‘Parsa’ in Persian

In Hebrew and Estonian we have seen translators opening out the significances of the word ‘wander’ by choosing varied possible equivalences at different moments of the text and under the pressure of distinct historical circumstances. But this splitting and diffraction of meaning is not the only way that translation can go to work upon the verbal material of the source. It can also do the opposite, linking what had been occurrences of different words in the source, and binding them together into new key terms.

Kayvan Tahmasebian has traced this happening in Persian. Two recent translators, Bahrami Horran (1996) and Reza’i (2010), have both translated the novel’s first ‘wander’, ‘we had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery’, with ‘ پرسه زده بودیم ’ {parsa zada budim}. Tahmasebian notes that ‘the word “parsa” which is used for “wandering” contains the same connotations of aimlessness as indicated in the context of the original novel. However, etymologically, it is a contracted form of the Persian word “pārsa” which means “to beg” as well as “a beggar.” It originally denotes the movement of beggar, here and there, in order to ask for (porsidan) something. It was part of the customs in some Sufi sects in which a disciple was asked to wander around the town, like a beggar, and recite poems, in order to suppress pride and vanity in him (Dehkhoda Dictionary).’

Tahmasebian traced the word ‘parsa’ throughout Reza’i’s translation, and found that it translated a variety of English words, establishing a new network of association between the moments when they occur. The words are ‘walk’, ‘stroll’, ‘fly’, ‘stray’, ramble’ and – interestingly –  ‘haunt’. The video below shows them one after another as they appear: every word in bold is translated using ‘parsa’.

Tahmasebian comments: ‘the network thus established between English words (mediated by the Persian word “parsa”) has expected and unexpected knots. While the word “wander” can be easily associated with “walk,” “stroll,” “stray,” and “ramble,” the association with “haunt” seems a bit far-fetched. In Persian, this association is made possible through the collocation “ruh-e sargardān” which means “wandering spirit” or “wandering ghost.” These words have been used in the context of popular horror stories that depict ghosts wandering at night. The stories are not rooted in Iranian folk tales but have been imported into modern Iranian culture from European origins. Thus, they have an “originally” translational existence within Iranian culture.’ So this new conjunction of moments of ‘parsa’ in the Iranian Jane Eyre  reveals the influence of other mediations of different European texts.

Next: ‘walk’ in Greek.

List of translations quoted.

Text and animation by Matthew Reynolds, incorporating research by Kayvan Tahmasebian.