Saturday, January 03, 2009

babble from Babel 1

Kurk has inspired me to set off on a new track for a bit. As I mentioned earlier Martin and some others have been commited to a way of translating which reveals the intertextual connections, the puns and wordplays, and opens up the underlying source text in new ways. While this is in some ways "literal" it really involves much more than that.

It involves understanding that choices were made between words, on whether to use transliteration or another mode, whether to retain the grammatical features, and so on.

Kurk brings many of his points back to gender and sexuality and I will to, but more for the fun of it: some of this is not theological. Whatever that means.

Kurk is writing on the first few chapters of Genesis, as is Martin. I hope there can be some cross semination of ideas. I am going to weigh in with a little Latin for a bit.

Here are some thoughts from the story of the tower of Babel in Gen. 11. Read Kurk's analysis here.

The first striking thing is that in Hebrew there are two words for language, sefat, or lip, and lashon or tongue. Here is the first verse.

Erat autem terra labii unius, et sermonum eorumdem. Vulgate

Erat autem universa terra labii unius, et verborum eorumdem

And the whole earth was of one lip, and of one sermon/word.

But in verse 7 working from the Greek OT, the Vulgate surrenders the "lip" and writes,

et confundamus ibi linguam eorum, ut non audiat unusquisque vocem proximi sui. Vulgate

and confound there their tongue, that they may not hear each one the voice of their next one.

(If that isn't just like marriage!)

And Pagnini translates,

et confundamus ibi labium eorum ut non exaudiunt singuli labium proximi sui.

and confound there their lip, that they may not hear each one the lip of their next one.
And so we begin to establish Pagnini's transparency to the Hebrew. The Vulgate broke down and refered finally to "tongue" in fidelity to the Septuagint in this case, Pagnini stayed with the "lip" the foreignizing element.

Both sefat and lashon are common ways to refer to language in Hebrew. However, in the Sefer Yetsira, a Hebrew text of the early centuries AD, we see that lashon had a masculine connotation. Likely "lip" did not.

The Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: The number of the ten fingers, five opposite five, with a single covenent precisely in the middle, like the circumcision of the tongue and the circumcision of the membrum.
But in Genesis 11, we see that the voice of the people was expressed as the "lip," a normal way to say "language." Nothing remarkable in this, but note that the Septuagint and the Vulgate have to interject with the normal Greek and Latin usage, that this lip is really the tongue. Pagnini does not. So many layers of translation before we get to the English.

Perhaps the choice of words in the Vulgate for verse 7 is because one cannot traditionally "hear" the lip of another person, when speaking Greek, or Latin, or English, but you can hear the tongue or voice of another person. The tongue provides the imagery of masculine agency and the lip, the latent feminine and receptive quality. But in Hebrew "lip" and "tongue" equally represent the active spoken language on par. They stand side by side as synonymous terms.

There will be much more babble from Babel. (In search of "transparent translation.")

1 comment:

J. K. Gayle said...

Tongue, lip, male, female, voice, babel, Babylon - what images and sounds as metaphors. How can English translators (or Latin or Greek translators) do well to reduce any of these to "language" without body, without gender, without soul? Oh what trouble language is... :)

Thanks for this!