Page 82 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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H E B R E W L I T E R A T U R E
T h e A r t o f t h e T r a n s l a t o r
1
B
y
D
avid
P
a tt e r so n
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because
the Lord d id there confound, the language of all the
earth.
(Genesis XI, 9).
I
T IS all a question of communication. There is so much to
tell, and so much to listen to. History unfolds her pages,
mankind lays bare its soul—and we cannot read. Ideas come
racing out of the brain, great poetry is fashioned, epics are sung—
and we do not understand. The past remains a closed book, the
present is surrounded by a wall, both equally impenetrable until
the translator comes along to lift a corner of the veil and reveal
a glimpse of the reality beyond.
That any organized society is utterly dependent upon language
is too self-evident a fact to require further exposition. But the
full extent of our dependence upon translation is perhaps less
generally understood. From every nation there is a constant
radiation of information and ideas that must pass through a
process of translation. Indeed, the translator stands as the great
transformer in the power house of the world, and all the various
currents must inevitably flow through the channels of his mind.
What happens in the process requires considerable analysis. But
one factor, at least, becomes immediately manifest. The trans-
former, in this instance, is not an automaton but a human being,
so that the element of subjectivity is always present.
Inevitably the great mass of translation, upon which society
daily depends, is of a prosaic nature. For the purposes of com-
merce, law, news agencies, science and international relations, the
qualities desired are those of literalness and precision. Where
factual information is paramount the keynote of translation be-
comes an exact and accurate rendering in the new medium. But
even where the subjective element is reduced to a minimum, the
very nature of language makes its complete elimination an
impossibility.
There is another sort of translation which is of a different
character and subject to radically different techniques, namely,
the translation of a literary work from one language into an­
1 This paper grew out of a short article by the author published in the
Jewish Quarterly,
Spring 1957, entitled
Some Problems of Translation from
Hebrew.
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