Considerations Of Verbal And Idea Rendition -- By: Earl S. Kalland
BETS 10:2 (Spring 1967) p. 88
Considerations Of Verbal And Idea Rendition
“The modern translator,” says Professor Schwarz of University College in London, “attempts to produce in his own language the thought contained in the work as a whole, in each sentence and even each word within its context.” 1 Attempt to do this, one might, but he will never succeed, and one is apt to be traumatically disillusioned in the process. If Professor Schwarz had ended his statement with the observation on translating the thought within each sentence, success would be possible. It is not possible, however, to translate the meaning of “each word within its context,” even though “within its context” does greatly limit the idea of translating each word. This cannot be done because communication is not in separate words. The unit of thought in language is not a word but a sentence. Even the sentence cannot be understood out of its context, though it might be a true unit of thought.
One notices that persons speaking in foreign tongues almost invariably speak rapidly. Only with difficulty can we separate words one from the other when we listen to a native speak in a language we are attempting to learn. The native speaks in sentences while the learner attempts to separate the sentence into words with which he might be familiar.
Will you pardon a personal reminiscence?
During one of my first classes in Hebrew, the professor distributed to each student a list of Hebrew words together with some of their meanings. What reaction other students experienced, I did not know, but mine was one of frustrating consternation. One Hebrew word in the list was given thirteen different meanings, some of which had no discernible relation to one another. Before this experience I had studied English, Norwegian, Latin and Greek, but the real impact of the sentence as the unit of thought had never really penetrated my mind. Hence, the frustration! Words have different meanings in different settings. This is true in every language. Ronald Knox points to the failure in translating the true meaning of the Hebrew word shalom because of a word for word tradition of translating shalom as peace, when it ought, in some places, be translated health or some such word. 2
Whether it was the failure to understand the nature of language and communication or an excessive veneration for separate words or a lack of knowledge regarding translation from one language to another, the notion of word for word translation as “literal” or “true to the original” has
BETS 10:2 (Spring 1967) p. 89
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