Translating Recipes 7: Recipes in Time and Space, Part 1

By Carla Nappi

…There is not a conjunction or a preposition, and hardly an adverbial phrase, syntactic form, or inflection of voice, in human speech, that does not express some shading or other of relation which we at some moment actually feel to exist between the larger objects of our thought…We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue, a feeling of cold.

– William James, Principles of Psychology

Welcome to a new year, dear readers, and a new installment of Translating Recipes! For this week’s experiment in translation and storytelling, we’re going to begin to consider the importance of time and space in reading and translating medicinal recipes.

As readers, our experience of a story can be profoundly shaped by those textual elements that are among the easiest to overlook. Terms like “to,” “from,” “with,” “above,” “on,” and others are some of the most important linguistic technologies that we use. They orient and move bodies in time and space. They create intimacies among objects, bringing them together and tearing them apart. They create communities by situating objects relative to one another: inside/outside, above/below, possessing/possessed by, before/after. Different prepositions accomplish this in different ways. And creates proximity. If raises conditions and counterfactuals. But suggests alternatives, removes things, or places them outside. By positions things in particular spaces and times, creates motion, and specifies conditions of means and method. Taken together, prepositions make simple juxtaposition take a narrative shape, they produce directionality in time and space, and they create movement. Prepositions thus allow mere co-presence to become a story.

This Translating Recipes series has repeatedly suggested that we need to take the recipe form (or more properly speaking, the plurality and multitude of different recipe forms) seriously as a genre and mode of storytelling. In the interest of doing that, we’ll now look at the work done by prepositions in producing a recipe’s narrative. As we are focusing on Manchu recipes here, and the Manchu language doesn’t include prepositions – instead favoring postpositions or verbal suffixes – we need to turn from prepositions to the many other kinds of language-technology that did the equivalent work. As I approach the kinds of relational technologies that do work equivalent to English prepositions in Manchu, then, I’ll be talking about the kinds of terms that may more properly follow or be attached to words rather than preceding them: postpositions and tense markers.

In that spirit, the next posts will unfold in a mini-series of reflections that each take on a prepositional attitude in the context of the Manchu recipe that we’ve been variously translating and retranslating: on, while, from, etc. In each instalment of this mini-series, we’ll explore the significance of parts of recipes that we tend to take for granted by creatively translating with them in mind. Check back tomorrow for the first experiment!


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