The Grammar of "Being"

From an article in the Dartmouth campus paper describing a fun recent event on campus:

Profs. reconsider Hamlet’s dilemma

That Hamlet’s famous dilemma of “to be or not to be” resists translation across languages is a result of linguistic, cultural and social differences, elements discussed by professors from the Asian and Middle Eastern languages and literatures department at Wednesday’s colloquium, “To Be or Not To Be, That is the Question: The Problematics of ‘Being’ in Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew and Japanese.”

The four languages represented in the lecture are characterized by contradicting conceptions of grammar, time, religion and philosophy that all diverge from those of English. The difficulty in translating the phrase lies not only in verbal conversion but also in fundamental differences between each culture’s conceptualization of life, according to the panelists.
Professors Kamal Abu-Deeb, Sarah Allan, James Dorsey and Lewis Glinert represented the Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew departments, respectively.

Sounds like a great way to advertise a language department. (Though my favorite grammatical fact about Arabic in this context – that it has no infinitive form – was not mentioned.)


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