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Friday, January 18, 2013

yoga, yukta, yujyate, etc.: should we translate all cognate Sanskrit words with cognate English (etc.) ones?

Should we translate Sanskrit words deriving from the same root with English (French/German/Latin…) words deriving from the same root? Or at least try to?
How important was the commonness of the root for actual readers and listeners? How much do we loose if we interrupt their continuity?

This is my procedure:

  1. 1. I try to translate words deriving from the same root with cognate English words. E.g., anvaya 'relation', anvi- 'to relate'.
  2. 2. I admit exceptions for technical terms, whenever I think that the technical aspect is predominant. E.g., I translate anvaya as 'positive concomitance' and vyatireka as 'negative concomitance' when they are used as a pair.

How do you proceed?

On the translation of Sanskrit texts, see this post and this one.


andrew said...

my feeling is that terms which belong to a single concept ought, other things being equal, be translated in a way that brings out their systematic relation. but there are holes in english grammar (or idiom) that usually prevent me from applying this policy on a word-by-word case. one could, for example, translate प्राप्नोति as "obtains," but then what would one do with प्राप्त-, प्राप्ति-, etc.? in these cases i would try to translate the sense rather than the words; otherwise i would end up with awkward sentences full of nominalized sanskritese. and using "obtains" or a cognate in every instance assumes that this english term of art conceptually corresponds to the sanskrit प्राप्-, which i doubt.

nOe said...
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elisa freschi said...

Hi Andrew,
I think you are implicitly referring to two different issues:

1. nominalised sentences: Sanskrit uses nouns whereas English has a rather verbal style. There is NO reason to duplicate the Sanskrit nominal style in English. It would be just like trying to repeat the Turkish agglutinations.

2. as for prāpti, prāpta, I do use 'obtainment' and 'obtained'. You are right, the semantic spheres of the two verbs do not completely overlap, but I hope that the use of a verb semantically related might evoke a similar image. Nonetheless, I do use translations which are in fact paraphrases whenever I think that the image is too far away to be grasped.

Jayarava said...

Funny, I'm reading a text which makes a great deal of use of "yukta" and I'm puzzled as to how it is being used. This is a good example because it is used literally: yoked; and figuratively: joined; and abstractly: engaged in, absorbed in, etc.

In English there is no set of cognates which covers all of these.

"evaṃ hi śāriputra bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caran yukto yukta iti vaktavyaḥ."

An earlier translator chose to translate yukta as "joined", but it obviously doesn't make sense in this context!

What is a translation? Ought we to focus on morphemes and words or on sentences? Not a new question! Most people seem to agree that it is unnecessary to reproduce phonemes! Though I know of some who claim that the phoneme is meaningful.

What is the motivation for preserving linguistic structures (whether syntactic, morphological or lexical) in translations? A need to demonstrate mastery of jargon to a reader who expects it? I think I'm often caught in this trap.

I would have sworn that "obtainment" is not a word, but I find it in the OED and other dictionaries. It still looks unidiomatic to me.

BTW Have you ever read The Artful Universe? Mahony's translations from the Vedas have a fluidity and mastery that I seldom see in translations from Sanskrit. He seems alive to the poetry of the texts.


Hi Elisa,

Generally speaking, such words as yoga, yukta, yujyate, etc. being derived from the common root, yuj, might be translated in such a way that a common thread of meaning runs through them. But the situation changes when an upasarga is there. Thus abhiyoga is compliant, anuyoga is enquiry, etc. Also we have to judge whether a word under question is yaugika, ruḍha, yogarūḍha or yaugikarūḍha. In sum, I will:

i. Not try to establish a semantic unity among words that have upasargas prefixed to them. E.g. abhiyoga, anuyoga, etc. ;

ii. In case of such words as anvaya, anvayabodha, anvarthanāmā, etc. I will try to find a thread of unity among them. E.g. anvaya means relation, family, offspring, etc. Underlying these three (apparently different) meanings, a common semantic unity in the form of ‘continuity’ is running ;

iii. In case of words, having a) same upasarga, but different root (eg. anugata & anumīta), and b) more than one upasarga prefixed to the same root or word (eg. anvavasarga), I will obviously translate them differently;

iv. In case of such words as are avowedly technical terms I will translate them with a view to highlighting their technical meaning. Thus I will translate anvayavyāpti as Positive Concomitance. However, anvaya in anvayavyāpti retains its basic meaning of continuity (= presence), so in this case it’s a bonus ;

v. Attach due importance to the context;

vi. Pay deserving attention to determine the nature of words. Thus generally I will translate udbhid as plants, but if the context demands, I might think of translating it as something growing out of the earth, since basically udbhid is a word of the yaugikarūḍha variety.

andrew said...

of course i would translate a sentence like गगनस्य नीलत्वम् as "the sky is blue," not "there is blueness of the sky." but i wouldn't translate अस्य पाक्षिकी प्राप्तिः as "it has an alternative obtainment" (a word i would never use anyway), either. i probably wouldn't even say that "it obtains amid alternatives" vel sim., unless i had spelled out in a lengthy prolegomenon what "obtain" must actually mean in this context.

elisa freschi said...

Many thanks to you all for this interesting discussion (as already said, this is what I like of blogging).
By the way, I forgot to mention that this post has been inspired by a discussion with Sudipta Munsi.

@Andrew, I am not sure about your last point, apart from a useful criticism (shared by Jayarava) to my use of "obtainment". I will shift to acquire and see whether it works.

@Jayarava, I am afraid that in many cases one preserves the Skt structure in order to show that one has fully understood it. Something like "Don't you dare thinking that I failed to recognise this Aorist". In other cases, scholars who do not have English as their mother-tongue might fail to grasp the fact that they are in fact creating an intermediate language, rather than translating into English. I am among them, in my use of "obtainment";-)
As for your first point, in many cases preserving the same root makes sense in order to make clear to readers that one is still speaking about the same thing, although first with a substantive and then with a verb (etc.). But I would not translate with the same root terms having a different meaning. For instance, in the context of a discussion about sphoṭa, I would even translate śabdaśabda as "the word `linguistic expression'", since I am sure that the two śabdas have different meanings. But I try to translate prāpta/prāpti etc. with the same root if they convey the same meaning.

@Sudipta, I completely agree with you. I did not mention upasargas because I thought it was obvious that they would orient the root in a different direction.

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