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

kellner at kellner at
Mon Dec 11 14:40:48 UTC 1995

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. 
> Witzel's transltion is hard to read and doesn't make a great deal of sense.
> Oh, he justifies it by saying that the original is actually five distinct
> sentences. But since when has the word "Sensibly" been a sentence anyone
> ever uttered or would utter? "Stand still" is a good interpretive
> translation. Better perhaps than "Stay here." Even if I do not agree with
> all of O'Flaherty's choices, they are legitimate if her job was to produce a
> readable translation with some sense of flow.

The "sense of flow", in my opinion, was more distinct in W's translation
than in O's, for it matched the flow of the Vedic original more closely. To
produce a translation with "some sense of flow" is just not enough - the
"flow" would have to be an approximation, rendering etc. of the flow in the
source-language - in other words, one would have to take into account the
intentionality/functionality of the source-text more than the
"easy-goingness" in the target language. Also, "sensibly" very obviously was
not meant to be a sentence in the translation, but an elliptical phrasing
intended precisely to catch the "flow" (hasty, stammering) of the original. 
> 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? 

>It sounds like something
> somebody might say. 

But whether it sounds like something the actual speaker in the context of
the text might have said is an entirely different issue. 

>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?
> Witzel telling us that the word "sobbing" does not literally occur in the
> original does not shock me out of my shoes. I assume that O interpreted this
> line as being a description of a person sobbing and therefore used the word.
> It scans well in the line. ON the other hand, the expression "when he
> discerns" communicates nothing to me. Think about it. What is this line
> trying to say? Is it trying to say that the person who will c

Because one interprets a passage at describing a state of affairs - or an
emotional state - does not justify the need to actually insert a description
of that state of affairs into the translation. 
In the example quoted, the author mentions that the boy will let roll down
tears. This is something which is not necessarily done with sobbing,
therefore, the omission of "sobbing" might have been intended/marked in the
original, and there is absolutely no justification to insert it in the

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. 

Birgit Kellner
Institute for Indian Philosophy
University of Hiroshima


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