Below is jargon improvised for gauging how a translation navigates its source text. Note how the verbiage is strewn with hedging adverbials, conceding a priori that the labels are judgments, which by definition are subjective, privative, compromised, blinkered and fallible. (See “U.S. Supreme Court.”)
Congruent: matches the source text fairly closely, with minimal liberties taken for readability.
Omissive: suppresses elements of the source text without obvious justification.
Expansive: adds interpretive structure or content not discernible in the source text but plausibly deriving from it.
Inventive: carries the “expansive” element to a level not obviously supported by the source text.
Transgressive: departs from the source text in a way that arguably betrays the poem’s letter or spirit.
Omissive was added late. It’s a watchword for the position that loss must entail gain; if the translation discards a feature of the source text which the target language is capable of emulating, a benefit should be realized from the curtailment. If gain is perceptible, the translation accrues congruency; if not, it steers a tick in the remiss direction.
The first line of the section of Gilgamesh’s Snake titled “The Lost Beginning” by Gareeb Iskander (1) attracts attention. It’s a vocative construct.
The vocative is a Hey, you, listen up! utterance involving a particle — ‘O’ in English, ‘ayyuhā in Arabic — followed by a noun or pronoun — here, sayyidun, master, sir, lord, chief. (3) Iskander leaves out the particle in its translation, perhaps from a desire not to sound mannered or highflown. However, sayyidun connotes prestige. It comports well with prefacing by “O.” The formal tone isn’t amiss contextually, and the source text is respected. Iskander’s translation could be tagged Omissive.
Here’s a smattering of Wright’s exposition on the vocative (4):
“‘ayyuhā and yā ‘ayyuhā… require after them a noun, singular, dual or plural, defined by the article, and in the nominative case… The demonstrative ḏā is also admissible….”
Wright illustrates the construction with Arabic phrases translated into fragrant period English. Here are three of them: Thou there, come forward!; O thou there, whose soul passion (or grief) is killing; O thou there, who barkest at (revilest) the Bènū ‘s Sīd.
(1) Gilgamesh’s Snake and Other Poems, Ghareeb Iskander, Bilingual Edition, Translated from the Arabic by John Glenday and Ghareeb Iskander, Syracuse University Press, 2015.
(2) The published translation (“Iskander”) is in italics beneath my rendering and transliteration using this jury-rigged character set: ‘ a ā A i ī u ū ay aw b t ẗ ṯ j ḥ ẖ d ḏ r z s š ṣ ḍ ṭ ẓ ^ ḡ f q k l m n h w y.
(3) Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Edited by J. Milton Cowan, Cornell University Press, 1966.
(4) W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, Simon Wallenberg Press, 2007. Reprint of the classic work first published in 1874, and updated in 1896.
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