Friday, May 20, 2016

Overcoming bias

There are deep roots to the biases we grew up with. As I work through my reading in Hebrew and writing in English, I struggle with many glosses. I am still saying to myself, You cannot do what you are doing. The KJV folks were right. You should be as careless as they were in their assignment of common synonyms and you should care less about your pristine glosses.

Well it's true my glosses aren't pristine anyway. Prepositions are notorious for requiring different treatment in all languages because of how verbs work that govern idiom so differently. Similarly, particles and articles and other tickly parts of language just have to be free. And verb tenses - If you start with the prose books you will get into an argument over story tense and so on, but if you start with the poetry as I did, you will be as free as a bird with the presence of the present, continuing, and acting, and you will not be on a hidden linear and misleading metaphor of time.

As I go through - and I am now 1/3 complete 33.33% recurring, I correct this bias in my past. And a profound principle just emerged to me. For example, in Psalms 89 and 102, tradition has shortened for the verb that 'means' harvest. If you translate literally, and use 'harvest' where it is the verb for 'harvest', then the metaphor of harvesting or reaping 'days' comes alive again.

Someone realized 400 years ago or longer ago that the phrase meant shortened as a harvester shortens the stalk of wheat or corn? But why would you do this in a translation? Because you are translating for meaning. But - a big but - you are then doing the work of the reader, and not the work of a writer. You are telling the reader what to think. Instead you should be giving the reader the opportunity to think by leaving the metaphor of the original writer in place.

So for Psalm 89, verse 45(46 Hebrew), I do not write - You have aged him before his time (JB - really dynamically equivalent - but doing the reader's work), or The days of his youth hast thou shortened (KJV). When in both cases and a few other places, it is just fine to use the harvest metaphor. I suspect that in this case, the homonym short/harvest, which may have been a metaphor in the original tongue, may turn out to be an imposition onto ancient Hebrew rather than a teasing out of 'meaning'.

Personally, I favour metaphor. I would rather give my reader an opportunity to think than do my potential reader's thinking myself. So my rendering is : You have harvested the days of his youthful vigour, Huh! Figure it out. Also applies in Psalm 102:24, and Job 14:1 - the image of the grim reaper. Earthling born of woman is reaped of days and sated with shuddering.

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