[INDOLOGY] Accuracy in translations

David and Nancy Reigle dnreigle at gmail.com
Mon Jun 11 17:09:14 UTC 2018

Dear Matthew,

I am thinking that those who use the word “literal” approvingly do not
intend thereby to exclude such aspects as syntax, idiom, nuance, etc., even
though the word would usually exclude these aspects. Those who use it in
connection with the Tibetan translations of Sanskrit Buddhist texts
probably could not think of another word to describe what they saw as the
most distinctive characteristic of these translations. I get the impression
that those who use “literal” approvingly do so for lack of a better word to
indicate contrast with more free translations, meaning by it only less free.

Best regards,

David Reigle

Colorado, U.S.A.

On Sat, Jun 9, 2018 at 3:29 PM, Matthew Kapstein <mkapstei at uchicago.edu>

> Dear David and Dan,
> To my way of thinking the emphasis on "literalness" in translation is
> misplaced.
> Tibetan translations give an impression of great literalness because the
> Tibetans adhered rather closely -- sometimes too closely -- to a rigid
> scheme of lexical equivalents. But translation is something more than this;
> it requires sensitivity to syntax, idiom, nuance and more. The great 13th
> c. Tibetan translator Byang-chub-rtse-mo clearly recognized this and is
> quoted in his biography as saying that only poor translators follow the
> MahAvyutpatti with complete faithfulness.
> It is not difficult to find instances of Tibetan translations that are, to
> all intents and purposes, equally "literal," but that one is a fine,
> elegant work and the other unreadable hash. A case in point is Vasubandhu's
> ADhKBh, a great achievement, vs. Sthiramati's commentary on the ADhk, a
> pretty dismal exercise. And it would not be difficult to multiply the
> examples.
> I could go on, but my point is concise: in judging the value of a
> translation, literalness is but one value that must be considered alongside
> a range of others. And while I have great respect for Tibetan transmission
> lineages, it would be naive to imagine that sometimes grotesque
> misunderstandings have never crept into tradition. But I'll leave it at
> that.
> best regards,
> Matthew
> Matthew Kapstein
> Directeur d'études,
> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
> Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
> The University of Chicago
> ------------------------------

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