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Liturgical linguistics geekery - Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2008-06-16 12:44
Subject: Liturgical linguistics geekery
Security: Public
Tags:linguistics geekery
I'm coming towards the end of my project of typesetting the Friday night siddur. It's been educational, in terms of translating the texts myself; I've really got to grip with them at a deep level, both in terms of having to put myself in, say, the Psalmist's mindset, and at a simpler linguistic level: I'm able to translate most of them myself, with the second and centenary edition Singer's Prayerbooks, and the Artscroll siddur in front of me for guidance; but have in front of me, for when I need them, Klein, Jastrow, my Bantam-Megiddo McDictionary, and a dictionary of the Old Testament that came into my hands many years ago.

From the perspective of nearing completion, I'm now regretting that I did not make notes on some of the choices I've had to make (as I can't remember them). Here's a few examples I do remember, to make my point.

For example, consider the passage "הָאֵל הַנִּפְרָע לָנוּ מִצָּרֵינוּ. וְהַמְשַׁלֵּם גְּמוּל לְכָל אוֹיְבֵי נַפְשֵׁנוּ", from the בְּרָכָה after the שְׁמַע. It's about G-d punishing the enemies of Israel... but both verbs chosen have financial secondary meanings, so I decided to translate the passage retaining that double meaning: "the God Who dealt our foes their due, and delivered retribution on all enemies of our souls". I don't think (IIRC) the siddurim before me reflected that double meaning.

Sometimes the text can be really obtuse. Consider the passage from Psalm 92 "וַתַּבֵּט עֵינִי בְּשׁוּרָי בַּקָּמִים עָלַי מְרֵעִים תִּשְׁמַעְנָה אָזְנָי": "My eyes will see my enemies; when evildoers rise against me, my ears shall hear." But a little earlier in the psalm, it reads "When the wicked spring up like grass, and all workers of evil flourish, it is that they be destroyed forever—but You, LORD, are on high forever. For behold Your enemies, LORD: behold, Your enemies shall be destroyed; all workers of evil shall be scattered." Consequently, the correct translation appears to be: "My eyes will see [the fate of] my enemies; when evildoers rise against me, my ears shall hear [of their downfall]." Would this have been obvious to the psalmist? (Consider the linguistics of three thousand years hence trying to understand the Americanism "I could care less", when the context implies exactly the opposite. (Perhaps there's an elided "as if" there?))

Finally, consider the passage "אַתָּה קִדַּשְׁתָּ אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לִשְׁמֶךָ, תַּכְלִית מַעֲשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ": "You sanctified the seventh day for Your name, the [something] of the making of heaven and earth." תַּכְלִית evidently meant something like "completion"; the same root is found twice in the start of the Sabbath passage in Genesis: וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם. וַיְכַל" אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה": "The heavens and the earth were finished, and all their host. On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made." However, Klein also gave a meaning of purpose, aim, objective, or something like that; and the Bantam-Megiddo, with its emphasis on Modern Hebrew, gave that as the only meaning.

Of course, one has to consider the time at which this text was written, to try and get a handle on what would be the most appropriate translation; in this case, first millennium, referring back to the Biblical text, but sitting in a separate linguistic stratum. As an aside, it occurs to me you can see the same duality of meaning in the English word "end", only that would not be appropriate here. What is appropriate, and which therefore I appropriated, is the word used in the ArtScroll: "culmination". I like the way that contains both senses.
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Rich
User: grumpyolddog
Date: 2008-06-16 12:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Regarding your aside: the familiar British equivalent is "I couldn't care less" which is straightforward enough.

The Americans are merely wrong.
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Lethargic Man (anag.): blue!
User: lethargic_man
Date: 2008-06-16 12:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:blue!
I'm perfectly well aware of that, and use it myself. The USAn phrase is merely the first example that sprang into my head of an idiom that means the opposite of how it appears.
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