The order of words
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Author:  Pragmatic [ 21 Jun 2009, 10:34 ]
Post subject:  The order of words

In some cases, the order of words in a sentence can differ between English and Arabic while the meaning of the sentence is the same. The most obvious example of this is an adjective that comes after the noun in Arabic and before the noun in English. In other cases, there is some flexibility in the order of words in either or both languages.

One of the goals of this project as I understand it is to have the structure of the English translation as close as possible to that of the Arabic verse, without violating the English grammar of course. I thought I would give my views about how this goal affects the choice of the order of words in the English translation.

I will discuss examples that illustrate my view about what the criteria should be in choosing one order of the words over another. First, I will state the rules that I apply.

  1. Grammatical correctness is a requirement, and semantic accuracy is a priority.
  2. Normal order in Arabic should be translated to normal order in English, even if that means that the actual order of words is different.
  3. If two orders in English are both normal, the one closer to the actual order in Arabic would be preferred.
  4. If an unusual order in Arabic is used, we should try to maintain that order in English to the extent possible.

Rule 1 is obvious. Here are three examples to illustrate the application of rules 2-4:

The word "only" in "His authority is only over those who take him" is part of the translation of the first word in the verse, but it comes later in the translation because coming first would not be normal in English. Saying "Only, his authority is over those who take him" is not a grammatical or semantic violation, just not normal. This is an application of rule 2.

Both "About what are they asking one another?" and "What are they asking one another about?" are normal in English. Therefore the former should be preferred according to rule 3 since it is closer to the word order in Arabic.

The delayed subject (Moses) in Arabic is unusual, therefore delaying the subject in English is warranted even if it is unusual, according to rule 4. The clause "Moses did" at the end is a good way of achieving that in a grammatically correct manner.

The most difficult part will be deciding between rule 2 and rule 3, since there is a judgment call about what constitutes "normal."

Author:  Linguistic [ 21 Jun 2009, 22:08 ]
Post subject:  Re: The order of words

I totally concur with all four of your rules. As for how to decide what's a normal English syntax, I think you mean how to decide to use a sentence structure over another when both are valid English syntax. I'd say the decision can be made according to following criteria:

  • If both structures are equally understood, choose the one closer to the Arabic sentence structure.
  • If one structure is archaic (or too sophisticated ;)), use the modern or simpler one.
  • If one structure conveys the meaning better, use it.

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