grammaticality (was old/new translations)

Stephen H. Phillips phillips at
Wed Dec 13 21:06:47 UTC 1995

Mulling over Birgit Kellner's comments on a posting of mine, I want to 
make a few further remarks.

1. The charge that a translation is an interpretation is unanswerable, 
except by pointing out that since it would apply to all translations (any 
translation is an interpretation), it does not cut the ice against mine.  
A translator has to understand what he or she is rendering.  
Understanding even in one's mother tongue involves interpretation 
(involving background assumptions, etc.).  There are of course degrees 
here, but that is just my point.  If I followed the stricture that 
so-called technical terms in Sanskrit have to be rendered preserving 
that status, I doubt that I could have made a readable translation, 
readable to my audience of students of philosophy.

2. The example chosen was unfair to Kellner who, I take it, did not read 
the preceding text.  The context is a pUrvapakSa within a pUrvapakSa 
and a series of objections.
3. Probably, as I earlier admitted, it is a fault not to have rendered 
Adi.  Justification of the omission is not, however, hard to come by.  
The use of Adi in Sanskrit reads much more fluidly than use of "etc." in 
English.  And Gangesa uses it all too frequently.  His point is usually 
that other examples could be given.  But, indeed, that other examples 
could be given is usually conversationally (in reading, etc.) 
presupposed.  So it's not necessary to render it all the time, though I'd 
say I rarely do not.

4. A point applicable to the criticism of Wendy Doniger.  Sometimes it is 
not worth pursuing a translational problem and trying to get the utter 
best rendering.  It would take too much time, and it would serve one's 
audience and discipline as well as oneself by cutting short research.  
In a long passage I translated from VAcaspati Mizra II (c. 1500), there 
was an example given of a perception of an absence that I gave up on: a 
perception of a stump as not a demon.  I found the same example in 
GaGgeza (Gangesa) and in Udayana as well, but it was not clear that they 
were using it to the same purpose.  Surendranath Dasgupta cited the same 
example in the fourth vol. of his HISTORY OF IND. PHIL., and I found it 
in a later Nayva NaiyAyika text as well.  But there
remained ambiguity.  So I decided to give my 
best guess instead of trying to find other usages.  Having made the 
overall argument intelligible in English, I decided it was not worth the 
time to pursue my, arguably, unreliable rendering.  

Finally, let me say, self-servingly, that I selected the text Kellner 
commented on by remembering that there was a single footnote in my long 
book where I confessed to an uneasiness about not honoring the Sanskrit 
order of words (and using three sentences to render one, etc.).  Lest 
indologists think that this passage is a fair sample, I now stress that 
the reason I put it forth was its likelihood to elicit criticism.  That 
it has, though more for the reason of my rendering of the "technical term" 
(which practice of mine I feel is entirely defensible).

Stephen Phillips
Professor, Philosophy and Asian Studies
University of Texas at Austin

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