Please help translate these sentence from a short story by Peter Watts
January 28, 2011 12:50 PM   Subscribe

In the short story "Malak" by Peter Watts, what is the language and meaning of these two sentences?

This story is included in the collection Engineering Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan. Some fans and I have been discussing the story in a fan forum. I'm not going to spoil the story, beyond quoting four lines of dialog. The dialog doesn't give the story away.

First dialog:
google doc with scanned image of first sentence

This is followed by "hartsandmyndsmyfrendhartsandmynds" probably meaning "hearts and minds, my friend, hearts and minds".

Second dialog:
google doc with scanned image of second sentence

This is followed by "That's it then. We're really gonna do this?"
posted by bleary to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
The first one just gives me a 'Internal Server Error' page. The second one is in Arabic script.
posted by hattifattener at 1:00 PM on January 28, 2011

Foo, I thought the google docs would work.

I uploaded the scans to flickr.

sentence 1

sentence 2

I don't know what script it is in, not sure that it is Arabic.

The story is set in Afghanistan, and I don't know what language it would be. I did a search on languages spoken in Afghanistan and thought maybe Dari, but I don't know.
posted by bleary at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2011

It's definitely Arabic script. A Google search revealed that 85% of the Afghan population speaks either Dari or Pashto, and both are written in Arabic script. Of course, linguistically, neither Dari nor Pashto is related to Arabic (though they are related to each other, and to Farsi, the major Persian language). But that has nothing to do with the alphabet used.

Can't help with translation, but I'd say the language is probably Dari, maybe Pashto.
posted by RRgal at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2011

Asking whether something is located in a place called "Qasl" or a place called "Yalkin"?
posted by Paquda at 1:55 PM on January 28, 2011

It is neither Dari nor Pashto, neither of which uses the dotted lam (ڶ) you see
in the second image; I think the only language that uses it is Kurdish (see Wikipedia — the pronunciation is given as [lˤ], i.e. l followed by a glottal stop). I have no resources for translating Kurdish (if that is indeed what it is).
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on January 28, 2011

Paquda: "Asking whether something is located in a place called "Qasl" or a place called "Yalkin""

I am not sure that translation would make sense in the context of the story. I could go to describe the setting a little, but didn't want to have spoilers.
posted by bleary at 4:18 PM on January 28, 2011

Here is more background on the story since it might help. Consider these mild spoilers. I don't actually think telling them ruins the story, but I wanted to err on the cautious side.

Before getting to the story. A little background. Ronald Arkin is a robotics professor who has written about the possibility of programming a "conscious" in autonomous military drones.

is it possible to endow these systems with a “conscience” that would reflect the rules of engagement, battlefield protocols such as the Geneva Convention, and other doctrinal aspects that would perhaps make them more “humane” soldiers than humans? I find this prospect intriguing.

On to the story. The story takes place in the near future at a base where semi-autonomous drones are deployed from to fly over Afghanistan, and one of them is being programmed with rules to modify the "cost" of neutrals when the drone is making lethal battlefield decisions.

It's not apparent to me whether the (two?) people working to change the rule set on the drone are sabotaging it, or are making legit changes to field test some new ethical rules set. I thought perhaps getting a translation of the sentences would illuminate that. The dialog occurs where the humans are reprogramming the drone.

The first statement in the Arabic (or Kurdish) alphabet is spoken, followed by the run-together English reply, "hearts and minds, my friend, hearts and minds". The point of view there is from "inside" of the drone, I think, and the dialog is picked up by its sensors. hence the lack of word boundaries. I don't know if the same run-togetherness is going on with the Arabic (or Kurdish) alphabet or not, or even if that is possible with that alphabet, pardon my ignorance.

When I looked up languages in Afghanistan, I got a hit that one of you above mentioned, and it said that Dari was used in business and commerce so I figured it might be a local contractor working with a serviceman in charge of handling drones. But I guess not.

I don't know why the alphabet would be Kurdish, maybe the author made a mistake with the alphabet? He's usually very meticulous.
posted by bleary at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2011

I don't know if this is incredibly bad form or not but perhaps you could email him and ask. He's a pretty amicable guy and has answered my email in the past.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 11:19 PM on February 6, 2011

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