Journal for Lost in Translation Course

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Monday, January 31st, 2011

Munday reading:

  • Jakobson's three aspects of translation are problematic. Do translations of Old English texts into Modern English constitute intralingual translations or interlingual translations? Where does one language end and a related one begin? Are there clear boundaries between langauges, and how does translation theory account for changes in language over time?
  • Other than a passing reference to Princeton and U. of Ohio, Munday doesn't seem to be very aware of any translation programs/efforts/history in the United States, although he mentions a few in Canada and several in Europe. Is this because there aren't any (hard to imagine) or is his sphere limited?
  • The Holmes map of translation studies is fascinating when viewed in light of biblical texts in Old English. I can see where each subdivision of translation studies touches Old English on the Pure side of the map, but the Applied side of things is less obvious. Perhaps this is true of all archaic languages.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Alister Mcgrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture.

  • “Tyndale insisted that the Greek word presbyteros, used in Paul's letters to refer to an office within the Christian Church and traditionally translated as 'priest,' should be rendered instead as 'senior.' (In 1534, he altered this to 'elder.')” (Loc. 1163-64, Kindle Edition). – This is fascinating, since essentially "priest" (accoding to OED) is a long circituitous transliteration of presbyter. Elder, on the other hand, is an Old English word meaning 'older,' while 'senior' is a Latin word via french for "lord." So in effect, Tyndale moves us from transliteration to imported translation to native translation.
  • “...hiereus, used in the New Testament exclusively to refer to Jewish or pagan priests.” (Loc. 1165, Kindle Edition). – The word for this in Old English is a "sacerd," from the Latin “sacerdum” (per OED). This is ironic because Tyndale is oblivious to the origin of the word priest, which is a shortened form of the word presbyter. There is no way he could have possibly known this, but at the least it serves as a reminder of how arbitrary a practice translation can be where there are significant gaps in the historical/lexical record.
  • “...ekklesia, traditionally translated as 'church,' was now translated as 'congregation.'” (Loc. 1165-66, Kindle Edition). – This time Tyndale gets it right, although again entirely by accident and not through any certain knowledge of English precedent. The Old English word that becomes church is “cirice,” likely from the greek “kuriakon” (of the lord) which was used to denote a building...aka "house of the lord." It was probably picked up by Germanic missionaries in pre-Christian Teutonic culture (per OED).
  • “Other neologisms developed by Tyndale to translate biblical words that had, up to that point, no real English equivalent include 'scapegoat' and 'atonement.' It should be noted that this latter word was invented by Tyndale to convey the idea of 'reconciliation.' It can be seen immediately that biblical translation thus provided a major stimulus to the development of the English language, not least by creating new English words to accommodate biblical ideas.” (Loc. 1228, Kindle Edition). – The idea that Tyndale invented the word “atonement” is patently false, and easily verifiable as such in the OED entry on atonement, where it is attributed to Thomas Moore several years before its appearance in Tyndale's work. Even without Moore's usage, the verb “atone” is attested in Wycliffe's Bible more than a hundred years prior (and adding a common suffix to a word hardly qualifies as “inventing” or even a “neologism”). I agree with Mcgrath that biblical translation “provided a major stimulus to the development of . . . new English words to accommodate biblical ideas,” however I suspect that the vast majority of this development happened at the point in linguistic history in which the concepts were first introduced to the English people, and this would have been in the Old English period.

Jeremy Munday, Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications, Second Edition.

  • “We have seen how much of the theory of translation—if there is one as distinct from idealized recipes—pivots monotonously around undefined alternatives: ‘letter’ or ‘spirit’, ‘word’ or ‘sense’. The dichotomy is assumed to have analysable meaning. This is the central epistemological weakness and sleight of hand.” (Loc. 1104-7, Kindle Edition) – This is true even today. I saw a recent “guide to choosing a Bible” in a Christian bookstore that attempted to categorize the different approaches taken by contemporary bible translations. Ambiguous words like “literal,” “sense,” “spirit,” “meaning,” and “essence” were found throughout. It is possible to get a vague notion of the translator's intent using words like this, but even this is relative when two translations of supposedly similar approaches are compared.

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

In reading chapter 8 of Munday, the most thought-provoking section for me was the discourse on translation and post-colonialism. At one point, Munday says (quoting Bassnett and Triveldi, 1999)"these power relationships [are] being played out in the unequal struggle of various local languages against the one master-language of our postcolonial world, English. Translation is thus seen as the battleground and exemplification of the postcolonial context."

The irony of this viewpoint, for me at least, is that my own project is to turn back the clock to the time when English itself was the "inferior" language of the colonized, and Latin the "master-language" of the conqueror. I wonder if a similar argument can be made (but in reverse) for the progression of biblical texts from Hebrew to Greek and then Latin. Greek was the language of Israel's Hellenistic conquerors, and Latin in turn is the language of Greece's Roman conquerors. I realize this is an imperfect argument, since the Greek New Testament was written well after Rome's ascendancy, but the general flow of linguistic cultures up to this point seems to have biblical texts being translated into the language of power.

In Anglo-Saxon England, then, it is perhaps no surprise that the first translations of biblical texts into the vernacular are at the behest of King Alfred -- at the very beginnings of unified English power structures. But it's still complicated. Before their conversion, the Angles and the Saxons were the ones who "conquered" the British Isles (where Latin was already spoken). And yet, Gregory's sending Augustine to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons is somewhat of a "colonistic" endeavor. In the midst of the Anglo-Saxon era, the Danes conquer the English (although with minimal change to politics and language), and finally the Norman Conquest results in dramatic change in language and culture.

So if Anglo-Saxon biblical texts (and biblical texts in general) are viewed, somewhat anachronistically, through the lens of post-colonial criticism...who is the conqueror and when? And what effects of conquest and domination can be seen in the translations, or even in the acts of translation themselves?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Jeremy Munday, Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications.

  • “Venuti sees the imbalance as yet another example of the cultural hegemony of Anglo-American publishing and culture, which is very insular and refuses to accept the foreign yet is happy for its own works to maintain a strong hold in other countries.” ( Loc. 4877-79, Kindle Edition) – Seems like Munday is characterizing translation in very economic terms (or at the least he is characterizing Venuti this way). This reminds me of the American obsession with Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Product. But the resemblance here is not due to the fact that publishing is in fact a part of the larger American economy, in which much profit is made – Munday's use of economic language here is interesting because it presupposes that the value (or profit) is not money, but rather the works themselves. Does translation entail its own economy—an economy of knowledge, or perhaps cultural prestige?
  • In thinking of Walter Benjamin's approach described in Munday, I'm wondering if a metaphor for the translation process can be something along the lines of parent-->child or a "family tree." Derivative works (a la Cory Doctorow) are therefore not a negative, but an enhancement, a "value-added" proposition, not seen as identical or even striving for direct parity with the original--but encouraging a multiplicity of readings and understandings, and resulting in a related "family" of texts.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Jeremy Munday, Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications.

  • “The tension between the elective affinity Heaney feels for the [Beowulf] poem and the temporal resistant distance is therefore resolved by elements of the translator's linguistic and cultural background that link the source and target culture.” ( Loc. 5541, Kindle Edition). Technically speaking, this statement is only true if one considers Ireland to be Heaney's target culture. I'm not convinced he did. In fact, he was approached for this translation by an American publisher, was already an internationally known poet, and even the translation itself seems aimed at a very wide English speaking audience (hence Heaney's need to explain his Irish cultural background and Irish word associations, something that would be unnecessary if directed at an Irish audience).

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Ezra Pound, "Guido's Relations" in The Translation Studies Reader, Second Edition

  • "What obfuscated me was not the Italian but the crust of dead English, the sediment present in my own available vocabulary--which I, let us hope, got rid of a few years later. you can't go round this sort of thing. It takes six or eight years to get educated in one's art, and another ten to get rid of that education. Neither can anyone learn English, one can only learn a series of Englishes" (p. 88). -- It seems that as often as not, the target language is just as much or more of a problem for the translator as the source language is. I've often thought that, in relation to biblical translation, at least, our academic institutions emphasize mastery over the source language but severely neglect mastery (or better, artistry) of the target language.
  • "Let him try it for himself, on any Tuscan author of that time, taking the words, not thinking greatly of their significance, not baulking at cliches, but being greatly intent on the melody on the single uninterrupted flow of syllables -- as open as possible, that can be sung prettily, that are not very interesting if spoken, that don't even work into a period or an even metre if spoken. And the mastery, a minor mastery, will lie in keeping this line unbroken, as unbroken in sound as a line in one of Miro's latest drawings is on paper; and giving it perfect balance, with no breaks, no bits sticking ineptly out, and no losses to the force of individual phrases" (p. 90). -- Sometimes tone over meaning equals true meaning? There is a sense in which my own project strives for this: How to recapture Wulfstan's tone and flow, such an important part of Anglo-Saxon homiletics and oral culture, but so lost when rendered in print to a silent reader. I don't know if putting it in Anglo Saxon verse form quite captures what Pound is talking about here, but if it does not convey *the* melody it may at least convey more of *a* melody, which I think would be an improvement.
  • "There is no question of giving Guido in an English contemporary to himself, the ultimate Britons were at that date unbreeched, painted in woad, and grunting in an idiom far more difficult for us to master than the Langue d'Oc of the Plantagenets or the Lingua di Si" (92). Good acknowledgment of the fact that most languages are in a constant state of evolution. Not only is the process of translating like hitting a moving target, it's like hitting a moving target while on the run, oneself.

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Jacques Derrida, "What is a 'Relevant' Translation?" (tr. by Lawrence Venuti) in The Translation Studies Reader, Second Edition.

  • Reading anything by Derrida is daunting enough in its own right. Reading something by Derrida about translation, in translation, translated by a translation theorist attempting to use innovative translation practices -- the word daunting quickly becomes understatement. However, there are two reasons I really wanted to attempt this article: First, the source language is French, a language in which I have been fluent since childhood. I thought I might have the ability to measure how well Venuti does in his translation. Second, Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice (which Derrida translated into French) features prominently in Derrida's remarks, and this particular play has occupied most of my waking hours this semester (I am playing the role of Shylock in our PTS production of Merchant this semester). Armed with these points of convergence, I will do my best to make some sense of what Derrida (or Venuti?) (or Shakespeare?) attempts to say.
  • Unfortunately, I was not able to find a text copy of Derrida's remarks in the original French online. There is a print booklet available, but the closest library that has it is Columbia in New York, and as much as I would have liked to have acquired it, the interlibrary loan process would have involved more time than I was willing to give. Still, I can glean some of the sense of Derrida's French from the things that Venuti leaves untranslated or bracketed.
  • The word play between the two languages is evident from the beginning (from the title, even). Although the wordplay on the word relevant/relever would be apparent to a French speaker from the beginning, and in translation, one has to wait until the very last segment where Derrida explains each of its multiple meanings. Perhaps a footnote would have been helpful here, although that would have flown in the face of the very "economic/quantitative" principles for which Derrida advocates in the process of translation.
  • "A relevant translation would therefore be, quite simply, a "good" translation, a translation that does what one expects of it, in short, a version that performs its mission, honors its debt and does its job or its duty while inscribing in the receiving language the most relevant equivalent for an original, the language that is the most right, appropriate, pertinent, adequate, opportune, pointed, univocal, idiomatic, and so on. The most possible, and this superlative puts us on the trail of an 'economy' with which we shall have to reckon" (p. 426). -- This is a pleasantly practical (and yet expansive) definition of the task of translation. However, one difficulty I can see is that the metaphor of "paying a debt" or other transactional/exchange/market metaphors (which occur frequently in Derrida's remarks) implies a sort of zero-sum transaction. This is in particular interesting when thinking of Merchant of Venice, because the character of Bassanio offers to pay the debt owed to Shylock three times over, and as Derrida notes, Shylock refuses this on the grounds that it is not an equivalent exchange ("when it is payed according to the tenor"). In Derrida's "good" translation, the debt is paid, the job is done -- but he does not account for the fact that in paying the debt something is often given that was not requested, meaning not inherent in the source text is often added into the target text. This is most evident in Derrida's very use of "relevant" to translate "seasons." He notes three senses of "releve" that correspond well to the various English meanings of "seasons" (although as noted in a footnote by Venuti? Derrida? it also loses a sexual meaning not present in the French releve). But later, Derrida also notes a fourth sense of the word relever--to get up, wake up, ressurect--that is not part of the lexical range of "seasons," despite how well Derrida applies even this meaning as somehow appropriate. Words with multiple meanings are contextual, to be sure, but some meanings are more prominent than others, and it is this last meaning of "relever" I that I think of first when encountering this word in French. By his choice, I think Derrida has added new meaning to the phrase -- this is not necessarily bad in itself, and perhaps more desirable than a choice that entirely falls short (doesn't pay the debt), but it renders the transactional/debt motif somewhat more complicated than Derrida acknowledges.
  • Derrida analyzes the multiple meanings of many words in the courtroom speeches of Portia, Gratiano, Shylock, and the Duke in Merchant of Venice, especially words like merci/mercy, pardon, grace, and confess that have nuanced and varied shades of meaning between English and French. He analyzes almost every possible instance in this scene, which is why I was surprised to see one he missed: Shylock's final, simple reply after he has been stripped of his possessions, humiliated, forced to convert to Christianity, and asked if he is content with the reversal of his fortune. He has little choice but to answer as he does--"I am content." In addition to the bitter irony contained in this line rendered in English, the word "content" in French goes beyond mere satisfaction; the French "content" is closer to our English "happy" and implies an active state of well-being above and beyond the norm. Further, in both languages, the word functions in nominal form as components within a container: the "contents" of a box, or the "content" of a person's character. This heightens the irony, given the fact that Shylock has been emptied of his financial wealth as well as his identity as a Jew. He is empty, devoid of content. Not only is he dis-content, he is content-less. Perhaps Derrida did not find this word play as compelling as I have, or perhaps he had already made his point sufficiently and felt no need to expound on this last example. But I'm quite "content" to have at least appropriated the "content" of his method.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture.

  • "In a letter to William Cecil, dated March 9, 1565, Parker commented that it would “do much good, to have diversity of translations and readings.”(Loc. 1848-49, Kindle Edition) -- As I mentioned in class, I think this is a good philosophy when it comes to translation. It's interesting to see it pop up so early, and it makes me realize the continuity between print text and digital text. The printing press allowed for comparative translations of a text to a greater extent than manuscripts did, just as the advent of the internet and digital texts facilitates it even more in our own era.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture.

  • "In that each successive translation drew upon those that preceded it, the earliest of the translations—that of William Tyndale—can thus be seen to have had a considerable effect on its successors." (Loc. 2634-35, Kindle Edition) -- This is certainly valid, and I can acknowledge that Tyndale's translation is the easiest (perhaps only) translation for which we can trace "direct" influence. However, I still think that even Tyndale owes a debt to Wycliffe and the OE translators who first brought theological words, phrases, names, and theological/ecclesiological terms into the English language.
  • "The King James Bible is, therefore, not to be dismissed as a mere tinkering with earlier versions--the verdict of our modern era, in which originality and novelty often seem to be prized above all other virtues. The King James Bible is an outstanding example and embodiment of the ideals of its own period, by which it must be judged. It is to be seen in the light of the Renaissance approach to human wisdom, in which one generation is nourished and sustained by the intellectual achievements of its predecessors." (Loc. 2658-59, Kindle Edition). This seems a tad overstated. Is originality not also prized beginning with the Renaissance? Also, I'm not sure how much they valued their immediate predecessors--from what I have read of the Renaissance, I was under the impression that they valued antiquity, which in this case would have been at odds with a vernacular translation. Perhaps there is a good distinction to be made between the "Reformation" and the "Renaissance." There is certainly much overlap between the two, both temporally, geographically, and ideologically. But I do think they have their own distinctive hallmarks. The King James Bible (and the rise of vernacular translations in general) seems to me more appropriately termed a product of the Reformation than the Renaissance.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Robert Alter, Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible

  • "The decline of the role of the King James Version in American culture has taken place more or less simultaneously with a general erosion of a sense of literary language, although I am not suggesting a causal link. The reasons for this latter development have often been noted, and hence the briefest summary will suffice for the purpose of the present argument: Americans read less, and read with less comprehension; hours once devoted to books from childhood on are more likely to be spent in front of a television set or a computer screen; epistolary English, once a proving ground for style, has been widely displaced by the high-speed short-cut language of e-mail and text-messaging. The disappearance of a sense of style even makes itself felt in popular book reviewing" (Loc. 81-86, Kindle Edition). -- This seems like a really broad statement that would be hard to defend empirically. It falls right in line with the whole "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" and "back in MY day things were good" mentality. For one thing, it might be argued that "epistolary English" is a alive and well in the era of text messaging -- but as language generally does, the style has shifted to accommodate the medium. I've seen enough evidence of creativity amidst the evolving language of text messaging to suggest that even here, English continues to be a "proving ground for style" -- just not necessarily the sort of style that Alter himself might recognize as such.

Notes on Chip's Translation Project

  • Multiple versions and translation styles -- this is definitely a plus, and when taken as a whole, they give a more complete picture of what the translator (and possibly the original texts, although I'm not very qualified to judge there) is attempting to do.
  • Versions with the Hebrew text adjacent help to give a sense of what Derrida/Venuti refers to as the "quantitative" aspects of the translation, and I think that even for someone who knows no Hebrew, they serve as a foreignizing element -- mysterious characters that remind a reader that this text has its roots in a language (and culture) that doesn't even share a remotely similar alphabet with Western languages.
  • For Song 8:5b-7, it was the prose-ish rendition on page two that seemed to have the most poetic vibrancy and style to it. I think this is the rendition that is the most successful on its own merits as a poem, and calls the most attention to the translator, which depending on what philosophy/approach is desired, may or may not be a good thing.
  • This was the only project for which we did not get the benefit of two presentations, which was unfortunate, since we were able to gauge at least some sense of momentum or directional shift in the other projects.

Notes on Stu's Translation Project

  • I can really appreciate the goals of the translator here, and I think that literary translations of the Bible that maintain the style and artistry of one author are a welcome contrast to translated-by-committee norms. I do wonder if this sort of thing would be best limited to particular segments of the bible, however. If the artistic "voice" of an author/translator runs throughout the entire bible, it perhaps runs the risk of imparting a consistency of style to the whole that could not be possible in a group of texts that were constructed across centuries, cultures, regions, and source languages.
  • I'm going to diverge with the majority class opinion on the "roam/stake his life" question. I appreciate the word-play, and think it could be tinkered with to preserve it without sacrificing the meaning of the original text.
  • The use of hyphenated compound words is a good move (wild-ass-man, well-of-life-who-sees-me, etc.). These are both foreignizing, calling attention to the limitations of English vocabulary for unified Hebrew concepts -- and yet, at the same time, they hearken back to the Germanic roots of English itself, where compound words and kennings are a mark of literary skill.

Notes on T.S.'s Translation Project

  • The use of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse to call attention to the acrostic is interesting, and certainly works. At some point, however, I wonder if its heavy use begins to distract from other poetic features of the text. It almost drowns out the motif of law and righteousness that I think is there somewhere, and the otherwise creative metaphors seem like they too are subservient to the alliteration. Now that I've said this, I realize that the same criticism could be leveled at my own project. Perhaps both of us would do well to follow Seamus Heaney's example and let our alliterative rules be a suggestive guide and not a harsh slave-master.
  • In the second presentation set, the interchangeable use of V/W and X/Z is creative, and also a good reminder that our own letters are not quite as monolithic and distinct from one another as we are accustomed to think of them. I also like the use of internal alliteration (consonance) where alliterating on the initial letter becomes difficult. I'd like to see this teased out more, and perhaps a bit less usage of obscure words that seem pulled from the dictionary and forced into the text because of their initial letter ("Volar vectors" comes to mind). However, that said, my second instinct is to recall that the original text is an acrostic, which is contrived and artificial on some level by its very nature. I suppose that this comes across in the source language, requiring something similar in the target language.
  • In Anglo-Saxon verse, only "important" words are alliterated--rarely will one see a preposition, article, pronoun or even prefix used in the alliterative scheme. For the most part, this translation seems to follow in that mold, but there are a few places ("but how can a boy brighten / and you addressed your authority") where this doesn't seem to be the case. Wondering what principles of alliteration are in place? Also, being able to ignore certain words for alliterative purposes would solve the dilemma of the frequent repetition of "your" mentioned in the translation notes.
  • I really like the idea of creating equivalence between Old English runes and the Hebrew alphabet, and then letting this be discovered in the reading of the poetry. This fits well with the idea of this poetry being set within the context of a larger fictional story, and ties in (gives purpose to) the use of Anglo-Saxon poetic conventions for an otherwise Hebrew poem.

Notes on Jacob's Translation Project

  • Over the course of watching the video, reading the translator's methodological notes, and listening to the class discussions, I am frequently reminded of Derrida's remarks about works that are "untranslatable" (and his paradoxical assertion that everything is translatable). This particular project seems to bring that paradox to life, as the very existence of American Sign Language stretches the boundaries of what we know and typically think about languages. More than once in class discussions, I found myself wondering, "Is it even possible to convey a written narrative (that has roots in oral/spoken word), where word-play is prominent into a language where sounds are not even part of the equation? And yet, I am reminded of a deaf friend of mine who once asked if I wanted to know the ASL sign for pasteurized milk. I said that I did, and she proceeded to show me the hand sign for milk (which involves taking one's first and making a squeezing it as one would squeeze the udder of a cow) and then continued to make that sign while passing her hand in front of her eyes. "See?" she said. "Past-your-eyes-milk." And, despite my initial incredulity, this is the actual ASL sign for pasteurized milk. Homonyms evident in a language without sound. I can't explain it, but it does seem to imply that there is appreciation for word-play (even playfully so) in deaf culture.
  • Deaf culture, from what little I know of it, is also a storytelling culture. Genesis seems to lend itself well to translation into ASL. I do wonder what the approach would be for something as abstract as Romans, or Ecclesiastes -- or even something as bizarre as Revelation or Daniel. This question, however, results from a view of ASL and deaf culture as somehow "less than adequate" to a task where written/heard language is what I am accustomed to. I was profoundly struck by Chips observation in class that in the translation of these texts into languages like ASL, we may discover new things about the texts which ASL is able to convey (or deaf audiences are able to appreciate) where our own written/spoken languages have long been deficient.

Notes on Chris's Translation Project

  • The variety of translations given is, once again, a good move. In multiplicity both the semblances and the divergences of each translation help to cumulatively build a more nuanced picture.
  • The translation of M'od, and the difficulties it presents are fascinating, not least of which because I think there is precedent in the English language for the very word (veryness) that the translator is trying to avoid. The Old English Mycel has a very similar semantic range: it is cognate with the contemporary English word "much," and in Old English texts is used to describe plentiful quantities of all sorts of things, but is also frequently found as a descriptor of people, God, or armies to indicate "might" or "strength." Perhaps the best way to render its meaning in both senses is to use the word "muchness" -- and I would submit this could be a good solution to the problem of M'od.
  • Reception History as an intrinsic feature of translation. This is a novel idea, and one worth pondering further. It would seem to go against Derrida's quantitative notions of translations, but works well with his idea that given enough time and space, anything is translatable without a remainder. Given the history-bound nature of my own translation project, it might work for me as well. Wulfstan's sermon is among the most studied and translated Old English texts, and by relying solely on my own translation and the most recent scholarly one, I may have limited myself unnecessarily. Still not clear exactly "where" this sort of translation practice would fit -- an appendix perhaps? Preface? Editions of Beowulf often give a brief history of its reception in the introduction.