Thursday, January 29, 2009

babble from Babel:10

In blogging about Babel it was not my original purpose to blog about gender. But metaphor lends itself to gender. I have taken some poetic license with these posts. I do not claim that the authors of the original Hebrew writings used certain words with the intent of communicating something about gender, but I argue that later translators were influenced by the subliminal gendered metaphors, to translate, or not translate, certain concrete imagery. This happened over and over until the language has become impoverished of many images. The preponderance of those images saved and transformed into every day language are more likely to be masculine.

Perhaps this is not accurate, and my thesis will just be an incentive for the reader to pay closer attention to the detail, and form an opinion of her or his own.

And now for my post this evening, I will cite a passage written by Dante in Latin on the topic of the tower of Babel and then provide the translation by Umberto Eco into Italian and finally an English translation of Eco's Italian. You can see for yourself the image that is lost.

Here is Dante's Latin,

    qua quidem forma omnis lingua loquentium uteretur, nisi culpa presumptionis humane dissipata fuisset, ut inferius ostendetur. Hac forma locutionis locutus est Adam; hac forma locutionis locuti sunt omnes posteri eius usque ad edificationem turris Babel, que ‘turris confusionis’ interpretatur; hanc formam locutionis hereditati sunt filii Heber, qui ab eo dicti sunt Hebrei. Hiis solis post confusionem remansit, ut Redemptor noster, qui ex illis oriturus erat secundum humanitatem, non lingua confusionis, sed gratie frueretur. Fuit ergo hebraicum ydioma illud quod primi loquentis labia fabricarunt.
Here is [a Spanish translation of] Umberto Eco's original Italian,

    y es precisamente tal forma la que habrian utilizado todos los habiantes en su lengua, si no hubiera sido desmembrada por culpa de la presuncion humana, como se mostrara mas abajo. Con esta forma linguistica hablo Adan: gracias a esta forma linguistica hablaron todos sus descendientes hasta la construccion de la torre de Babel, que es interpretada como 'torre de la confusion': esta forma linguistica fue la que heredaron los hijos de heber, que de el tomaron el nombre de hebreos. Solo ellos la conservaron despues de la confusion, para que nuestro Redentor, que segun el lado humano de su naturaleza debia nacer de ellos, disfrutase no de una lengua de la confusion, sino de una lengua de gracia. Fue, por tanto, el idioma hebreo el que pronunciaron los labios del primer hablante.
And here is Fentress' English translation of Eco's Italian,

    and it is precisely this form that all speakers would make use of in their language had it not been dismembered through the fault of human presumption, as I shall demonstrate below. By this linguistic form Adam spoke: by this linguistic form spoke all his descendants unitl the construction of the Tower of Babel - which is interpreted as the 'tower of confusion': this was the linguistic form that the sons of Eber, called Hebrews after him, inherited. It remained to them alone after the confusion, so that our Saviour, who because of the human side of his nature had to be born of them, could use a language not of confusion but of grace. it was thus the Hebrew tongue that was constructed by the first being endowed with speech.
And now here is the literal English translation of the last line in the [Spanish translation of] Eco's Italian,

    It was, thus, the Hebrew idiom which the lips of the first speaker pronounced.

Another case of disappearing lips! What is it with these guys? We all have lips - plain, old, ordinary lips to speak with, but we see that the LXX translators, the editor of the Sefer Yetsira, Bible translators, and now James Fentress, Eco's translator, just wrote "lips" right out of the text. And so we speak only with our tongue, with an impoverished tongue.

Eco, Umberto. The Search for the Perfect Language.

Eco, Umberto. La Busqueda de La Lengua Perfecta.

Notes: And I don't have a copy of this book in Italian. If you do I would be delighted to post Eco's original translation of Dante.

I have committed some kind of grievous error writing Spanish without accents, but it is not a language that I am familiar with, and I am still on a borrowed computer without my usual keyboard.

I am sure that my complete ignorance of Spanish must seem funny but there is very little Spanish in my Canadian environment.


Carl W. Conrad said...

The translation by Umberto Eco is Spanish, not Italian; the title you've cited from him is La Busqueda de La Lengua Perfecta -- which is Spanish, not Italian. I don't doubt that he originally wrote it in Italian.

Peter Kirk said...

Interesting quote. An interesting opinion by Dante. A shame that it's not true, in any of these forms.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks for that! I will edit this tonight if I can. I can't really think straight on my teeny borrowed laptop. :-)