Saturday, November 8, 2008

(hypothetical) equivalence

[O]ne does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change. 
--Lydia H. Liu, Tokens of Exchange, page 137

If it is true that the translator . . . in the host language always initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the guest language and, moreover, if the needs of the translator and his/her audience together determine and negotiate the meaning (i.e., usefulness) of the text taken from the guest language, then the terms traditional theorists [in the West] use to designate the languages involved in translation, such as “source” and “target/receptor,” are not only inappropriate but misleading. 
--Lydia H. Liu, Translingual Practice, page 27

My youngest child has taken up learning Mandarin.  She is twelve going on thirteen; but the language is exactly 684 years old.  We know that because this particular Chinese originated with 中原音韵, which she calls "Zhōngyuán Yīnyùn" but which the translation scholars have rendered into English as "The phonology of the Central Plains" by 周德清.  She's mastered the piano, the ukulele, won the science project at school, has scored a few goals for her soccer team, and reads and writes English fluently; so I don't think she'll have much problem getting Mandarin. Besides, many of her grandparents' friends use the language here in the US, and so do many of her dad's students at the university, and so does her own friend, Mei Fuh, who goes by May.  She also checked out "Speak in a Week: Chinese" from the local library, and is now on day 5.  She's surrounding herself with all the right teachers.

I'm being a little silly here (although everything I've written so tongue in cheek is absolutely true).  You were being most serious when you started reading those italicized epigraphs, above, by Lydia H. Liu.  

Why is my being silly and your being so serious such different things?  Did you know that Lydia Liu was once twelve going on thirteen?  

What I'd like us English speaking westerners to notice is how we play such "important" games with "equivalence" in "translation."  "Christians" reading the "Bible" are the worst at it.  But "poets" like Robert Frost give "them" (or is that "us"?) precedence.  Remember how Frost said things such as "Poetry is what gets lost in translation" and then he insisted that "Two roads!" meant "one" thing and not the other!?  He was not fooling around.  He didn't bother with Mandarin either.

I'm writing discursively again, narratively, in a blog post.  It's a "parable." 

But my bible-translating blogger friends are writing much more clearly.  "Scholarly," we presume (neither poetry nor parable).

I'm wondering if anyone will notice.  I mean, Peter Kirk posts at Better Bible Blogs mentioning, "Craig Blomberg’s interesting defence of the rendering 'brothers and sisters' [in translation] . . . [which] touches on the gender issues"; but Kirk insists that Blomberg "also goes beyond them [i.e., those specific ho-hum points on gender issues in translation] to make [rather different and even] more general important points about Bible translation."

Now, if he dares, Kirk will come over here to this blog to defend his own intentions. Or some of you other readers will defend his author's rights. And, I agree, we have to listen to what he means, and not put proverbial words in his mouth (or in this case in his hand). But I want to protest. Isn't Kirk getting away with something?

Look how one writer (i.e., Kirk) "initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the" other writer (i.e., Blomberg) but how "the needs of the" first writer (i.e., Kirk; or is Kirk the second writer?) "and his . . . audience [i.e., that "audience" would be Kirk's readership with him] together determine and negotiate the meaning (i.e., usefulness) of the text" (i.e., the meaning of the original text of the first author).  Lest you missed it, I am quoting Lydia H. Liu, in English, from my epigraph above. Do you see what we've done? We claim to be so very faithful to the author and his (or her) intentions. But we always have our own intentions. And sexism doesn't need to be linked, always, to the more important points about Bible translation.

So let's keep going. Now biblioblogger Mike Sangrey is asking ("us"?) "Is it mean to not mean what you mean?" Sangrey is also quoting another author, Steve Runge, but decides what is most important that Runge says: "he talks about semantic meaning versus pragmatic effect. Translators need to get their minds around this. . . value of pragmatic effect." Sangrey ends up saying "the originally intended effect" is the most important place for translators to start because, in the end, "it’s vital to reproduce that effect." To get to all of that, Sangrey has been walking us through a text in which the author is interrupting his own narrative. (The author is also the translator of all the dialogue that Sangrey says he interrupts, but Sangrey doesn't bother to interrupt his own blog post text to get us to notice the translating. Rather, he gives us lessons on translating, which presumably starts and ends with the attempt to make equal in the target language some "intended" or "meant" original something of the "original" writer who is the only "author" to consider.) Sangrey means nothing like this: "This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change." And again, we're reading Liu in English but changing a bit what Sangrey means, as if he is not changing what Runge means, or what John means, who changed what Jesus means. (Oops, we're NOT to change what the man means, whoever he is, even if he does.)

So let me now do what Aesop and the Libyan (whom Aristotle disparged) had to do. It's what Jesus had to do too (or at least his translators had to do for him). Let me give the moral of the fable, of the parable, of that story always thrown beside our own story to effect an unequal change (in me, in us, YIKES).

The moral: "Equivalence" is always the creation of the translator. And, for the translator to pretend absolute faithfulness to the original author and the original text is one of the greatest (sexist, elitist) hypocrisies of the West.


Bob MacDonald said...

I think you have captured the impact of translation. What differs today is that more of us can do it - and say "hey, wait a minute - how about this instead - or as well as" and sometimes just plain "no."

J. K. Gayle said...

You mean translation and translating is not just for some small society? Thanks Bob.

Bob MacDonald said...

yes - that is what I meant