Doniger O'Flaherty's translations (2 of 2)

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at
Tue Nov 14 11:31:48 UTC 1995

[sorry, this message was meant to go out at the same time as "1 of 2",
but a gremlin got it.  It suffered an error ....]

Anybody who has published a book knows that it is virtually impossible
to be free from error.  I personally admire enormously the practice
of the famous Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth, who offers money
(yes!  I have two cheques to prove it) to anyone who finds errors in his
books or computer programs.  What a reslient psyche one would need to take
this approach.  While we must all strive to be free from error, it is
also important to take a robust and realistic attitude towards error.
My first reaction to discovering a blunder in my work is to cringe and
hope to die.  But this isn't a sensible reaction.  In general, there is
a great deal to be learned from understanding the kinds of errors we
make, and why we make them.  In errors that I have discovered in my own
written work, for example, I find it interesting that many cases
exemplify exactly the same types of error made by scribes of medieval
manuscripts.  Haplography, dittography, saut du meme au meme, and so
forth.  Added to these are errors of "hardware", i.e., usually
explainable by reference to the typewriter keyboard, and sometimes to
the software being used.  Knowing this helps a great deal with
proofreading, and even more importantly, it helps one to commit such
errors less frequently in the future.  Then there are the more painful
errors of logic, understanding, and so forth.  Yet even errors of
understanding and knowledge, which are what Prof. Wizel is critiquing in
WDO's translations, are opportunities for learning about the nature of
error.  In the present case, for example, some of the corrections
suggested by MW were -- I thought -- very interesting.  But the central
message that comes out of his critique is that there is a great deal of
important secondary literature in German which we ignore to our cost. It
seems to me that this is a more worthwhile discovery, for those who
didn't know it already, than that WDO makes errors.

Going back to Knuth, he kept a ten-year record of the errors that he and
others discovered in one of the major computer programs he wrote (TeX),
and published an analysis of these in an article entitled "The Errors of
TeX" (_Software practice and experience_ 19 (1989), 607--685, and
reprinted in _Literate Programming_ (Stanford Univ., 1992)).  This
analysis has been of great importance to software authors and project

Just think how valuable it would be to have an analysis of this sort for
work in the field of indological translation and editing.


Dominik Wujastyk,
Wellcome Institute,
183 Euston Road,
London NW1 2BE.

FAX: +44 171 611 8545
email: d.wujastyk at

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