[b-hebrew] Robert Alter on Translation

Peter Kirk peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com
Fri Aug 15 09:49:29 EDT 2003

On 15/08/2003 06:28, Stoney Breyer wrote:

>[SB:] But doesn't failure to express literary features of the original
>compromise accuracy and clarity, too? For that matter, what features of
>the original are *not* literary? I hope you're not suggesting that
>structural features are merely ornamental, while all the meaning that
>matters is conveyed at the local level.
You are right, of course. Literary and structural features are part of 
the meaning of the text, and so they need to be rendered in a 
translation, as far as possible, by literary and structural features 
which have the same function in the target language. That doesn't mean 
that they have the same form.

As a hypothetical example, the form we are used to as a limerick may be 
very similar to the form used as a funeral elegy in another language. 
Does that mean we should translate that language's funeral elegy into 
English as a limerick?

But there must be a trade-off. In many cases it is simply impossible to 
preserve in a translation all of the meaning of the original, at the 
structural and literary levels as well as the local level. In deciding 
how to make this trade-off one needs to consider carefully the target 
audience and the nature and purpose of the translation. To use one of 
Nida's examples, when translating an aircraft maintenance manual it is 
vital that the instructions are accurate at the word level, and at the 
structural level, but literary features are unimportant. However, for 
translations of some kinds of poetry it may be more important to 
preserve the feel, the alliterative content etc even if the literal 
sentence level is not accurately translated. And when we are talking 
about the Bible ... well, that's another long story, but few people will 
thank you for a translation which is inaccurate at the sentence level, 
however poetically beautiful it might be.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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