Monday, August 30, 2010

Translation Intermission

Between the last post and the next one, I'm adding this useful observation by friend, fellow blogger, and Latin translator extraordinaire, Magister Christianus, co-author of the book shown above. Magister writes in response to the issues involved in the latest English translation of the 1970 Latin Mass:

"If the English were not over their heads, I would share this with my students to help them see the importance of precision in language and all that goes into issues of translation. At some point I usually tell them that I do not know how to translate Latin myself. They are shocked, and then I explain with a simple sentence like:

Puella aquam portat.

My first year Latin students, who are just two weeks into the year, could translate this as "The girl carries water," but I point out some variations. Which of these is the best translation:

The girl carries the water.

The girl carries water.

A girl carries the water.

A girl carries water.

"This can go on and on until you have produced 27 distinct translations, several of which are not Standard English, but all of which incorporate some, though undoubtedly not all of what is going on in the Latin. The closest thing to a full translation is something like the following monstrosity:"

"A girl, perhaps one in particular or one in general or even the concept of girl, but no matter what understood as a smaller or lesser boy and thus significant for her attention-getting placement in the sentence, though the attention may simply be to connect the lesser boy with the servile content of the sentence, is now in the process of carrying or in general transports, but at this moment or in general does nothing else with, water, whether that be aquatic fluid in general, a particular yet unidentified container of water, or the specific container of water that had taken the speaker’s attention."

Magister blogs in English at Bedlam or Parnassus, and in Latin at Ecclesia Latina.


Magister Christianus said...

Well, how 'bout dem apples! What a pleasant surprise to find Latin For Dummies popping up in my blogroll when I saw your post!

I am deeply fascinated by translation theories, and one of the first things I read in a translation is the translator's preface on his methods. Have you run across a book by George Steiner called After Babel? It is a wonderful and quite erudite book on issues of translation.

By the way, that sentence about carrying water comes from an article I wrote for the Fall 2006 issue of the journal Classical Outlook. It is available here:

Thanks again for including the graphic of the Dummies book!

kkollwitz said...

Considering the multitudes that attend my blog, your publisher should supercharge his presses.