Re: reversible translation

From: Nichael Lynn Cramer (
Date: Mon May 19 1997 - 09:26:59 EDT

Peter Eyland wrote:
>I heard a story about translating English->Russian->English
>*the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak* came back as
>*the vodka is fine but the meat is rotten*

Many of these (probably apocryphal) examples exist. However these are
simply games of word substitutions (you can certainly do the same thing
within a given language[*]). And as such are relatively uninteresting.

More significant are deeper structures which have no corresponding analogue
in the target language. An obvious example is that of verb "tense" as the
ongoing discussion of aspect on this list should make clear. Just how _do_
you translate an aorist? Likewise how do you make a reversable translation
of an English progressive ("he is running") or emphatic ("she does run")
into koine Greek?

In short, this seems to be no different from the issues involved in the
so-called "literal translations" that we've discussed here before; and
would seem to be impossible for the same reasons.

Now, of course, the question as to whether or not a literal, reversable
translation is possible _in general_ is different from asking whether we
can make a reasonable guess as to what structures a underlay a specific

   [* For example there's the old children's word game where one starts
with a
      given word, say "bright" and then finds a string of "equivalences". For
      example "'Bright' is the same as 'Smart'" ("Such a bright boy!")
      is the same as 'hurt'" ("Oooh, that smarts!") ...and so on. Eventually
      one is able to show that "bright is the same as dark".]

Nichael "Did I forget, forget to mention Memphis, Home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks..."

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