Sunday, 30 May 2021

Discovering assonance

One of the characteristics of the Hebrew Bible is that the writing is filled with the play of sounds. Translations almost always fail. Notes can point them out, but a note is an explanation of play not the play itself. I have been experimenting with a simple counting algorithm to see if it can help me 'see' what I can't hear in translation.

The About page for the SimHebrew Bible gives an example from Qohelet 7:1:

qhlt z Qohelet 7
a 'tob wm mwmn 'tob
viom hmvvt miom hivvldo
v: 10, i: 3, m: 7,
'tb: 2, mw: 1, wm: 2,
1 A good name may be compared with good oil,
and the day of death with the day of its birth.

In these examples, the column in the middle is a count of individual letters and 'significant' double letters that repeat in the word. I am not sure how useful this is yet. But in this example it shows that in the verse, you can look for tet-bet, mem-shin, and shin-mem as significant repeating sounds. 

I started with the 401 letter combinations that initiate a root. There may be some I will miss. Also I ignored yod and vav between letters since these appear and disappear unpredictably. 

Here's another example, Psalms 6:11
thlim v Psalms 6
ia ibowu viibhlu maod cl-aoibii
iwubu ibowu rgy
b: 5, v: 10, i: 8, w: 3,
bw: 2, wb: 1,
11 Shamed and vexed much all my enemies.
Let them turn, let them be ashamed in a moment.

Psalms illustrates, as does Qohelet, the compactness of Hebrew poetry. You can see how English translations try to smooth out the poetry and add words that are not needed. (Find me a common translation that does not turn iwubu ibowu into iwubu vibowu. There is no vav there. Leaving out connectors is marginally acceptable in translation, but putting one in is inexcusable. It ruins the rhetoric.)

And another: Isaiah 24:2
iwyihu cd Isaiah 24
b vhih cym ccohn cybd cadoniv cwpkh cgbrth
cqonh cmocr cmlvvh clovh cnowh cawr nowa bo
a: 3, b: 3, h: 9, v: 13, c: 14, m: 3, n: 5, r: 3, w: 4,
aw: 1, ca: 2, cm: 2, cy: 2, hn: 1, lh: 2, mc: 1, nh: 1, nw: 2, wa: 1,
2 And it will happen, as people, as priest, as servant, as his lord, as handmaid, as her mistress,
as buyer, as seller, as lender, as borrower, as the usurious, as those allured by it.

In this example, the single letter counts are more significant. Isaiah is prose rhetoric and the translation repeats the sound /as/ the way the Hebrew repeats the /c/ sound. 

One more:
thlim yg Psalms 73
i lcn iwub ymo hlom
umi mla iimxu lmo
v: 6, i: 4, l: 4, m: 6,
lm: 2, ml: 1,
10 "So! his people will return here,
where they can be fully milked."

In this verse, I have even managed to repeat the l and m sounds in the English. I guess it depends on what we think the verse is saying. (I obviously don't think it is a pious comment.)

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