An Open Letter On Translating

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by Rippon, Jun 29, 2007.

  1. Rippon

    Rippon
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    By Martin Luther

    [ I will quote snippets from this letter . It was translated for Project Wittenburg by Dr. Gary Mann in 1995 ]

    I have continually tried translating in a pure and accurate German .

    I also know that in Rom. 3 , the word "solum" is not present in either Greek or Latin text... The letters s-o-l-a are not there ... they [papists] do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text -- if the translation is to be clear and accurate , it belongs there . I wanted to speak German since it was German I had spoken in translation -- not Latin or Greek .


    ... we must ask the mother in the home , the children on the street , the common person in the market about this . We must be guided by their tongue , the manner of their speech , and do our translating accordingly ... they [ papists] will lay the original before me literally and translate it as : "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Is that speaking with a German tongue ? What German could understand something like that ? What is this "abundance of the heart ?" No German can say that ; unless , of course , he was trying to say that someone was altogether too magnanimous , or too courageous , though even that would not yet be correct , as "abundance of the heart" is not German , not any more than "abundance of the house," "abundance of the stove" or "abundance of the bench" is German . But the mother in the home and the common man say this : "What fills the heart overflows the mouth." That is speaking with the proper German tongue of the kind I have tried for , although unfortunayely not always successfully . The literal latin is a great barrier to speaking proper German .

    ... for these literalist [#%! ] I would have to translate it [ What Judas says in Matt. 26 and Mark 14 ] "Why has this loss of salve occurred ?" But what kind of German is this ? What German says "loss of salve occurred " ? And if he does understand it at all , he would think that the salve is lost and must be looked for and found again ; even though that is obscure and uncertain . Now if that is good German why do they not come out and make us a fine , new German testament and let Luther's testament be ? I think that would really bring out their talents . But a German would say "Ut quid , etc...." as "Why this waste?" or "Why this extravagance ?" Even "it is a shame about the ointment" -- these are good German , in which one can understand that Magdalene had wasted the salve she poured out and had done wrong . That is what Judas meant as he thought he could have used it better .
    Now when the angel greets Mary , he says : "Greetings to you , Mary , full of grace , the Lord is with you " . Well up to this point , this has simply been translated from the simple Latin , but tell me is that good German ? since when does a German speak like that -- being 'full of grace" ? ... So I translated it : " You gracious one". This way a German can at last think about what the angel meant by his greeting . Yet the papists rant about me corrupting the angelic greeting -- and I still have not used the most satisfactory German translation . What if I had used the most satisfactory German and translated the salutation : "God says hello , Mary dear' ( for that is what the angel was intending to say and what he would have said had he been German ! ) If I had , I believe that they would have hanged themselves out of their great devotion to dear Mary and because I have destroyed the greeting .
    ... That is the way Gabriel speaks , as we can see in Daniel . Now if I were to literally translate the words of the angel , and use the skills of these [*@#!] , I would have to translate it as 'Daniel , you man of desires" or 'Daniel , you man of lust" . Oh , that would be beautiful German ! ... But when those words are put together you get "you man of desires" and no German is going to understand that . He might even think that Daniel is full of lustful desires . Now wouldn't that be a fine translation ! So I have to let the literal words go and try to discover how the German says what the Hebrew "ish chamudoth" expresses .


    Yet I have not just gone ahead , ignoring the exact wording in the original . Instead , with great care , I have , along with my helpers , gone ahead and have kept literally to the original , without the slightest deviation , wherever it appeared that a passage was crucial . ... But rather than doing violence to the original , I have done violence to the German tongue .
     
    #1 Rippon, Jun 29, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 29, 2007
  2. robycop3

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    And let us not forget that English has more words than any other language.

    The copy of the OED I've seen contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. (I believe it was the 2nd Edition.)
     
  3. Rippon

    Rippon
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    I thought that the following selections might be relevant to this old thread.

    I have a library book which is by Heinz Bluhm called Martin Luther :Creative Translator. It's good one. I will give some snips.

    "Luther's procedure as a translator is clear. First he established, to the best of his ability and upon his conscience, the meaning of the text before him. Then he tries hard to find the most suitable, idiomatic German garb for it. This is the order in which he works. Luther takes great pains to point this out again and again. He is convinced that his translation does not take undue liberties with the text. The text is king, the translation only a humble but faithful handmaiden bent upon serving her master. But this handmaiden insists on the privilege of talking in her own idiom...
    There are definite limits to the freedom with which a translator may move...language must never interfere with meaning...The liberties which he allows himself do not, in his opinion, exceed a well-defined range." (p.130)
     
  4. Rippon

    Rippon
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    Another extract from Bluhm's book:

    "...most of the Bible could,without sacrifice of content,be rendered in a totally different idiom and within the reasonable limits of the other language. In general,though there are notable exceptions to be sure,Luther's basic principle hold throughout,that the Jews of Old must be made to deliver their message in as idiomatic German as possible."(p.123)
     

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