Author Topic: The problems of translatability  (Read 3187 times)


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The problems of translatability
« on: March 26, 2009, 01:11:22 PM »
There are innumberable problems in translatiing divine words, from
one language to another.  Sanskrit and upper Indian languages form
one group in India.  Tamil and other languages of southern India form
a group, in their grammar, dialectics, spoken forms etc.,

1. Hindus regard Sanskrit as the language of the gods.  This obviously implies that Sanskrit sacred texts, especially mantras, are untranslatable.  Max Mueller knew it in early 19th century when
he translated Rig Veda.

2. Islam acutally bans translation of the Koran.  If you make a translation, you may call it a commentary but not a translation.

3.  The Egyptian Master Hermes asserts that the force of his words
would get diluted if translated from Egyptian.

4. In the Jewish custom (at least till a few decades ago), there
were two languages, Yiddish and Hebrew, the former for mundane
affairs and the latter for religious.   The reason given was that the
spiritual domain should not get polluted with worldly matters.

5. Muruganar has said:  'Mozhi' peytral endral 'muzhi' peyatral!
Translation is (like seeing the face after) plucking out the eyes! 

Take for example Bhagavan Ramana's Who am I?  The original is
in Tamil, as written and given to M. Sivaprakasam Pillai.

Q No. 3 : How is one to enquire, "Who am I?"

Bhagavan: Actions such as 'going' and 'coming' belong to the body.
And so when one says 'I went', I 'came' it amounts to saying that
the body is 'I'.  But can the body be said to be the Consciousness? 

An examination of the Tamil original shows that the sentences 'I went', 'I came' are renderings of the Tamil single word sentence,
'Ponen', 'Vanden'.  Where is the' I'? 

The discrepancy arises between just as Tamil is more strongly CASED than English, its verbs are also more stongly inflected.  The single
word 'went' cannot stand alone in an English sentence because,
it could be 'I went', 'You went', 'He went' and 'She went' etc.,

But in Tamil, they are all different.  Nan vanden, Nee vanday, Avan vandan, AvaL vandaL, etc.,   The inflection of verbs in Tamil is suffiiciently detailed to indicate the subject unambigously, which is therefore commonly dropped, an option is not available in English!  (In this respect, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam could be same as Tamil.)

See for example the Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, in English, first rendered by Arthur Osborne.  In eight editions, there are many improvements by Prof. K. Swaminathan, T.K. Jayaraman, Dr. H. Ramamoorthy and Michael James.

[ I was pleased to read Robert Butler's translation of Tiruvembavai, in Tiruvachakam.  The last words in Tiruvembavai are: Em bavai!  Butler uses the same words, and ends his translations as Embavai!  Embavai, mean "O my girl!".   But 'O my girl!' kills the spirit.]

If therefore we were to translate the sentence Vanden, strictly, it would be: '(I implied but not said) came.'

But here the pedantry is worse than the earlier inaccuracy because it grossly thumps out something that is very subtle in the original.  One utters many sentences; these make a whole world -- without saying 'I'.  That would nevertheless is rooted in the I.

What happens to this in the English?  Evidently quite lost!  Clearly, the fact is true for all languages becaue it is true for all humans.  But the example hinges on subtleties of Tamil and does not translate smoothly.

(to be contd.)

(Source: From Vak Vichara to Atma Vichara, Jan-Mar 2006. An article by Rustom P. Mody.)

Arunachala Siva.               


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The Aryan Dravidian Theory - A MYTH - NOT TRUE
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2009, 01:30:03 PM »
Dear Subramanian,

Your post is so true!

We have been believing the Aryan Dravidian Theory so long and this is being taught in school text books as well. But a recent study states that the Aryan Dravidian was a misconception between the Black and White mentioned in the Vedas, whereas the Vedas meant the Good Qualities as white and Black as Bad Qualities. Whereas the Theory divided the Aryan and Dravidians! The word Aryan only means a "noble" soul not white coloured as the theory states.

The Theory says that there was a battle between the whites and blacks and hence the Aryans pushed the Blacks down south and they occupied the northern area of Bharat. Infact the Vedas were only mentioning the war between the Demons and Devas.

This theory has misguided the entire world and created barriers and our politicians used it as an excellent issue to arouse passion and hate among people.

Who is the Authority!?

This is only because of Kali Yuga mahima!

« Last Edit: March 26, 2009, 01:34:28 PM by Nagaraj »
॥ शांतमात्मनि तिष्ट ॥
Remain quietly in the Self.
~ Vasishta


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Re: The problems of translatability
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2009, 02:13:25 PM »
Dear Nagaraj,

Even if White races and Black races were there, they got intermingled
after Sri Rama's period, that is about 5000 years back.  But we see
the distinctiveness of the languages.  Dravidian languages south of
Vindhyas have got a set of common grammar, dialectics, syntax etc.,
and so are the Upper Indian languages.  Similarly personal gods.
Muruga is distinctly Tamil.  In spite of Skandam, which came after
Veda Vyasa, Murugan is essentially a Dravidian concept.  You hardly find Muruga's temple in North India.  Similarly Krishna is a concept
adopted by South Indians.  Siva perhaps may the connecting link
between Kailas to Rameswaram!

This article was very much appreciated by me, because I find it
extremely difficult to translate Tamil poems into English verses.
Prose rendering may be possible to some extent.  But versification
is extremely difficult and if a few authors had done it is the divine gift with which they were inspired!

Arunachala Siva.   


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Re: The problems of translatability
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2009, 09:12:31 PM »

All people living in India share the same genes. This has been medically proved by analyzing 12,000 samples across India, cutting across caste, religion, colour lines.

The aryan invasion theory is false and was promoted by people who served the English crown with an interest to divide Indians.


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Re: The problems of translatability
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2009, 09:41:58 AM »
Dear munagala,

Yes. Aryan invasion theory is an English concept, mainly to divide
Indians.  But all languages in India sprouted from Sanskrit and
Tamil, which branched off into several other languages.  But most
of these languages are more than 1500 years old, and each one
has got its own antiquity.  It is something like Souramana and
Chandramana calenders.  Both have their own merits. Today is
Chandramana Yugadi.  Later in April comes Souramana Yugadi.

Arunachala Siva.