[INDOLOGY] Brackets in modern sanskrit translations

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at gmail.com
Wed Jun 6 19:15:51 UTC 2018

I'm very much enjoying this discussion.  Thanks, everyone.

I think @Christian Coseru (and @Bronkhorst) hit the nail on the head when
he emphasized audience.  Others have raised that too.  If I translate with
a particular target audience clearly in mind, my usage and choices are
likely to be more consistent and appropriate.

@Jonathan Silks' point, made just now, is very useful:

We are perhaps somehow in this discussion running the risk of not
clarifying sufficiently what we mean.
To write: The Buddha attained extinction (nirodha) before ... is one thing
To write: I picked up (my) pen to write a letter to (my) mother... that's
And when we get [The] Buddha spoke [outloud] to [the previously mentioned]
Ājiīvika [renuniciant] [saying] "Hey [you]! How's it hanging?" ...
something is clearly wrong, is it not?

Taking the second example, "I picked up (my) pen to write a letter to (my)
mother," I would like to channel Bimal Matilal, who would have said that
putting "my" in parentheses is incorrect, because even if the Sanskrit is
"lekhakam  abhyupādāya mātre pattraṃ viracitaṃ mayā/" the presence or
absence of "my" isn't a matter of what the author intended to express,
rather it's a feature of how the different languages work.  So, "I picked
up my pen..."  would be, for Matilal, a faithful and fully correct
translation into English of the Sanskrit.  Adding parentheses around "my"
would be as nonsensical as putting "th" in parentheses because Sanskrit
doesn't have the sound /th/ (dentilingual voiced fricative) in its
syllabary.  Further, omitting the parentheses, "I picked up pen to write a
letter to mother" is not standard English, whereas the original Sanskrit is
standard Sanskrit.  Mutatis mutandis for the definite and indefinite
articles.  So by suggesting that parenthetical additions are necessary in
the English, the translator is tacitly telling the reader that the Sanskrit
is in some sense elliptical, when it really isn't; it's just a different
language, with different syntactic presuppositions.

Carrying too much of the source language into the target language can be
used for comic effect, as in the Belgian-English spoken by the world-famous
detective, Hercule Poirot.  I suggest that this is exactly what we do too
often with our Sanskrit translations.

I say all the above as a native English speaker and reader.  Please bear in
mind the evidence given by Venuti in *The Translator's Invisibility, *about
the quite different reception-expectations of German and French readers,
and other language communities.  When I talk about German translators and
readers I am thinking very specifically of the evidence marshalled by
Venuti about the different expectations that English and German audiences
have for the translations they read.


Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2018 22:20:34 +0000
> From: "Coseru, Christian" <CoseruC at cofc.edu>
> To: "indology at list.indology.info" <indology at list.indology.info>
> Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Brackets in modern sanskrit translations
> Message-ID: <FDB2893F-9D9E-459B-876D-5FA748BAE4DE at cofc.edu>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
> To follow up on Johannes Bronkhorst?s point about readership, it seems
> obvious that there are two broad categories of readers of translations from
> Sanskrit texts: Sanskritists and non-Sanskritists. Since the only way
> non-Sanskritists have access to Sanskrit texts is via translations in the
> language their are most fluent in (e.g., English, German, Japanese), the
> question becomes: should Sanskritists serve their own community or the
> reading academic community at large (to say nothing of the general public)?
> Of course, in practice Sanskritists sever both demographics, but despite
> the good points about honesty, interpretive preferences, and purpose that
> Alex and Birgit raise, the use of square brackets confounds the
> non-specialists, and often makes the text a lot less inviting than it
> actually is. One might be tempted in this context to note that all
> translation is in some sense an interpretation since, as the late Luis O
> G?mez once quipped, the "only perfect translation that can be is the
> original itself."
> One solution to this conundrum might be to adopt a two-tiered translation
> model, with a bracketed version for specialists and one without for the
> broader academic readership. In some respects, that two-tiered model exists
> already, which is why the issues was raise in the first place.
> Christian Coseru

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