Translation

2008-04-02

in Writing

Random literary insight of the day:

Trying to evaluate the authenticity of several versions of a text in a language you do not speak is much like being called upon to judge a drag queen contest when you have never seen a woman, and only ever had them described to you by others who may have done so.

I have had this experience in relation to texts originally in Greek, Latin, and Russian, and Old-Babylonian.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan April 2, 2008 at 11:18 pm

It’s not true. Just because you can speak greek doesn’t mean you’ll know anything about what the terms mean – you might just accept given translations. On the other hand, you could interrogate the scholarly tradition and make some informed decisions about what’s going on with certain terms, even though you speak the language only very poorly and don’t know the grammar.

You make the mistake of thinking it’s only possible to begin to think in the way of a language by speaking that language, and while its possible, its by no means guarenteed. It’s perfectly possible to speak french while remaining entirely within an english mindset, and just using words as translations (this is why we get “anglicisms”). Someone speaking in this way has no special reason to be able to judge the translation of a text.

Of course, speaking a language is the best way to begin to get into it, but to say it’s the only way is to mistake saying for thinking – it is perfectly possible to do one without the other.

Litty April 3, 2008 at 10:16 pm

What did you read in Old-Babylonian?

Milan April 3, 2008 at 10:44 pm

The Epic of Gilgamesh

It was written during the Third Dynasty of Ur (2150-2000 BC) and I read several translations in first year university.

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