King James Version Of The Bible Old And New Testament A Brief Introduction to Translation

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A Brief Introduction to Translation

In his essay entitled “Miseria y esplendor de la traduccion” (The misery and splendor of translation), first published in 1937 in the newspaper La Nacion of Buenos Aires, Jose Ortega y Gasset said that to translate “is without any doubt, a utopian effort. , which according to him is due to the fact that “human efforts are unrealizable. Man’s destiny—privilege and honor—is to never achieve what he sets out to do and to be pure pretence, a living Utopia. He always heads for defeat and before he enters the fight, he already carries a wounded temple. This is what happens in this humble profession that is translating. In the intellectual order there is no more humble duty. However, it ends up being overkill.”

However, throughout his learned essay, he increasingly comes to the conclusion that to translate is not only possible, but that it also represents a very important task, because thanks to it a “transmigration” is created in the reader towards and to the foreign author he is reading, even though he “uses a rather irritating apparatus,” as he puts it.

In fact, we know that the work of a translator is a very complex profession. To make a living, we usually start by translating commercial, legal, technical and scientific texts. Considering that these use a “sui generis” terminology that is more or less the same in most Western languages, as Ortega y Gasset proves in his essay, such translations are more feasible when the authors master the grammar of the language their matter, as even the translators know, is truly exceptional. However, all translators want to enter the literary field, and after trying their luck in this specialty, any other type of work lacks interest. Although the struggle with technical manuals, commercial documents and legal contracts will have to go on to earn our daily bread, even if they are sometimes interesting and we learn a lot from them, I know of no other intellectual pleasure more enjoyable in our profession than that of returning to a literary text, to learn about its author, to try to get to the bottom of the deeper meaning of its words and to express it clearly in our language without diminishing or distorting its concepts original.

It is generally thought that a translator should only translate into his/her mother tongue. We speak of a “source language”, which is the foreign language from which we translate, and a “target language”, which is our language, into which we translate the foreign text. In fact, people who only speak their own language, especially when they have academic studies, usually have a perfect command of their mother tongue; they know its innermost secrets, its variants and the different nuances that a word can express according to the context in which it is used. They acquire the foreign language at school or university, but usually do not manage to master it actively, but can understand it only in a passive way that enables them to read specialized books that must be consulted. Those who study a foreign language completely and manage to master it in depth are very few, unless they want to become foreign language teachers or …translators! These are trained as bilingual professionals whose handling of their language must be flawless. In addition, they must have a deep knowledge of the “source language”. This is a “conditio sine qua non” for the translator, because otherwise he would never achieve a reliable version in his mother tongue.

I would like to quote Ortega y Gasset again. He says that “the theologian Schleiermacher, in his essay “On the different methods of translation” says that version is a movement that can be tried in two opposite directions: either the author is brought into the language of the reader or the reader is brought into the language of the author” . According to Ortega y Gasset, “only when we take the reader out of his linguistic habits and force him to move within those of the author, is there a true translation:” According to him only a translation of Plato’s work is truly faithful, and that is precisely Schleiermacher’s, “because he deliberately gave up producing a translation that would be beautiful…”, but instead kept all the elements that conform to the Platonic style to give a true version. Therefore , the translation must be complete and as accurate and faithful as possible, even if it sounds ugly.

Undoubtedly, Ortega y Gasset’s statement that a translation must be mostly complete and accurate, but necessarily ugly because it pretends to take the reader into the language of the author, remains more or less valid even today when we are dealing with translations of ancient Greek and Roman authors, just as is true of scientific and technical texts which need to be accurate but need not be beautiful. In the translations of classical Greek and Roman authors, a geographical and temporal displacement occurs because the reader must go back far in time and imagine the environment and culture of those peoples in order to understand their lives and undertakings. They are far removed from our present life and endeavors, which makes our understanding somewhat difficult.

However, a translation need not necessarily be ugly from a literary point of view, as it would have to be if it were to be done in the direction of the movement that Schleiermacher wants to give it. On the contrary, it is possible to produce accurate translations that show both great beauty in expressing the author’s ideas with maximum fidelity and, at the same time, adapt them in their form to the “target language”.

In the history of languages ​​there are several examples of great translations that have been considered models of correctness in their respective languages. One of them is Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German. Certainly there were translations of the Bible earlier than his (after 1466 there were already fourteen High German translations and after 1480, three Low German versions). But these translations were based on the Latin Vulgate and not on the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The latter became accessible thanks to the truly unique philological achievement of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who in 1516 published the original Greek text of the New Testament. This text served Martin Luther as his source, and he began to translate several Psalms in 1517. In 1522 the first version of the New Testament was published in German; in 1523 the Old Testament was printed and finally, in 1534, after a great philological effort, the whole work was completed. Thus, Martin Luther gave a work of great importance because, so to speak, he first had to create the language he needed for his German Bible.

He managed to combine objective accuracy with religious inner riches and popular speech. Luther wanted above all to be understandable to the common people. “You have to ask the mother in her house, the children in the streets of the little neighbors, the common man in the market, and look into their mouths to see how they speak, and then interpret them on the basis of that. So they can understand us and understand that someone is speaking to them in German.” These are Luther’s own words (Sendbrief von Dolmetschen = Message on Interpreting, 1530). He liked to express himself in a very graphic way. On the one hand he knew the religious language of mysticism and the rhythm of the humanist style and, on the other hand, found in the written and legal language of the East German territory the most understandable phonetics at that time. Germany, which was divided into many dialects. However, his outstanding linguistic talent and deep understanding of the living spoken language that arises naturally, has a rich psychological content and directly touches the heart of the reader, greatly influenced the success of his work. Thus, his union intimate with the people, his deep religious feeling, his instinct for the right word, and the suggestive force of expression gave rise to this biblical language of Martin Luther which became the basis of modern High German.

The case of the English translation of the Holy Scriptures known as the “King James Version” is very similar. Although it was not the first book in English, for that honor is reserved for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the translation of the Bible was commissioned in 1611 by King James to the best English scholars, who also translated directly from the Greek originals and Hebrew.

Another wonderful example of a correct and also beautiful literary translation is the translation of Shakespeare’s works into German by AW Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck during the nineteenth century. According to German experts, this version is even more beautiful than the English original.

When working on the translation of classic books, from which we are separated by one or more centuries in time, it is common to face some problems in adapting those works to our present time. So, for example, when translating Goethe’s Werther into Spanish, I had to resolve a dilemma: Should I use in Spanish a language that would be closer to the time when the German story was written or was it more suitable for express her thoughts? in a modern spanish? After thinking it over, I decided to focus on the readers this book was intended to reach. In this particular case, the issue was a budget publication, intended for wide circulation, and, therefore, a somewhat archaic language could be very difficult to understand for a large number of readers. So, I decided not to use a refined and very academic language, but a very correct modern language, but in no way colloquial.

In conclusion we can see that translation is an art and a demanding profession, not just a banal profession accessible to anyone who thinks they can translate just because they read a foreign language fluently. It is not by chance that in the history of mankind there have been very few good translators.

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