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Ward, copyright 2003-2012 An excellent source for the student of a particular historical period or culture is the literature produced by the people under consideration. Period literature provides insights into the history, culture, beliefs and practices of those who produced the works. Unfortunately for the non-specialist in ancient or foreign languages, oftentimes the literature cannot be read directly in the original, bu t must instead be approached in translation. Literature in translation can provi de many of the same benefits to the reader as the original text, however when ap proaching a translation, there are several considerations which must be kept in mind in order to evaluate the work and its fidelity to the original. Technical p roblems in the original text, problems in translation due to differences in cult ure and world-view between the original author and the modern reader, and the pu rpose of the translation may all serve to affect the meaning and interpret ion o f the original text. There are many technical problems to consider when preparing a translation. Ofte n words or lines are lost from the original due to damage to the manuscript. Man y of the surviving medieval English manuscripts that we possess today were colle cted by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631): of these, many were lost or serious ly damaged in the 1731 fire which destroyed the London building in which they we re housed. Environmental factors, insects and rebinding have caused further dama ge to these works. Modern scholars have attempted to restore such missing inform ation, however their corrections are conjectural, although informed by the highe st standards of scholarship. Another consideration arises due to the process of hand-copying by which survivi ng manuscripts have been transmitted since their original composition. Copying i ntroduces several problems, including miscopying of the original text, instances in which the scribe incorrectly attempted to update the text into his modern id iom or language forms, scribal editing to make the text conform to the editor's historical or ideological understanding, and cases of interpolation of unrelated or explicatory material by the copyist. Modern editors strive to repair obvious miscopyings, but these are often identified only in cases where the text is dis tinctly confused, or contradictory. Again, these corrections are conjectural, an d scholarly journals are filled with heated debates over the correct emendations to be applied in modern readings of the material. Occasionally the translator is confronted with hapax leqomenon, a word or expres sion which occurs once only in the corpus of a particular language. In these ins tances, the meaning of the word or phrase in question must be deduced from the c ontext of the passage in which it occurs, or from etymological comparisons to si milar words in related languages: even then the meaning often remains hypothetic al. This is a particular problem with works in Old English, for such a limited b ody of texts remains for examination by scholars. A final technical problem is introduced by inconsistent spellings in the origina l text. Spelling conventions did not become standard nor rigidly adhered to unti l our modern era of orthography and dictionaries, and in addition variant dialec ts may introduce further differences in spelling. All of these factors may serve to further confuse the meaning of a text. Differences in culture and world-view also provide problems for the translator, especially where idioms and elaborate figures of speech are used in the original . Some concepts are simply untranslatable, or require elaborate explanation to r ender the phrase in modern English. This is the case when devices such as kennin gs are used, where a poetic metaphor that was clearly understood by the original audience remains bewildering when translated literally, and must be explained o r glossed over in the translation to make it intelligible to the modern reader.
for many translations of any text are possible. literature in translation may s till prove a useful source of information and enjoyment. M aintaining a verse form may inhibit a strictly literal rendering of meaning. order." (Michael Alexander. whi le in a prose translation the art of the original poet as reflected in his rhyme scheme. vow. editors. his word choice will be dictated by the alliterative scheme. for example. The same sort of critical analysis is also to be found in scholarl y discussions of the translator and his work. Perhaps the most important factor affecting the fidelity of a translation is the translator's purpose. Further decisions on the translator's part are directly related to his purpose. but rather a creation of the copyists . in a less literal way in order to maintain the "G" alliteration in the tran slated line. These choices are clearly illustrated in translating poetry. The i mportant factor for the reader to remember is that literature in translation is not the work of the original author alone. name". a comparison of the text and the translation may be made. might choose to maintain the feel of the original text by selec ting a similar word in modern English. or perhaps one derived from the term he i s translating rather than selecting a more exact synonym derived from another la nguage such as Latin. which is defined as " to command. A translator interested in keeping to a term in modern English derived from hatan might trans late it as "to make a behest. p. old griefs in mind. or in a special "Notes on Translation" section. Further evaluation of the translat or's purpose and techniques are often to be found in the introduction to the tra nslation. for example. in which the translato r or his editors discuss the rationale behind this particular translation. Dictionary definitions of a term may offer several choices for translation. If the reader possesses a basic knowledge of the language of the original work. direct." which a footnote explains as "the wolf ate the slain". rendering eardstapa (literally. "the ogresses' horse ate the eagles' food. a useful technique for evaluation is the comparison of i several different translations of the work in question. New York: Penguin. meaning "wander er". provide a modern colloquial renderi ng. in Helqakviða Hundinqsbana I. There are several metho ds for evaluating the quality of a translation.For instance. 70). alliteration or meter may be lost. trans. thus a line in the Old English poem The Wanderer. scholars and translators who have transmitted the work to the present reader. Word choice is dictated not only by the translator's understanding of the origin al text." while a more literal translator might select the Latin-derived "to command". Despite the many hazards confronting the reader. depending on whether the intent is to render a strictly literal translation. "earth-stepper"). . or to preserve the style or form of the original. For those without a familiarity with the original lang uage. promise. or who do not have access to the work in the original. but by his purpose as well: a translator evaluating a word in Old Engli sh. earfeþa gemyndig" might be translated as "Thus spoke such a grasshopper. since before he or she begins. If a translator is attempting to maintain a verse fo rm utilizing alliteration. a literal rendering of a line in verse 54 gives. "Swa cwæð eardstapa. 1977. the translator must first decide whether the form of the translation will be prose or verse. bid. summon. The Earliest English Poems. The reader should be aware of the translator's approach. call. the Old English verb hatan.
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