Page 84 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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which, for all its apparent simplicity, is as highly individual and
difficult to imitate as is a signature. But even more difficult is the
fact that once the various sentences are analyzed for the purposes
of translation, the magic spell is broken. How to bind the spell
again, if only in part, within the framework of a foreign medium
presents the translator with a second problem no less obstinate
than the first.
Divergences of Hebrew and English
This twofold difficulty of words and style becomes immediately
apparent at the first attempt to translate a piece of literature from
one language into another, even in the case of sister languages
belonging to one family. But the difficulty is far more complex
when the two languages are radically different in structure. The
translation of a work from Hebrew into English implies a change
from a Semitic to an Indo-European language. Each possesses its
own distinctive grammar, morphology, syntax and vocabulary,
quite apart from its own particular philosophy, spirit and tradi-
tion. Indeed, so sharply do the two languages diverge that literal
translation is frequently misleading and sometimes incompre-
hensible. As a result, the actual words of the original must often
be ignored entirely in the search for a comparable
effect
in Eng-
lish idiom. In consequence of the different emphasis which the
two languages have come to lay on the various parts of speech
in the course of evolution, the entire structure of a sentence must
normally be broken down and remodelled in the process of
translation from one to the other.
English is a language which lays particular importance on the
noun. Indeed, in extreme cases the verb may be dispensed with
almost entirely, as the following illustration from the
Pickwick
Papers2may serve to demonstrate:
“Oh”, said Mr. Pickwick, much relieved by this explanation, “I under-
stand you. You have pawned your wardrobe.”
“Everything—Job's too—all shirts gone—never mind—saves washing.
Nothing soon—lie in bed—starve—die—inquest—little bone house—poor
prisoner—common necessaries—hush it up—gentlemen of the jury—
warder’s tradesmen—keep it snug—natural death—coroner’s order—
workhouse funeral—serve him right—all over—drop the curtain.”
In the structure of Hebrew it is the verb which must be given
pride of place. The Hebrew verb, in fact, possesses characteristics
quite different from the English verb, and is capable of expan-
sion, development, and the expression of a wide variety of mean-
ing to an extent unfeasible in English. This phenomenon in
itself confronts the translator with a number of formidable
obstacles, of which two almost peripheral examples may suffice
to show some of the difficulties involved. The dominant role
of the verb allows Hebrew to make use of pronouns—he, she,
*C. Dickens,
Pickwick Papers,
Macdonald, London, 1948, p. 673.