News

Loading...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Durned Translators

Even when translating for students of a language in a dual-language book, presented with an obvious cognate, they do their damndest to avoid the cognate and reach for an more obscure alternative. For instance, given the Italian word "momentanee," Stanley Applebaum translates it as "ephemeral," rather than "momentary." Wouldn't seeing the cognate be a great aid to the student here? But the priority seems to fall to showing one's cleverness.

3 comments:

  1. Just for you to know, for the long passage from Oakshott in Appendix B, I've located via Facebook Mr. E. Shuali, who translated "Rationalism in Politics and other essays" For Shelem "Leviathan" series. And he reversed many of my proposed translations to more complex ones "in order to preserve the Oakshotian rhetoric"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dan McCarthy mailed me this comment, which for some reason was eaten en route to the blog:

    ********

    It's an axiom of good translation in many quarters. The question would come up occasionally in my Latin courses in college, and it was drilled into our heads in no uncertain terms that we were to avoid
    easy cognate translations.

    Cognates can be spectacularly misleading in some cases: I recall the kid who rendered "populare" from a page of Cicero as "to populate." Actually, what Cicero was saying was that the Romans had desolated a place by making war on it: the root meaning of "populare" and "populus" is not our derivative "people" but "army." Populus had diverged far enough from its origins by Cicero's time that it did indeed mean "people," but populare had not undergone the same mutation.

    The example suggests a more insidious way in which cognates can
    mislead. We think of "senatus populusque romanus" as meaning "the senate and people of Rome," but that can easily involve us in a great deal of anachronistic thinking about what a "senate" and a "people" is. If you avoided the cognates, you'd see it as "the fighting men and noble elders of roman" and while that too is misleading (because "senatus" and "populus" had taken on a more abstract sense by classical times) it gives one a sense of just what concrete institutions the Romans had in mind as the core of their polity.

    In addition to incorrectness and anarchronism, a third problem with
    transliteration is that it may simply disguise ignorance: a student who knows a cognate word but doesn't really know what that cognate means, let alone the original term, can bluff his way to seeming to
    know what he's talking about.

    Insisting on translation into idiomatic English, without any unnecessary recourse to cognates, minimizes these three risks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting Dan. This certainly would explain why, say, Applebaum did this. But:

      "The question would come up occasionally in my Latin courses in college..."

      Is American language education any yardstick by which to measure? People spends 10 years on a language in our system, and can barely speak it at the end.

      "Cognates can be spectacularly misleading in some cases..."

      Of course! We don't want to use a false friend. But sometimes they are the closest word in the target language... and translators still avoid them.

      "a third problem with
      transliteration is that it may simply disguise ignorance: a student who knows a cognate word but doesn't really know what that cognate means, let alone the original term, can bluff his way to seeming to know what he's talking about."

      But that is no problem here! Applebaum surely knew the original Italian fine. He's supposed to be helping along a student with his translation (they were all done for the dual reader book) and his student is much more likely to know "momentary" than "ephemeral"!

      "Insisting on translation into idiomatic English, without any unnecessary recourse to cognates, minimizes these three risks."

      "Momentary" IS the idiomatic English choice here: ephemeral is purely literary English.

      I think this is a rule like "Don't start a sentence with a conjunction": seeing students doing it way too often, educators jumped off of the deep end of the other side of the dock, and banned it.

      What if we use the cognate whenever it is the best choice, and don't use it whenever it is not the best choice?

      Delete