Page 85 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

Basic HTML Version

P
atterson
— A
rt
o f
t h e
T
ran slator
71
him, her, etc.—to an extent which English will not tolerate for
fear of ambiguity. Again Hebrew shows a marked fondness for a
construction known as the cognate accusative, which English—
apart from one or two instances such as “he dreamed a dream,”
drawn in any case from Biblical sources—finds abhorrent. On the
other hand, the English verb has developed a complex and very
subtle series of tenses which serve as admirable instruments for
the fine resolution of time—a factor which the Hebrew verb seems
to find almost irrelevant within the same terms of reference.
Disparities in structure, however, are by no means confined to
the verb. English, for example, enjoys a great wealth and variety
of adjectives, which in Hebrew are comparatively scarce. This
deficiency has to be made good partly by a greater reliance on
verbal forms, and partly by the compounding of nouns to yield
an adjectival sense—“the wooden horse,” for instance, is expressed
in Hebrew as “the horse of wood.” Now description obviously
constitutes a vital element in literature, and description equally
depends upon the adjective, or at least the adjectival form. It
may readily be imagined, therefore, that such disparity in the
use of adjectives time and again obtrudes into the process of
translation.
Moreover, the differences of syntax between the two languages
are no less radical. The word order in both languages is quite
different—and not only the word order, but the sequence of
clauses, too, as we shall have occasion to observe later on. Again
the subordination of sentences favored in English is largely
replaced by their co-ordination in Hebrew, where a far more
important function is assigned to the conjunction “
and
” than
English would normally allow. Hebrew, moreover, is capable
of a remarkable economy and conciseness of expression, whereas
English tends to be expansive—a fact which even a cursory com-
parison of a Hebrew original with an English translation will
verify at once.
Thought Structure and Idiom
These are the mechanical difficulties of translation, arising
merely from the structure of the two languages in question. But
over and above all such factors is the difficulty of the translation
of words, which can be properly understood only in the light of
the significance attached to them by centuries of tradition. Even
familiar words such as
Israel, sacrifice, temple, holiness, Sabbath,
pie ty
and
exi le—
to name a mere handful of the more obvious
examples—reflect but little of the meaning and connotation at-
tached to the Hebrew originals. The following example from
Lask’s translation of Agnon’s
In the Hear t of the Seas
may serve
to illustrate the point:
“These children are not subject to any prince or ruler, neither to
the king of Edom nor to the king of Ishmael, nor to any flesh-and-
blood monarch; but they stand in the shadow of the Holy One, blessed