Friday, April 21, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Ambiguity

All right.  What kind of fallacies do academics use when dealing with languages and the problems created by translations and commentaries.
The one that probably makes most sense to you at this point is ambiguity.  An academic disagreed with SWLT because, he claimed, it made translation impossible.
Which is a funny thing to me, because I know that translation has gone on for centuries but SWLT is less than a century old.
I learned about one of the main problems of translation long before I ever heard of S and W.
In high school, the woman who taught us the French language did a lot of work to make us sensitive to “false friends.”
Those are words and phrases that look like English ones, deceptively so, because they absolutely cannot be translated into the English words they resemble and still preserve the same meaning as the French.
One of the best examples is demander.  It doesn’t mean make a demand on somebody, with more or less hostility.  It simply means to ask a question.
False friends don’t just happen between French and English.  They happen between Romance languages.  French entendre doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as Spanish entender.
They also happen between Russian and English.  In the Mendel Beilis translation I came across the term lombardny bilet.  At first I thought it meant the record of a promise to pay a loan, because the Lombards of Italy were brought into England to help finance the government, after the Jews were expelled from England.  As I worked, however, it turned out that lombardny bilet meant a record of a loan.  Two people said they had them for evidence, one of whom was probably telling the truth and the other of whom lied almost as often as she spoke. The term refers either to bonds taken out to pay back money, apparently secured on future income, or pawnbroker’s tickets.
“False friends” have been known at least ever since boys had to construe Latin and Classical Greek for their tutors or in preparatory and public schools.  So SWLT does not cause problems with translations, it only shows why a given translation has problems.
But one thing SWLT excels at is putting a governor on claims of the science of philology, and that is next week’s post.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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