Page 87 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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P
atterson
— A
rt
o f
t h e
T
ran slator
73
thought structure and idiom are not. The translator has at-
tempted to preserve something of the spirit of the original at the
expense of English idiom. The root of the difficulty lies in the
fact that in any literature form and content are so closely inter-
woven, that neither can be reasonably extracted from the other
without grievous loss to both. But if the content must undergo
change side by side with the change in form in the process of
translation, the question remains—and this perhaps is the most
enigmatic question in the whole subject under discussion—how
much of the original is it possible to preserve at all once the
idiom has been radically altered? In other words, what is the
real relationship of the translation to the original?
The Creativity of the Translator
Some slight conception of the ramifications of this question
may perhaps be derived from a more detailed consideration of a
few examples of one particular type of idiom. Hebrew displays
a fondness for a somewhat primitive but very graphic use of parts
of the body in a wide range of expressions. A comparison of the
literal translation of some such phrases with their English idio-
matic equivalent may serve to demonstrate the nature of the
change demanded in translation, always remembering that the
original of the literal translation represents good Hebrew style:
L itera l Translation
Id ioma tic Equivalent
He was caught in the hands of a
He was tied to her apron strings,
woman.
He brightened his face against evil.
He made the best of a bad job.
He looked with seven eyes.
He examined the matter closely.
He gave his eye to the cup.
He applied himself to the bottle.
He could not find his hands and
He was entirely at a loss,
feet.
Two points of interest emerge from a brief consideration of
these examples. In the first place, the actual change of words
required to render the literal translation into idiomatic English
is very considerable. More importantly, that very change of words
produces a meaning, which while approximating closely to the
original, is not in fact the same. But if even a slight change of
meaning is involved in the translation of each single phrase, the
sum total of such shades of difference must inevitably be of great
significance. In other words, the very nature of the idiom effects
the quality of meaning.
The problem, therefore, remains that whereas the translation
of literature from one language to another within the same lin-
guistic group may be accomplished by a process of first selecting
the words most nearly equivalent to those of the original—with
due allowance for differences of idiom—and then stringing the
words together on rhythmic principles best calculated to repro-
duce the spirit of the original, the translation of literature from