Thursday, 8 January 2009

Babel, translation and the Wombman's Bible

Kurk Gayle has been writing some brilliant and fascinating posts over at WOMBman's Bible. This post on circumcision is both erudite and funny (and you must follow the links). The various posts on translation theory in 15 minutes are great as well. Here's an extract from a post entitled sucking the body out of translation:

"Dynamic equivalence," "formal equivalence," "literary equivalence," and "relevance theory" are the King methodologies in the Western world today. To be sure, missionary Bible translators are exporting these methods as if they're straight from God himself, as "infallible" as the text of the "Word of God" surely must be.
When a woman such as Karen H. Jobes comes along to suggest that translation really is better conceived as "simultaneous interpretation," then the Western men (and some women) get all excited to consider the "new" idea. But then they return to what they've always been doing: using Aristotelian and Platonic (i.e., Greek women-hating male) theories of language and of language translation. Some time back I read an article about how the translators for the U.S. military in Iraq jeopardize their own person, their own families even, when they are simultaneous translators. The enemies of America don't take too kindly to such translators. There's personal risk. Jobes knows that too.

This new enterprise of translating the Bible from the Greek septuagint text has also inspired a snowbound Suzanne Macarthy to take up her keyboard and write an inspiring series of posts about the "babble from Babel" part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6,
Here's an extract from Babel 6:

Here is the second half of Gen. 11:3 in several different forms.

נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים‏
niləbənâ ləḇēnîm ‏‏
let us make bricks,

‎ ‏‏ וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה
wəniśərəfâ liśərēfâ
and burn them thoroughly

הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן
halləḇēnâ lə’āḇen
brick for stone

וְהַחֵמָר לַחֹמֶר
wəhaḥēmār laḥōmer:
and slime for mortar

In these four lines the second proposition repeats the sounds of the first one. The first two times this is achieved by using a cognate word, a related word, really a different form of the first word. In the third line, the two words are not related semantically but are still similar in sound. In the fourth line, the words are once again related.

Four lines each having a repeated set of sounds, creates the "babel" or "babble" of the people talking, the meaninglessness of the yammering, the repetitive nature of this talk, whose goal was to promote the building of a city and a tower. No wonder God broke it up and dispersed these people.

Let's try this. (linking words are omitted with the readers indulgence.

bake ourselves bricks
fire them with fire
brick for block
bitumen for bond

Wonderful stuff. Both blogs are really getting to grips in a wonderfully joyous way with the hard slog that is translation and interpretation. They engage with their subject matter and give their readers much to think about - edifying, educational and entertaining. It's also fascinating to see them stripping away the layers of translation accretions between the Greek, Hebrew and English and making discoveries as the translation is done.


J. K. Gayle said...

Merci, Jane!

Suzanne is also looking at two different Latin translations of the babel story. She's getting at influences of and interactions between the translators and their languages. Wonderful stuff indeed.

Jane said...

JK thanks for this note. You're right of course Suzanne's work on comparisons between the different Latin biblical translations is quite brilliant.

Suzanne said...

I have been jumping around too much but this evening I found an interesting gap between Umberto Eco's Italian translation of Dante's Latin and Eco's English translator's translation. Bizarre.