Katy Payne was standing in the Metro Washington Park Zoo in Portland, Oregon in 1984, watching the elephants. She’s a Bioacoustics researcher, and she noticed something unusual. Everyone else missed it. In fact, everyone else always missed it. Or, if they did notice it, they dismissed it. ‘Dis’ or just ‘missed’, it was all the same thing. Unseen. Well, unheard, actually. Unnoticed. Definitely unnoticed. But, she asked herself, “why is it here?”
The air would sometimes throb. That’s a deep in the gut, gosh that’s weird, sort of thing. Throbbing air is a bit unusual. Most people don’t hear it. In fact, no one hears it. It’s more like no one feels it. What people do see is filtered. And what they don’t see is filtered out. Thrown away. Dismissed. What’s thrown out is sometimes important. She needed to ask. So, she did.
Why was it throbbing? Like a dull, resonant “hmmmmmm.”
Being trained in Bioaccoustics–in fact, in many ways, she has helped define the science–Katy Payne had honed certain skills which she uses to notice the acoustic things most people simply dismiss, if they see them, well, hear them, at all. She noticed infrasound, sound with pitch too low for the normal human being to hear. She had learned to not filter. That’s hard. But, as a good scientist, she had learned to “see” what most people throw away. As they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
This elephantine discovery led to more research into how these grand, intelligent, beasts communicate and into their ability to communicate over long distances. Elephant talk is really, really, like you ain’t heard nothin’ yet, really deep. So, it travels quite well through the air. It’s like elephant-sized bass, projecting a two or more mile bass melody to the not-so-near elephant friends.
If you can grasp the weight of what I’m saying. Isn’t all discovery the seeing of what isn’t seen? I think a truer statement has rarely been spoken. And yet, weighty, if you think about it.
We have to learn to notice.
Discourse markers are weighty little things that so few people notice. They’re like a bass carrier signal that carries the message forward. Like a resonate hum that ties the text together into a cohesive unit, even spanning large textual (discourse) distances.
As a simple example (this is a blog post, after all), Steve Runge points to Matthew 9:37. It illustrates a discourse marker which is apparently difficult to translate. Perhaps we can do better.
τότε λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ὁ μὲν θερισμὸς πολύς οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” [NIV2010]
How is μὲν being used? Obviously, it’s part of a μὲν…δὲ pair. But, Jesus could have simply said,
ὁ θερισμὸς πολύς οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
Imagine that! Same translation.
But, there’s a μὲν here!!! I can put my finger on it.
Hmmmmmmm. That’s a deep in the gut, gosh that’s weird, sort of thing.
Maybe I can find a way of conveying the meaning without using a word; but, I can’t just filter it out. I have to have a rational, sensible, linguistic reason for transferring the meaning into my language. The original author had a rational, sensible, linguistic reason for including it in his text given his language!! What was it?
Why is the μὲν here?
Steve points out that μὲν is a forward-pointing device that works like a speed bump. It’s designed to slow the reader down. I’ve thought of it as a little, tiny drum roll, leading up to something big. Quiet now…[the barely perceptible, low bass, throb, that only the trained seem to hear]…listen…here it comes. The speed bump and the little drum roll cause the reader to slow down and focus. It’s that sort of thing.
How do you translate that?
It’s a device that increases the intensity of both clauses since it signals anticipation. It causes you to drive slowly over the text since something important is happening. In this case, the μὲν clause and the δὲ clause become semantically bigger. What device does that in English?
And notice what I’m asking. I’m not asking, “How do you translate μὲν?” I’m asking, “How do you translate the discourse function being performed by the word μὲν?” The original author chose the word μὲν on purpose, in order to perform a particular discourse function. How do we make that same thing happen in English, in this context, within this sentence?
Then speaking slowly to his disciples, he said, “The harvest is large…The workers are few.”