Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ralbag on Translation
(Or, Think Before You Translate)

In this comment Isaac wrote:


Refreshing post, really! Yet, maybe I missed... what exactly was the reconciliation between topos and maqom? Further, is the etymological relationship between the two words an agreement, or disagreement, between the epistemological approaches of Ralbag versus Aristotle? The latter of the two could sufficiently be explained by reading from a poor translation... did the Ralbag read in Arabic, Greek or French? Many things to consider.


I always enjoy when Isaac leaves a comment. I will hopefully have the insight ready for posting soon. I have decided to make my reply to Isaac - though it does not answer all his questions - into its own separate post.


It seems Ralbag's knowledge of Arabic, Latin and Greek were very limited. He was born in Bagnols, died in Perpignan and he lived in both Orange and Avignon so most likely he spoke whatever language was spoken there at that time (some form of French?). However, Ralbag was very, very sensitive to language and was very sensitive to the difficulties involved with reading translations. In his introduction to his commentary on Iyov (which is renowned for its difficult language) Ralbag spells out the fundamental principle of translation (I will do my best to translate/paraphrase):


When a work employs equivocal terms, it is proper for an interpreter/expounder (m'va'air) to guide the explanation of terms (milot) and words (teivot) according to the intention/meaning of the matters which were intended based on the general context (asher kivnu b'khlal haD'varim). If he does not first consider the meaning he will not be able to understand the proper interpretation of the terms - unless he was lucky. This is all very clear.


Nima Adlerblum writes in her, "A Study of Gersonides" (1926) pp. 32-33:


Though he had no knowledge, or at best a limited knowledge of Latin and Arabic, he often discovered both errors of expression and misinterpretation in the Aristotelian commentators. Hillel de Verona had already before Gersonides attempted to analyze and discuss the Aristotelian vocabulary. But his chief aim in this was to ply Aristotle to his own views. In Gersonides the motive was only the discovery of the objective scientific truth.


Dr. Adlerblum's comment perfectly describes the difference between a scholar and an Oheiv Hashem.

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