New Translation Project from Sutta Central

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mikenz66
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New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Apr 19, 2015 10:55 am

As Tilt wrote elsewhere:
tiltbillings wrote:Interesting stuff. Also, a couple of extra clicks and I found this (probably old news, but new to me).
Sujato wrote:I'd like to take the chance to announce a project that I have been working towards for the past several months. Many people have heard about this already, so it is no great secret, but I haven't taken the chance to formally announce it in public.

I am taking an 18 month sabbatical, during which time I plan to translate the 4 nikāyas from Pali into English; or at least, as much of them as I can.

My aim in doing this is to create an entirely new set of translations, which will differ from previous translations in several ways:
....
Continued here...
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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Apr 19, 2015 11:10 am

This discussion of translation style is interesting:
http://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/tra ... yas/341/18
Unfortunately, you need to click on the "1 Reply", so I'll copy it for convenience:
Sujato wrote:
Thanks for posting this, and allow me to explain in a little detail. Essentially my idea is to make it as simple as possible, but no simpler. Simplicity itself is not an aim; removing unnecessary obstacles to understanding is.

Let me take one phrase as an example. This is taken from SN 12.51, with Ven Bodhi's translation. I am choosing this not because it deserves criticism, but because it is the best available.
Apuññañce saṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharoti, apuññūpagaṃ hoti viññāṇaṃ.

if he generates a demeritorious volitional formation, consciousness fares on to the demeritorious.
This is in the context of dependent origination. Let's analyze the Pali as translated by Ven Bodhi, then I will propose a "simple" version.

Here is a discussion of the substantive terms.

apuñña: rendered as 'demeritorious". But puñña is a common everyday word in Pali, while demeritorious not so much. We do get "demerit points" for speeding, so it's not totally obscure. However auto-analysis suggests that only some English speakers will likely know this word. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/demeritorious Moreover, the examples for usage of the term on wordnik https://www.wordnik.com/words/demeritorious are from a Hindu book, a book on 18th century Scottish philosophy, and the Summa Theologica. So we've turned an everyday word into something obscure, and for what? Do we actually gain anything from this? I think not.

saṅkhāra: Another important everyday word, this has a variety of nuances and should be translated in a variety of ways. Here it means essentially "intention, moral choice". Notice a couple of things about Ven Bodhi's rendering. He translates what is essentially the same word in two totally different ways in the same sentence, using "generates" and "volitional formations". The two words are, it is true, distinguished by the prefix abhi-, but that hardly does anything. Basically we have the verb and noun form of the same word, a common construction in Pali (and it is not uncommon for Ven Bodhi to translate such constructions in this way). "Generates" is a fine rendering, "volitional formations" not so much. It is pure Buddhist Hybrid English; google the exact phrase and only Buddhist references come up. This might be acceptable if it were an idea unique to Buddhism, but it isn't. It just means "moral choices or intentions", and is a basic concept in any language. The use of "formations" is intended to tie this onto other renderings of saṅkhāra used in other contexts. But it does that job very badly, sacrificing readability for an obscure terminological consistency. This is a holdover from the translation project of Ven Nyanamoli, which heavily influenced the basis of Ven Bodhi's style. In my opinion, saṅkhāra simply doesn't mean "formation", whatever this is supposed to mean anyway. Ven Bodhi has changed this to "activity" in the Anguttara (a rendering I used previously, and urged him to adopt), however "volitional activities" is not much more comprehensible.

-upaga: Rendered as "fares on to", and combined with "the demeritorious". Once again this is an alien, unidiomatic, and highly formal way of rendering a simple concept. It needs a slightly more idiomatic approach.

viññāṅa: I'm not entirely happy with this rendering, and have experimented with "cognition" before; perhaps "awareness" would be best. But I am not ready to change it yet.

There is a further rendering problem, one that is more stylistic. The sentence begins by mentioning a purisapuggala, rendered as a "person". Fair enough; but we notice that purisa means specifically male; and the nouns are likewise masculine. Yet there is, of course, nothing exclusively male about the passage, and this is just the normal way that Pali defaults to the masculine gender. This is a purely grammatical convention; and the relevant grammatical convention in modern English is to use gender-neutral language as far as is possible. There is no one right way to do this. You could use "one", but that is distancing and formal. You could use "they", which is normal in spoken English, and quite acceptable in written; http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words ... ersus-they also "you" is common in such constructs, and more engaging. I'll pick "they", remembering that the passage has already spoken of "a person", so there will be no confusion in the number.

So I'd suggest translating like this:
If they make a bad choice, consciousness goes to a bad place.
This is, I hope you agree, much more comprehensible. It means the actual thing it says, in language that might be used by an actual English speaker. It is no less precise than Ven Bodhi's rendering, using a syntax that mirrors the Pali exactly. In fact, it sticks closer to the Pali in using common renderings of common words, and also in not using a phrase to render a word.

The rendering "a bad place" is meant to take account of the fact that what is spoken of here is the process of rebirth: bad kamma leads to a bad rebirth.

It loses, perhaps, some cross-context consistency in that saṅkhāra would be rendered differently elsewhere, but we have already seen that this aim is not really achievable, even within the confines of a single phrase. The terminological consistency project is, in the final analysis, only useful for people who want to learn Pali. For someone who is simply reading the texts it is irrelevant, even potentially misleading.

When you read a passage that forces language into such constructions as "volitional formations", it conveys a sense that there is a rigorous terminological consistency, an important matter for which readability must have been sacrificed. Yet the reality is that terms have different meanings in different contexts, and the spectrum of these meanings does not map in any simple way across languages. If you want to point out that the word used here is the same word used with a different meaning in, say, aniccā vata saṅkhārā ("all conditions are impermanent"), then point it out. But you don't need to know this to understand what the passage means.

Ven Bodhi has, in the Anguttara, already severed the connection between these two meanings, since saṅkhāra in this sense is rendered as "conditioned phenomena" whereas in Dependent Origination he uses "volitional activities".

At the end of the day you can only be partially consistent, as we have seen, so it is arguably less misleading to render in a more idiomatic form that doesn't subconsciously try to persuade the reader that the text literally renders the Pali. Better, in my opinion, to translate idiomatically, and use the possibilities of a digital text to enable an interested the reader to easily see what the actual Pali used is.

Anyway, there are many more considerations, and things obviously get more complex when you are rendering large bodies of text. But hopefully this conveys something of the approach I am using.
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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by Zom » Sun Apr 19, 2015 11:11 am

18 months - impossible to translate all 4 nikayas even if to work on it 10 hours a day or more -)
But I really hope Ven. Sujato will manage to make at least full Digha translation.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Apr 19, 2015 11:27 am

It is very ambitious, but he seems to be hoping that clever use of computer software will ease a lot of the drudgery. I presume that there will be a lot smarter use of software and the elimination of cut and paste to deal with repetition. For example, repetitions from all over the Nikayas could be very simply automatically flagged and only need translation in one place. With a little more work, near-repetitions could be dealt with much faster than cutting and pasting. I'm not sure if this would give the gain required, but it's an interesting project...

I encouraged him to have a go at the early KN texts as well, since those seem to get wheeled out quite a lot in support of various interpretative theories, and having a translation consistent with the first four Nikayas would be very helpful.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by alan » Sun Apr 19, 2015 1:22 pm

BB's translations often strike me as stiff and overly conventional. That's why I read his books in tandem with Thanissaro's, which are flowing and poetic.
Would be happy to read another version, and hope he focuses on getting it right, rather than completing what seems like a multi-year task in only 18 months.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by Zom » Sun Apr 19, 2015 1:57 pm

I encouraged him to have a go at the early KN texts as well, since those seem to get wheeled out quite a lot in support of various interpretative theories, and having a translation consistent with the first four Nikayas would be very helpful.

Ye, would be nice as well.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by Bakmoon » Sun Apr 19, 2015 2:44 pm

This is wonderful news. I have been a big fan of Ajahn Sujato's Sutta talks and he always has very helpful and illuminating things to say about the precise connotations of the original Pali, so having him translate the main Nikayas into English will be very insightful.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by pulga » Sun Apr 19, 2015 3:48 pm

Sujato wrote:
Thanks for posting this, and allow me to explain in a little detail. Essentially my idea is to make it as simple as possible, but no simpler. Simplicity itself is not an aim; removing unnecessary obstacles to understanding is....
All translations seem to end in interpretation. I can understand why Ven. Bodhi makes such an effort in teaching others Pali.

One of the great merits of the project is the offering of the Pali along with the English translation, just to make it clear how the texts are being interpreted.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Apr 19, 2015 9:15 pm

alan wrote:BB's translations often strike me as stiff and overly conventional. That's why I read his books in tandem with Thanissaro's, which are flowing and poetic.
Would be happy to read another version, and hope he focuses on getting it right, rather than completing what seems like a multi-year task in only 18 months.
Yes, it would be nice to have a different take, especially one the encomasses all of the Nikayas.

It's interesting how different writers strike different people. Personally I'm not a fan of Ven Thanissaro's English style. It's clearly a matter of taste and background...

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by Bakmoon » Sun Apr 19, 2015 10:07 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
alan wrote:BB's translations often strike me as stiff and overly conventional. That's why I read his books in tandem with Thanissaro's, which are flowing and poetic.
Would be happy to read another version, and hope he focuses on getting it right, rather than completing what seems like a multi-year task in only 18 months.
Yes, it would be nice to have a different take, especially one the encomasses all of the Nikayas.

It's interesting how different writers strike different people. Personally I'm not a fan of Ven Thanissaro's English style. It's clearly a matter of taste and background...

:anjali:
Mike
Luckily having the whole thing on Sutta Central Ajahn Sujato can simply continuously update and correct his translations, so it's more like a draft translation coming out rather than a finished book. Perhaps we should think of it as a beta version when it comes out.

That's a good point about Ven. Thanissaro's translations. I'm a major fan of his writings and interpretations but sometimes the translations are just idiosyncratic. Whenever I get to his translation of MN 111 where it says "...[H]e ferreted them out one after another." this comes to mind:
Image
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by mikenz66 » Fri May 01, 2015 11:05 pm

Heres some discussion by Ven Sujato about translation tools:
http://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/wis ... taal/329/4
Some of the files he's produced and posted there are interesting...

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by mikenz66 » Sun May 03, 2015 5:50 am

Here is a sample translation of the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta:
http://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/dra ... acakka/439

Interested members may like to give some feedback.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by alan » Sun May 03, 2015 12:19 pm

Read through both, still prefer Thanissaro's style. I find words that have a poetic feel can elevate the mood and create a more fertile ground for contemplation.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by alan » Sun May 03, 2015 12:42 pm

For example, "pointless" isn't a word I'd choose when describing the drawbacks of sensual pleasures--the average reader will probably rebel against that. By saying instead "unprofitable", however, the feeling is communicated clearly.
Also, the stock phrase for awakening in the new translation may seem trite and obvious to our reader, new to the suttas. She might just dismiss it. Thanissaro's has more heft: it invites you to ponder. "Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation". That phrase may open some eyes, and get people thinking.

I could give more but let's turn it over to others and see how they respond.

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Re: New Translation Project from Sutta Central

Post by soapy3 » Sun May 03, 2015 2:06 pm

alan wrote:Read through both, still prefer Thanissaro's style. I find words that have a poetic feel can elevate the mood and create a more fertile ground for contemplation.
I find Thanissaro Bhikkhu's style to be dry, depressing, and puritanical in feel. No disrespect to you or him. My comment is about his style of writing only.

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