Shankar to the University because of his credentials in translation.

Shankar argued translation should be understood as a method and used the ethnography of Margaret Trawick, “Notes on Love in a Tamil Family,” along with a song and dance sequence from the 1960s Masala film, “Guide.”

The two texts show love translated across cultures. “Notes on Love in a Tamil Family” is the study of South Indian expressions of love that was written for American readers, while “Guide” is a Hindi production filmed in India.

Shankar criticized Trawick’s ethnographic study and her attempts at translating the Tamil words for love.

“There is not just a need to understand the branch of a text, but a need to understand the tree of the culture,” Shankar said.

Trawick lived with a South Indian family to study and understand their expressions and meanings of love. Shankar explained that the word “love” in Tamil has many different forms.

“In Tamil there is a word for love between brother and sister, one friend to another friend, romantic love or even a love for ice cream,” he said. “In English this is not the case.”

Trawick interpreted the different versions of the word “love” in Tamil using English words such as attachment, desire and devotion.

 Joyce Hanna, a School of Arts and Sciences senior who is working on her own translations, said this is an idea she learned only by attending the colloquium.

“From what I’ve studied, I’ve learned and believed that love and emotions are universal,” she said. “He showed me that love cannot always be understood effectively across cultures.”

This cultural boundary for emotions is why Shankar chose to analyze the song and dance sequence from “Guide,” one that he feels is difficult to translate cross-culturally.

“Guide” tells the story of adultery, lust and romantic love in India during the 1960s, topics that when covered in films brought great anxiety to people during that time, Shankar said.

The different forms of love in the film were love for one’s art, love for one’s child and romantic love, similar to the variations of love in Trawick’s studies.

“We need to understand what translation is and how it works and the level of cultural knowledge we need to access translation in a different way,” Nerlekar said.


By Erin Walsh

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