Saturday, 18 June 2011

Language, Love, and Meaning

There's a lot of talk on my small corner of the web about words surrounding the idea of language in relationship to translation. So Better Bibles Blog quoting John Hobbins here [with an important bunch of comments] and related links from Targuman Chris Brady here, and notably the delightfully titled 'Your English is showing' here first noted by Awilum's Charles Halton.

The search for clarity and meaning through language is strange and difficult. We seem trapped in our cultural inertia. The brief exercise this past week attempting translation of a few proverbs (via the series at Aristotle's Feminist Subject of which the latest is here) has me thinking that content cannot compel the capture of meaning by words. Then reading Chris Brady's translation of Targum Ruth here, I am struck by the mention of both Memra and Shekina in the text as if Word and Spirit do convey that which cannot be compelled.

The shock is - what are you doing here in this text in this form? And the resulting answer - my words are spirit and they are life seem to say that words can convey meaning. Why then do they not do so? I think it must be the very natural and clear answer to the presence. I have nothing to do with you. Or perhaps the more innocent I have another agenda.

Who wins in this tug of war?

More to the point - why of all things do I spend my time looking in detail at words that are so arcane, so abused, so not obvious yet taken as obvious, so unclear yet those who know 'better', the trained translators, think they can make them clear, accurate, and natural?

Oh how I hate thee, adjective. And thee too, comparative!

Professional - you cannot do it in that name. I don't care how good you are, how well trained, how many degrees in linguistics, you cannot do it the name of clear, accurate, and natural and no amount of hand-waving will change that basic datum.  Neither can I do it in that name.

What made me try then?  You must know the answer. He who is forgiven much, loves much. 
- Wow! you must have been quite a sinner!
- Maybe - in the background is a tenor singing - I sure missed my calling.

But I was called back from the plains of Moab. I am no proselyte, but some child has been born in me whose saturating presence I will not ignore, for it is the majestic adornment of the beauty of the Holy (Psalm 29 with thanks to James Pate), and I must proclaim the Gospel, or else. I am no longer empty. And who would not do it under the conditions I find myself in?

But the clear, the obvious, the natural, and accurate all take second place to the possible, that the Most High might writhe the impossible me and all those he has allowed to meet him at his feet at the threshing floor of the harvest.

John Hobbins' distinction between the vernacular and the lingua-franca is a tricky and complex well-informed and foot-noted scholarly achievement. Love it or leave it, explanation cannot hold my life, or my birth, or my soul.

The fire that moves from black and white shapes spit from tongue to screen is not mine to compel.

Be still, my friends, and be holy, and be loved in this difficult place. Do we know of what Spirit we are?

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