Double translations

Here's an interesting translation war story I found in Daniel Boucher's rewarding "Gāndhārī and the Early Chinese Buddhist Translations Reconsidered: The Case of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra" (JSTOR, but available through R&R):

Double Translations
One of the most unusual features of Dharmarakṣa's translation idiom [...] is the occurrence of what I call double translations. These are cases in which an Indic term is rendered twice in close proximity, presumably because two different words had collapsed together in pronunciation, at least as recited by Dharmarakṣa. His translation assistants, unable to decide between two or more possible options, offered both possibilities despite the fact that such a rendering almost always resulted in nonsense. We will look at several examples of this phenomenon below.

KN 162.5: lokavidū = one who understands the world (epithet of a buddha)
Dh 89b.13: 世之聖父 = sagely father of the world (Krsh, 108-9)
KN 193.1: yathā vayaṃ lokavidū bhavema = just as we will become knowers of the world
Dh 93b.23-24: 吾等當成世之明父 = we will become wise fathers of the world (Krsh, 119)

Dharmarakṣa appears to have rendered both -vidū (wise) and -pitu (father). While there are a number of instances of an interchange between p and v in kharoṣṭhī documents and inscriptions - if that were the script of Dharmarakṣa's manuscript - it is obvious that both words could not have been represented in the same place. Such a mistake suggests that the pronunciation of these two words (-vidu and -pitu) had coalesced, and therefore, Dharmarakṣa's translation assistants, unable to determine the proper reading, deduced that two voiced consonants here (-v-, -d-) could have been derived from two unvoiced consonants (-p-, -t-). [...]

KN 301.6: svākārāś caiva te sattvāḥ = and these beings of good disposition
Dh 111a.6: 衆生善因室 = beings who have good causes/rooms (Krsh, 176)

It appears here that Dharmarakṣa and/or his assistants understood both ākāra (ground, reason, cause, disposition; cf. BHSD, 86) and āgāra (dwelling, house, room). [...] What is astounding here though is that a decision was not made between the two possibilities, resulting in an incoherent translation.

Note: "Krsh" refers to Karashima Seishi 辛嶋静志's The textual study of the Chinese versions of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra in the light of the Sanskrit and Tibetan versions (The Sankibo Press, 1992).

Reading this, I wondered if the translators mightn't have been attempting to faithfully reproduce what they saw as intentional ambiguity or wordplay in the original. Maybe they thought that lokavidū was supposed to mean both "world-wise" and "world-father"; maybe the apparent incoherence of "beings who have good causes/rooms" was, in their view, an accurate rendition of a deep mystery in the original. (It surely wouldn't be the first time in history that garbled religious transmission became revered canon, and I've seen plenty of incoherence arise from attempts to render ambiguity in Japanese waka, for example.)

But then Boucher points out that lokavidū is translated correctly when it appears in a standard list of epithets (twenty instances!), and on the other hand is translated in a differently incorrect way elsewhere. This seems to scuttle my theory. Boucher argues that this curious inconsistency suggests that the problem was a communication breakdown within the translation process, rather than an incompetent translator as such. In particular, he "Dharmarakṣa's principal assistant, Nie Chengyuan" (聶承遠) as the probable "source of such problems" — always with sympathy for Nie's difficult, pre-Internet position, of course.

This is all just one corner of a piece that ranges wide and provokes thought; I look forward to seeing who cites it (14 days from now).

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Hm, thanks for the alert. I haven't been thinking much about the linguistic aspects of translation in Buddhism lately (focusing instead on mathematical and physical), but I should read this one as well.

Not that R&R is not putting a vice on how fast things are available to you, but if there are any articles available on Daoist demonology lists, there's some fun translation material there. (Now whether any of that material made it from presentation to article, that I do not yet know.)


I will look into it! What sort of translation material are we talking about?


It's a pretty dencet chart, but ignores the text question. If you hold to a traditional text position (either textus receptus or majority text), then both the KJV and NKJV are much more literal word for word than the NASB. Likewise, if you hold to an eclectic / critical text position, then the KJV / NKJV aren't all that great for word for word translation, because they aren't translating the same text. The NASB is excellent in that case.The usual term for word for word is formal equivalence . Every translation engages in dynamic equivalence to some degree. I personally strongly advocate formal equivalence to the greatest degree possible while A) making sense and B) being readable. This is because I believe in verbal inspiration every word is given by God.I hold to the traditional text. The KJV has stronger formal equivalence than the NKJV, I wouldn't have put them together. The KJV is and was a masterpiece, I don't believe any translation we have compares, but I recognise it is getting harder and harder for today's English speakers / readers. I still use it I consider the benefits to much outweigh the drawbacks. If I didn't hold to a traditional text position, I would have dumped it long ago. If I was looking for easy or entertaining reading, rather than serious study, I also would have dumped it.As to study Bibles, I tend to agree with Pilgrim's comments above. But if someone asks me about a study Bible, I like to check the following:1. What does it say about the crossing of the Red Sea? If if tries to make it out to be the Sea of Reeds, or is fuzzy on that at all, I'm very suspicious.2. What does it say about the date of the Exodus? 1440 B.C. is a winner, 1260 B.C. is a loser. What does 180 years matter? It's reflective of their view on inerrancy I won't get into it here.3. What does it say on Isaiah 7:14? If it ignores Matthew 1 and tries to tell us it should be translated young woman and this is simply a prophecy about Isaiah's wife having a son, it's rubbish. If they talk about double fulfilment, I'm not so bothered, but if they leave Matthew 1 out of it, forget it.4. What does it say on tongues in I Cor. 12-14?5. What does it say about the role of women in I Timothy 2? Does it water down the qualifications of I Timothy 3 to allow women to be pastors, or at least try to claim that this is an acceptable view? Is it clear on controversial issues, or intentionally fuzzy?6. How does it handle the faith-works discussion in James 2? Does it either water down what James is saying or teach works salvation?


UEI7LD hazlitnasjfz


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Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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