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 Post subject: Same word, different words
PostPosted: 02 Jul 2009, 00:46 
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This post addresses the following question. Within the same verse or the same context, and assuming that the meaning is reasonably preserved,

1. Should we make it a point to translate the same Arabic word into the same English word?

2. Should we make it a point to translate different Arabic words into different English words?

I guess some examples are due. An example of the same word that gets translated into different words is in


The Arabic word "nafs" appears in two forms in the verse, separated only by one word, and "my nafs" gets translated into "myself" while "the nafs" gets translated into "the soul." Legitimate translation, I concede, but the question is should we at least try to find the same word in situations like this?

An example of different words that can possibly be translated into the same word is in 82:2-4. The word "scatter" was used in the translation of two different words in 82:2 and 82:4




Although technically "scatter" is two different words here (one intransitive, and one transitive), the use of it to translate two patently different Arabic words may convey a correlation between the two in the English translation that is not there in the Arabic text. This led to a deliberate search for a different word in this post.

A related question is what are the rules for translating the same word when it appears in different verses or different contexts, assuming that the meaning in those instances is reasonably similar.

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 Post subject: Re: Same word, different words
PostPosted: 03 Jul 2009, 03:56 
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Pragmatic wrote:
1. Should we make it a point to translate the same Arabic word into the same English word?

2. Should we make it a point to translate different Arabic words into different English words?

My humble opinion is yes, whenever possible, on both counts. One-to-one translation has actually been the practice of many translators before, most notably Irving. It gives the reader the same sense of relationship between verses that the Arabic reader gets.

In the example you quoted, النفس /æn-næfs/ can certainly be translated as "the soul" or as "the self". "Soul" means the union of body and spirit, which is what النفس means. Problem is, most people today say "soul" when they really mean "spirit." So, in the example you gave of 12:53, if we want to use "soul" for the translation, we might say something like "I do not exonerate my soul." But if we stick with "self", we can simply say, "I do not acquit myself," which is much closer to the Arabic.

To your second point, I'm a believer that God uses specific words because of their specific meaning. So, when He uses two different words to convey two similar concepts, we simply need to understand the subtle difference between the two words used and try to find two English words with a similar subtle difference.

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 Post subject: Re: Same word, different words
PostPosted: 03 Jul 2009, 10:22 
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Linguistic wrote:
In the example you quoted, النفس /æn-næfs/ can certainly be translated as "the soul" or as "the self". "Soul" means the union of body and spirit, which is what النفس means. Problem is, most people today say "soul" when they really mean "spirit." So, in the example you gave of 12:53, if we want to use "soul" for the translation, we might say something like "I do not exonerate my soul." But if we stick with "self", we can simply say, "I do not acquit myself," which is much closer to the Arabic.

I feel that "I do not exonerate my soul" is more accurate given the context.

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 Post subject: Re: Same word, different words
PostPosted: 04 Jul 2009, 20:06 
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I discussed this in my attempt to translate 2:8-10. I think that نفس will have to be translated differently in different contexts, and the same should apply to all words.


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