Footnotes or explanation in parantheses?
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Author:  Linguistic [ 11 May 2009, 00:56 ]
Post subject:  Footnotes or explanation in parantheses?

At times, words or phrases in the Quran are not self explanatory and require exegesis (tafseer) to understand. So, what I'd like to discuss in this topic is which approach would be best in translating such words or phrases?

  1. Do nothing! The word or phrase is not explained in the Quran, so it shouldn't be in the translation either if we want the translation to be as close as possible to the Arabic text.
  2. Use footnotes to explain.
  3. Follow the word or phrase with an explanation between a pair of parentheses.
  4. Use some other means.

Case in point is


Which translation style do you prefer?

1. About what are they asking each other?
2. About the Grand Announcement?1
1 The Day of Judgment.

Or parentheses:
1. About what are they asking each other?
2. About the Grand Announcement (The Day of Judgment)?

I can think of several advantages to footnotes, which I'm inclined toward:

  • The translation is as close as possible to the original Arabic, which is the objective of this project.
  • The original Arabic style is maintained.
  • The flow of the sentence is not interrupted and will be easier for the user to read.

I can also think of advantages to parenthetical explanations:

  • Many people don't bother reading footnotes.
  • Some people may be puzzled by the word or phrase and may be discouraged to read further.

Not be left out, I can also think of an advantage to the "do nothing" approach: Add mystery! Some readers will be anxious to study the exegesis books as a result of being intrigued by that word or phrase.

Vote for the approach you like best!


Author:  Pragmatic [ 30 Jun 2009, 10:29 ]
Post subject:  Re: Footnotes or explanation in parantheses?

I voted "Other" because I have a different criterion for what is to be included as an explanation and also because the way I want it to be included is not one of the given options of the poll.

First, I believe necessary explanations are to be included. For example, if the addressee is the Prophet (PBUH), which is inferred in Arabic by "you" being in singular form, then the translation should include [O Muhammad] to convey the same meaning (old English allowed for singular "you," but we are translating into contemporary English). The example given in the OP (the "Day of Judgment" explanation in verse 78:2) does not fit the "necessary explanation" criterion. I find it interpretive, not linguistic, so I would not include it.

Second, when an explanation is included, I believe it should be included in [brackets] rather than (parentheses). Brackets are universally used to add words to a quote that are not in the quote (or replace words in a quote with more explanatory words). I view the role of legitimate explanations in a Quranic translation to be an extension of that, so the use of the same universally accepted convention is warranted.

Finally, I am definitely opposed to having two different modes of inclusion for linguistic flow versus explanation, e.g., brackets and footnotes or brackets and parentheses. Too complicated, and the subtlety will be lost on most readers.

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