[b-hebrew] Hebrew and English word order
peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Jul 7 20:09:03 EDT 2005
On 07/07/2005 18:24, C. Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
>On 7/7/05 4:15 AM, "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org> wrote:
>>... it is simply impossible to render all
>>of the information structure of Hebrew into English simply by word order.
>L. de Regt seems to be suggesting an intentional (authorial intent) contrast
>in the word order between Gen 5:22,24 and Gen 6:9 making note of the
>movement of "with God" from clause final to clause initial position. I have
>some lingering doubts about this. There is a span of text between 5:24 and
>6:9. It does not seem at all obvious that this contrast exists. Nor does it
>seem obvious that the fronted "with God" in 6:9 marks contrastive or
>restrictive focus. As R.Buth has pointed out more than once, restricting the
>pre-verbal slot to topic or focus is unjustifiably mechanical.
Having now read the paper rather quickly (thank you, Clay), I would want
to qualify what you say here. I don't think de Regt is saying that there
is an intentional contrast between these two verses. His point is rather
that the author has made two different choices of word order in these
two different verses, and that there must be some reason for this. Now
as Hayyim (Bearpecs) suggests, this could just be to make a nice chiasm.
But de Regt obviously understands the difference as indicating that the
sentences have different focus structures, and is surprised that Alter
has not recognised this and translated differently. Well, perhaps
Alter's exegesis is more like Hayyim's, or perhaps he is simply being
inconsistent, as de Regt suggests.
>Further on (p117) L. de Regt faults Alter for his translation of Gen. 14:18
>"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine".
> L. de Regt argues that the clause initial Melchizedek (Hebrew text) is the
>point of departure. Then he faults Alter for making Melchizedek clause
>initial in English which according to de Regt marks it as contrastive or
>restrictive focus. There seem to be two problems here. The most obvious
>problem is de Regt's analysis of the English information structure. It isn't
>valid to say that placing the subject of the verb in clause initial position
>marks it as contrastive or restrictive focus. This placement of Melchizedek
>is unmarked English word order.
I think you have misunderstood de Regt here. He does not criticise
Alter's translation here. He merely points out that this is a case where
in Hebrew a clause initial noun phrase is not showing contrastive focus;
instead it is showing something else, something which is not marked by
word order in English. And I am sure he agrees with you the obvious
point that subject first is the unmarked word order in English. This
sentence is not marked for focus in Hebrew, and so should be rendered in
English in an unmarked way - which is what Alter has done.
>The second problem is more complicated. How can "Melchizedek king of Salem"
>be a point of departure when he is introduced here for the first time. L. de
>Regt answers this question but ... what do the rest of you think?
I'm not sure what you think de Regt means by "point of departure", but I
see him as meaning that Melchizedek is the major participant in this
passage, and that the clause initial position of his name in 14:18
indicates this. I suppose one could make this clear by the following
gross over-translation: "Now for Melchizedek king of Salem's part in the
story: this man brought out bread and wine..." But if translators don't
want to do this, the best alternative is to follow the unmarked English
word order, as Alter and most other English translators have done.
In all, it seems to me that de Regt is saying something which should
have been obvious to any translator: different languages have different
rules for word order, focus structure etc, and so one cannot accurately
reflect the focus structure of one language in another, very different
language by simply copying the word order. Now perhaps Alter did realise
this, and this may have been why he was not as consistent as de Regt
thinks he should have been - at least he knew not to write the bad
English "With God Noah walked" even if consistency might have indicated
this. Nevertheless, there do seem to be places where Alter has copied
the word order of the Hebrew even though this does not give the correct
focus structure in English.
However, I applaud Alter for demonstrating the importance of trying to
preserve the focus structure of the Hebrew in a translation. But this is
a much more complex task than simply copying Hebrew word order.
>Just saw the bad news from London. :-(
Thank you for your concern. It seems a long way from me at home, but
only about 30 miles and some people I know could easily have been involved.
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
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