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Old 04-30-2012, 07:00 PM   #226
Latinandgreek
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No, I mean it literally. There's a dialogue called the "Euthyphro" in which Socrates is talking about the nature of "holiness". He asks the question "are things holy because the gods love them, or do the gods love them because they are holy?" and goes on to illustrate the point with a whole series of examples of cause and effect. The examples are written using active and passive participles in Greek, and, if translated literally, the result is virtually meaningless in English. It can be paraphrased in English, but it can't be translated - at least not in any literal sense. It all makes perfect sense in Greek, though. That's why I say that I wasn't able to understand what Plato was actually saying until I was able to read the original - it's the literal truth.
Oh yes. I often find that portions of texts that I am reading in Greek or Latin are untranslatable. Holiness, piety and similar concepts are especially hard to translate. For example, Aeneas is often given the epithet pius, but the roman idea of piety differs greatly from a christian idea of piety.

This small digression on the difficulties of translation has managed to hammer home to me once again the importance of knowing the grammar of your mother tongue well before attempting to learn a foreign language, especially a dead one with complex morphology. Try teaching someone about declensions and cases if they don't know what an object is! (I have. It's not fun.)

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Old 04-30-2012, 11:18 PM   #227
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Oh yes. I often find that portions of texts that I am reading in Greek or Latin are untranslatable. Holiness, piety and similar concepts are especially hard to translate. For example, Aeneas is often given the epithet pius, but the roman idea of piety differs greatly from a christian idea of piety.

This small digression on the difficulties of translation has managed to hammer home to me once again the importance of knowing the grammar of your mother tongue well before attempting to learn a foreign language, especially a dead one with complex morphology. Try teaching someone about declensions and cases if they don't know what an object is! (I have. It's not fun.)
Yeah, I learned far more about English in my few years of learning Greek then in my lifetime of being a native English speaker. If you have not learned a long dead written language its hard to appreciate just how complex grammar/etc really is. At least that was the case for me.
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Old 05-01-2012, 03:34 AM   #228
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Yeah, I learned far more about English in my few years of learning Greek then in my lifetime of being a native English speaker. If you have not learned a long dead written language its hard to appreciate just how complex grammar/etc really is. At least that was the case for me.
I have to ask ... Do you think that learning more about the technicalities of language (the one you write in as well as others), makes much difference to what and how you write?
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Old 05-01-2012, 05:05 AM   #229
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I have to ask ... Do you think that learning more about the technicalities of language (the one you write in as well as others), makes much difference to what and how you write?
It certainly makes you more "aware" of language use, I think. Eg, you perhaps stop and think about where and when it's appropriate to use the subjunctive, to name but one example.
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Old 05-01-2012, 08:38 AM   #230
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I have to ask ... Do you think that learning more about the technicalities of language (the one you write in as well as others), makes much difference to what and how you write?
Yes. The same way learning better breathing patterns and foot placement helps a runner. It is not something you think about much while you do the activity, but it becomes an integral part of the activity.
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Old 05-01-2012, 08:46 AM   #231
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Yes. The same way learning better breathing patterns and foot placement helps a runner. It is not something you think about much while you do the activity, but it becomes an integral part of the activity.
I wholeheartedly agree.
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Old 05-01-2012, 10:54 AM   #232
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It certainly makes you more "aware" of language use, I think. Eg, you perhaps stop and think about where and when it's appropriate to use the subjunctive, to name but one example.
It could be argued that this makes things worse for you as a reader. To be ignorant of when it's appropriate to use the subjunctive (to follow just one example) means you are not so put out when someone does it wrong.

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Yes. The same way learning better breathing patterns and foot placement helps a runner. It is not something you think about much while you do the activity, but it becomes an integral part of the activity.
Which only works - it seems to me - if you do indeed spend your life involved in writing and critical review (this latter would appear to be an important factor if actually understanding the many technicalities of grammar is going to be achieved).

Some rules certainly do start to sink in a mere few years of active writing, but I know that a great many are beyond me even now - and I don't think I'm alone. For example Harry's example of subjunctive was one that I had to look up for a refresher - I'd heard the term before but could not have given any examples of what it meant. I like to think that years of reading, and writing for non-pleasurable purposes, may have led me to use acceptable grammar, but whether I'm technically correct or not I'm never going to know, because I have trouble understanding the rules even after reading the explanation.
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Old 05-01-2012, 11:26 AM   #233
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Oh yes. I often find that portions of texts that I am reading in Greek or Latin are untranslatable. Holiness, piety and similar concepts are especially hard to translate. For example, Aeneas is often given the epithet pius, but the roman idea of piety differs greatly from a christian idea of piety.
Let me be a bit contrarian, and maybe to some degree a bit of a devil's advocate.

I am not actually sure that the stuff discussed is an issue of translation per se. Granted, if I pick up the Euthyphro casually, I may be somewhat misled by the normal contemporary English use of "pious" or "holy" (depending on what translation I will use). But if I immerse myself sufficiently in that text and in other texts from the same milieu, even if I do so entirely in translation, I will start to see what "pious" or "holy" means in that context (especially if all the translation stick to one English word). The issue isn't so much of translation as immersion.

Even if I read the text in the original language, I may well be misled, because how the particular author uses the word may not quite match the ordinary usage at the author's time. In fact, there are times when we will get a better understanding in translation than we would have got had we been native speakers contemporary with the author, because the author may be trying to transform that culture, while we ourselves may be living in a culture that is a fruit of that transformation. Thus, arguably, in a number of (but not all) cases, the English word "virtue" gives a slightly better picture of what Socrates is talking about than the Greek word "arete" would have given to Socrates' contemporaries, because it was Socrates who transformed the word into the deeply moral sense that "virtue" connotes. Our culture is an inheritor to Socrates' transformation of the concept from a generic excellence to something deeply moral. (At the same time, we have somewhat lost the "excellence" part of the meaning.)

Another thought worth bearing in mind is that in the case of most of us, we need to humbly admit that a good translator's knowledge of the language and culture of the text is likely to be better than our own understanding of it, and hence we may get a better understanding by reading the translation than by reading the original. If I were to come up with a different translation of a passage of Aristotle than, say, Irwin and Fine did, there is a pretty good chance that they are right and I am wrong, because they have given many more years of their lives to Greek and Aristotle scholarship than I did.

Though we may well do even better by reading both the translation and the original. :-)
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Old 05-01-2012, 11:37 AM   #234
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No, I mean it literally. There's a dialogue called the "Euthyphro" in which Socrates is talking about the nature of "holiness". He asks the question "are things holy because the gods love them, or do the gods love them because they are holy?" and goes on to illustrate the point with a whole series of examples of cause and effect. The examples are written using active and passive participles in Greek, and, if translated literally, the result is virtually meaningless in English.
Maybe you were reading a poor translation. The argument is hard to understand, and I think I have seen a slip somewhere in an English translation of it, but I don't think one really needs to go to the Greek for the argument (but it's been a while, and my English copies of the Euthyphro are in my office). As I recall, it's a simple argument by analogy:

1. Something is carried because someone is carrying it. (Passive participle because active participle.)
2. Likewise, something is loved because someone is loving it.
3. Therefore, if the holy is defined as what is being loved by the gods, then what is holy is holy because the gods are loving it.
4. But (as Euthyphro already admitted) the gods are loving what is holy because it is holy.
6. So, both: the gods are loving what is holy because it is holy and it is holy because the gods are loving it.

And that's absurd (because of the implicit premise that you cannot have "A because B and B because A"), so Euthyphro's view is to be rejected, or so Socrates thinks.

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It can be paraphrased in English, but it can't be translated - at least not in any literal sense. It all makes perfect sense in Greek, though. That's why I say that I wasn't able to understand what Plato was actually saying until I was able to read the original - it's the literal truth.
I think a better example of this are some of the sophistical arguments, e.g., one or two in the Euthydemus. Those can't really be translated well. But that's precisely because they're sophistical, relying on tricks of Greek to produce an appearance of argument, an appearance that we easily see through in translation. In a way, though, this is because the translation is logically superior to the original.

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Old 05-01-2012, 03:15 PM   #235
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All of which is making me want to reread Bertrand Russell's Logic and Mysticism in Patricia Clark's lovely edition. I like what Russell has to say about Euthyphro, the Dialogues and Socrates' methods generally. "Let us assume for the sake of argument that [insert what is soon to be treated as the first of a series of unassailable truths]."

I do think that tenses can be harder for people to grasp than, say, double entendres in another language. Better to begin with Latin than to try to learn it after a lifetime of unruly English (though we do have the example of Swift picking up Greek in his decrepitude).
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