Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- punctuation

I’m almost done but I want to cover two more features. I mentioned the trop on et a few lessons ago; “trop” are marks guiding cantillation of the Tannakh.  To understand this section, get familiar with this page
and the table here
The important column in the table is named “Shape”.
You can see the text marked up with the trop here and also listen to it.
You can copy this text off and paste it into Word for study but you can’t download the audio.
It’s also on the Mechon Mamre site but it’s not as neat.
In the war against “and”, the important mark is the bottomless triangle called etnach.  It marks the main division inside a verse.  It’s not in every verse.
When I rewrote Narrating the Torah based on Dr. Cook’s dissertation and replaced all the “and”s that represent a vav of narrative past, oblique modality, and so on, with an accurate translation, I still had a lot of “and”s  in there, mostly inside the verse instead of at the start.
So I went back through it and found that a lot of the “and”s coincided with the etnach in that  verse, and usually were part of a narrative past.  In most of those places (maybe 70%) I replaced the “and” by semi-colon and not only did the verses still make sense, they made better sense.  (I used colon in some places with the same result.)
So then I checked the trop in other places, and behold! Punctuating in coordination with the trop, made better sense in English. 
I haven’t learned to sing it.  (You don’t want me to sing it.  You really don’t.)  What I’m saying is what that first link says; trop are a method of orally punctuating the material to mark changes in thought, separation of phrases, and important words.  Punctuation is just as important to the meaning of Biblical Hebrew as it is to English, and that’s what trop is – punctuation.  Looking at the trop is a last resort when you have tried everything and the verse still doesn’t make sense.
But if I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now.  There is no such thing as a perfect translation.  No two languages have words for all the same concepts because no two language record identical cultures.  Every culture has concepts that mark it off from all the others.  No two languages express the same features using the same grammatical structures – they don’t all have the same cultural nuances requiring special grammar. 
Translating is always tricky because it’s easy to make mistakes; it’s complicated because you can’t do a word-for-word substitution and get the idea across accurately.  That’s part of why I did this page on the blog.  I wanted people to understand that understanding Torah requires understanding it in Biblical Hebrew to avoid all the mistakes and complications of translations.  And as I hope I’ve suggested in the discussions, sometimes understanding requires understanding the entire culture,  not just isolated words.  Go to the Fact-Checking part of the blog and start reading at about post #130, called Lost  in Translation; it starts a section about translations and commentaries that makes this same point from a different perspective. 
It’s up to you.  How close to the meaning do you want to get?

One more thing about trop and we're almost done.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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