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the whys and whenfors of translation

tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Sun Apr 14 15:56:05 2002

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the whys and whenfors of translation

At 13:59 2002-04-14 -0400, DloraH wrote, about the phrase "Worlds Apart", 
and how to translate it:
>"Worlds Apart" to me expresses /distance/ between two things, distance which
>is measured in the unit of "worlds".
>"Worlds Which Separate"  focuses on /worlds/.  What kind of worlds?  Worlds
>"which separate".

For "worlds apart", I can get several readings.  One is the one that you 
get, denoting/describing the distance between worlds.
But I can also get the reading "worlds which are separate from eachother" 
or "worlds, considered separately [from eachother]".  /And/ a reading 
"worlds which are separate from all others".

Poking thru the Oxford English Dictionary for examples here...
* 1849 Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. 331 «The London clergy were always spoken of 
as a class apart. »
* 1870 Bryant Homer I. i. 30 «When I form designs Apart from all the gods.»
* 1843 Mill Logic ii. vi. §1 «This is a case which merits examination apart.»
* 1605 Bacon Adv. Learn. ii. ix. §3 «The inquiry touching human nature 
entire, as a just portion of knowledge to be handled apart. »
* 1853 Maurice Proph. & Kings ii. 22 «A portion of the sacrifice was set 
apart for him.»
* 1860 Tyndall Glac. ii. §16. 312 «What then can the viscous theory mean 
apart from the facts? »
* 1862 Ld. Brougham Brit. Const. xiii. 184 «The precise period at which the 
Commons first sat apart from the Lords is equally unknown.»

And even a meaning "in pieces", which is presumably how we get "take apart":
* 1829 Hood E. Aram iv, «His hat was off, his vest apart.»

But I think that aside from "take apart", "apart"'s most common meaning 
these days is in referring to the distance between things.

Hm, something about the phrase "worlds apart" makes me wonder if it's not a 
quote from something; it reminds me somehow of Marvell's "worlds enough, 
and time".
* 1891 Farrar Darkn. & Dawn x, «She seemed to be separated by whole worlds 
of difference from such ladies as his own mother. »
* 1892 G. Travers Mona Maclean vi, «I was worlds too shy. »
* 1900 H. S. Holland Old & New 33 «They look to you worlds apart.»
I see nothing about "worlds apart" anywhere in Shakespear, altho most of 
the occurrences of "apart" seem to me "off to one side" or "away".

In any case, depending on which sense one infers in "worlds apart", one 
might want {chev}, {chuq}, or {Hop}, I suppose.

This relates to a basic problem I'm tackling in the To'nech translation, 
and all who have anything to say about it should read this:

This is a common dilemma in translation: in translating into English a text 
from, say, 18th century Spanish, do you aim to give the modern English 
reader the same experience as a modern Spanish reader would have?  Or do 
you aim to give the modern English reader the same experience that an 18th 
century Spanish reader would have?
Each course is problematic.
In the first case, you might end up saying "well, a modern Spanish reader 
would read this as meaning X, even tho I think in Spanish of 3 centuries 
ago, it could also have meant Y or Z, possibly more likely than X", and so 
you translate it as X, even though you worry that that's quite possibly not 
the author's definite intention.
In the second case, if you try to replicate for a 21st century English 
reader what a 18th century Spanish reader felt, you've got the author's 
"target audience" more in mind, but there's the problem that there's no 
18th century Spanish speakers around who you can ask "hey, what does this 
word mean to you?  I grep the corpora and see that it occurs here and here 
and here, but I have a feeling it might have a particular nuance there, but 
I'm not sure."  Moreover, if you think the 18th century Spanish was 
colloquial, you would translate it as modern colloquial English, which is 
likely to be very jarring for someone who picks up your book expect an olde 
timey classicke.

This is a constant problem as I've been trying to read the Yijing in the 
original Chinese, whether in modern "received text" editions, or in the 
Mawangdui manuscript.  Usually things match up pretty well, but now and 
then I'll see a character that 2500 years ago had /nothing/ in common with 
its current form -- neither pronunciation (in any sense), nor meaning.  Nor 
even really shape, given all the changes in the writing system since then 
-- so it's more or less just ("just"!) an accident of history that the 
glyph in question ended up in its current form.
So I end up having to say "do I read that as 'prisoner' [or whatever its 
original meaning was, as we can infer from other texts from the period], or 
as 'scream' [which is the absolute first thing that would spring to the 
mind of a modern reader]?"
As a bilingual reader, you can bear both in mind at the same time; but as a 
translator, you almost always have to choose one or the other.  Only if 
you're /really/ lucky can you pull off something that somehow expresses the 
meaning and/or tone of both.  (Altho, as they say, "luck is being 
ready").  But either way is "mistake" in someone's opinion, whether 
informed or impressionistic.
But in the words of a forthcoming Dup nech, "Your mistake was a hidden 

I am rather sure I've said this before, but it's worth repeating, apparently:
The above is the sort of situation I'm trying to reproduce in the To'nech 
restoration -- centuries (millennia?) of textual history and backstory, 
ready-made; and where each text (Ingor's ancient original To'nech, as best 
can be made out from the sometimes damaged inscriptions; the ambitious 
Eno/Schmidt version of the last century; and then my duller gloss) is 
worthwhile, but each slightly off-kilter from the others.

I observe that the feeling I'm trying to recollect in the reader is 
apparently not available to some people who have never had to read between 
the lines this way.  But you can't always get what you want, nor want to 
mean.  Literalism is an apparently chronic disorder, and the only 
treatments I can recommend for the afflicted are either 1) a healthy (or at 
least silent) consideration of other kinds of meaning, or 2) 'oy'naQmey, or 
3) be'joy.

Sean M. Burke

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