Robin Kornman on Witzel's comments on....

Carlos Lopez clopez at
Mon Dec 11 15:44:44 UTC 1995

On Mon, 11 Dec 1995, Birgit Kellner wrote:

> Robin Kornman wrote:
> > But his criticism of the lines below
> > scares me, because I have and will give translations which vary as much from
> > the literal text. This is done and must be done to produce a decent read. It
> > is a time honored custom among translators--- particularly where you know
> > that somebody else has already done the very literal translation.
> In this statement, as well as in his remarks on Witzel's remarks, R. Korman
> seems to presuppose that the relevant criterion applied by Witzel was
> whether the translation is literal or not. To me, that seems off the mark. 

But if I recall correctly, the relevant criterion of the person who 
initially posed the question about the value of Prof. OFlaherty's 
translation was that literal translation from the point of view of an 
expert.  I don't recall that person asking about the value of "popuplar" 
translation or about the sense of flow or any such matter to which the 
discussion following Witzel's comments have turned to. The initial 
request seems to have been forgotten and everyone has since taken a 
defensive position on Prof. Oflaherty's translation.  Isn't it our job as 
scholars to be pointing out such problems so that they can be worked out 
and corrected in future work?  
It is a different thing to ask what the value and usefulness is of this 
translation for introductory classes.

> > O's translation is as good as Geldner and Hoffman's. She could have known
> > viira is vocative and still have decided not to translate it into the
> > vocative. Becuase "You were my man" sounds cool. 
> Forgive my bluntness, but this is nonsense. When one uses a vocative, one
> does so in order to address somebody - that's the intention of the speaker,
> and that is the function of the text. When the translation misses out this
> function, it's a bad translation. Certainly, "you were my man" and "oh man"
> are presupposing different intentions and meaning different things, no? 

Ditto on this point.  Sounding cool is not an excuse for being wrong.  
> >And "king of my body" has a lot of punch. If O's
> > translation were the first in history of this text, then she might have felt
> > herself forced to prove she knew viira was vocative.  But she made an
> > acceptable talk here.

> Acceptable to whom? To somebody who wishes to read ancient Indian text
> up-dated into easily readable present-day American English, with lots of
> punch and cool flows?

Ditto.  A translation, a difficult process, can not sacrifice correctness 
for the sake of coolness.
> On the whole, I would like to have Robin Kornman's opinion on what other
> criteria, apart from "readability", a good translation should meet, and how
> exactly this "readability" is to be understood. So far, I can see little
> more in it than an excess in down-grading the beauty and poetic complexity
> of a text to the not necessarily ugly, but context-unfit language of a
> comic-book or a contemporary American airplane-novel. 

This is indeed a valid point of discussion.  Maybe this group should put 
it's colletive effort into a discussion and conversation on the issue of 
translation, which everyone seems to have been indirectly addressing 
after Witzel's comments as a sort of defense of Prof. OFlaherty's 


Carlos Lopez
PhD Candidate
Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies
Harvard University
clopez at


More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list