Monday, November 6, 2023

Translator, forgive thyself


[English version of the Torah*]

It is said that reading the Bible can be an inspiring experience even for those who have no faith. I just had one such moment but not from the text you might expect.

To explain, I recently discovered that I had made a serious terminology translation error on a previously delivered document. Of course, I will correct the error, inform the customer and provide a revised document. Still, the fact that I had made that error upset me as I had spent considerable time trying to find an appropriate English equivalent and thought I had succeeded. I must admit that I felt disappointed in myself.

Then, this Shabbat, I happened to glance at my bookshelf and see the English Torah – the Five Books of Moses that I had received on my bar mitzvah some 50 years ago and have probably never opened since. It is the second edition of the version published by the Jewish Publication Society of America. By chance, I began to read the text on the flap, a seemingly irrelevant part of any book. However, in this case, the words took on new meaning. I quote:

“The Jewish Publication Society of American first produced its first translation of the Bible in 1917… The need for a new translation has been obvious for years….For one thing, it was considered possible – and therefore necessary to improve substantially on earlier versions in rendering both the shades of meaning of words and expressions and force of grammatical forms and constructions… The Trustees and Committees of Translators are grateful for the hundreds of suggestions and scores of reviews that this translation of the Torah has evoked… They incorporated those suggestive changes of whose need they had been convinced. Consequently, this second edition, while adhering to the same policies and principles of Bible translation that were followed in the first edition, occasionally differs from it in phrasing and sometimes in meaning.” [emphasis added]

If a group of translators and editors working together and having a liberal deadline, I assume, still produced substantial errors, is it reasonable to expect freelancers, working by themselves under tight deadlines, to be always perfect?

I forgive myself and will professionally deal with the issue. Of course, I will strive to avoid such errors. I will also admit that God or, if you prefer, fate does work in rather mysterious ways.

* Picture captions help the blind fully access the Internet.

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