abhillel at hotmail.com
Mon Feb 10 07:25:25 EST 2003
>On Sun, Feb 09, 2003 at 02:57:52PM -0000, Caleb wrote:
> > Translations of the Bible are probably actually getting closer tothe
> > original meaning - I was reading about a new translation which > makes a
>big thing of sticking to the precise wording of the text
> > rather than trying to give a more comprehensible sense of the
> > meaning, so as to avoid the
> > translators' interpretations of the meaning being imposed upon the > >
>text, sensibly enough.
>But as we have a bona-fide translator on this list -- Gili, Gili!
>Albeit translating DWJ isn't necessarily going to be like translating
>the Bible, since Modern Hebrew isn't the same as Ancient Hebrew, but
>still -- what kind of problems have you run into Gili, in translating
>fiction, in the tension between the literal meaning, and conveying the
>interpreted sense of the text?
You asked for it.
This opens up a huge philosophical debate which I will not presume to
resolve in a single email. I will say though, that what strikes Caleb as
sensible, strikes me as entirely nonsensical. One cannot produce a
reasonable translation without imposing an interpretation. It is no
coincidence that "interpretation" is a synonym for "translation".
I don't see how sticking closer to the precise original wording will make
the text anything but harder to read. You can't translate word by word,
because sentence structure is different from language to language, and
because certain words in conjunction with other words have different
meanings. (the Hebrew word for "no", for example, is also the word for
"not", "didn't", "won't" - the only way to translate it correctly, is to
analyze its position in a sentence.)
Another problem with this "precise wording" approach: often words in the
bible have different meanings now than they did when the bible was written,
and sometimes the meaning can only be guessed at through the context. If you
were attempt to translate them out of context, you would end up with a
string of nonsense.
How do these translators that Caleb refers to intend to translate passages
in which the meaning of a particular word, or of a passage in its entirety,
is contested? By inventing parallel words or phrases that can be equally
contested in the target language? That's nonsense. I can think of only two
reasonable ways of solving such a problem: one is to select the
interpretation that is most in keeping with the translator's overall intent
for the text; the other is to create an annotated text, which attempts to
explain the difficulty in understanding the original, and brings forth more
than one possible interpretation.
And then there's the whole matter of idiom. Idioms, when translated
literally, lose their meaning. At best they just sound stupid (heaven only
knows how many times the Israelites evoked the wrinkle of God's nose -
usually translated as God's wrath). But more often than not they are simply
And one last thought about the "precise wording" approach - the assumption
is that the only function of words is to convey precise meaning. But words
have other functions as well: they evoke images, they incite us to create
sounds, they beguile us with beauty. The "King James" bible may not be the
most literal translation of the bible ever made, but one of its great
strengths lies in the poetry of its translation. Surely a translation of a
holy text *needs* to be moving and powerful, no less than it needs to be
Okay, I've gone on and on here, and I'm finding it hard to follow my own
arguments. But the bottom line is, I don't see how "trying to give a more
comprehensible sense of the meaning" constitutes bad translation, and I
don't see how "literal meaning" can be viewed as distinct from the
"interpreted sense of the text".
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