In this paper, “Untranslatable Words and Incommensurable Worlds: Word Circulation in Shifting Language Ideologies,” I follow the trajectory of two Russian words over several cases of use: byt and poshlost. While poshlost is well recognized in the English language, byt remains a mystery.
“In this paper I am looking at two “untranslatable” Russian words that may or may not have made their way into English. I discuss language ideologies emerging in connection with the “domestication” of a new word. How do words make their way into language? What regimes of circulation, acceptance, and discard make them used or rejected by the speakers of the recipient language? What politics of translation surround these transitions? Drawing from theorization of language ideologies by Kroskrity and Silverstein, and theorization of untranslatability by Jacobson, Benjamin, and Povinelli, I am trying to trace two “untranslatable” words in their new contexts – “poshlost” and “byt” – and reconstruct what does the “untranslatability” do to the actual practices of translation and dissemination of notions and discourses in sociopolitical context.”
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