Friday, May 12, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- explaining translation

So the fallacy is that SWLT creates problems with translation.  What’s a fallacy is that the claimant doesn’t define translation and that’s the fallacy of ambiguity.
Is translation one-for-one substitution of a word in the target language for a word in the source language?
If so, yes, SWLT gets in the way because such a technique ignores multi-word idioms and the fact that no two languages have words for all the same concepts, because concepts are culture-based and each language represents a different culture.
If not, then SWLT doesn’t get in the way, it just makes the translator work harder to get a good result.  The lexical meaning and grammar must combine with an understanding of the culture for two reasons.
One is that every dictionary, unilingual or multi-lingual, if accurate, will give more than one meaning under most entries.  Most words in a given language have multiple shades of meaning or have multiple applications, as with “intent” and “theory.”  Picking the wrong target word in translation produces everything from “not even wrong” to something so slightly off track that you can’t put your finger on it.
The other, of course, is that the translator can’t do a really good job on some parts of the translation without footnoting the cultural meaning of the source word.  A naïve translator who tends toward word-for-word substitution won’t do this because he doesn’t realize that he is translating incorrectly for the cultural understanding of the words.  And if the translator chooses, as I often have, to transliterate and not translate, there should be a footnote saying why.
When a new translation is commissioned, the publisher intends to make a profit from it.  She decides what price point she will sell at, and hires her translator accordingly.  She’s not going to hire an academic if she wants to sell to an average reader at an average price.
She then takes her chance that she gives a work from 17th century France to a translator who knows a lot about 19th century France.  The difference in date means a difference in cultures, from the Grand Monarch to the Buonapartes’ Second French Empire, from the Scudery romances to Victor Hugo’s realism. 
Something like this probably happened with ben Hayyim’s book, resulting in “time” as a translation for a concept that grammar calls “tense” and which is, in any case, wrong for a grammatical description of an ancient Semitic language.
Without an objective definition of “translation,” you can’t discuss this issue objectively.  But you can point out that people who knew nothing about SWLT, including the Septuagint translators who worked 22 centuries before SWLT developed, had problems of translation. It’s the context, stupid!

Next up, a fallacy that goes back to the Talmud discussion.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment