Re: Shoghi Effendi and Arabic

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Posted by Jonah Winters ( on March 04, 2002 at 20:54:54:

In Reply to: Shoghi Effendi and Arabic posted by Nick Stone on March 04, 2002 at 12:16:06:

I'd like to suggest Diana Malouf's book Unveiling the Hidden Words: Translation Norms used by Shoghi Effendi (George Ronald, 1997). You can probably find a copy in a library or a local Baha'i bookstore, or if you buy it it's cheap. It's excellent -- I first bought a copy when it was still just her Ph.D. dissertation, and I had to order it from Universal Microfilms, so I was happy to see it come out as a book.

Malouf examines Shoghi Effendi's translation style and techniques, including ways he would change the originals to make them make sense in English. She used the Hidden Words as a sample text to demonstrate these techniques, and presented excerpts from Shoghi Effendi's numerous, evolving translations of the Hidden Words to show how his translation techniques and ability grew and developed during his teens and 20s. She also presents the original Arabic in places, for contrast. It is an easy argument for non-Arabists to follow, and would be very useful for showing the non-linguists just how Shoghi Effendi translated, and what his competence to do so was.

I'd also observe that, long before Shoghi Effendi became the Guardian, he believed it would be his life's duty to translate his Grandfather's works. So he started study languages and translation in his early youth. His later translations, the ones that became published and widely distributed and are now in every Baha'i home, were the product of decades of training and practice. Indeed, sometimes his earliest translations weren't good! :-) Not only that, he understood that even these later, polished translations were but an approximation and not a "perfect" translation: in the opening of the Kitab-i-Iqan, he writes:

This is one more attempt to introduce to the West, in language however inadequate, this book of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the writings of the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation. The hope is that it may assist others in their efforts to approach what must always be regarded as the unattainable goal -- a befitting rendering of Bahá'u'lláh's matchless utterance.

The final answer, of course, is that you can never know how close to the originals Shoghi Effendi's translations were, unless you yourself learn Arabic and compare. Anything else would be someone else's opinion taken on faith...

Jonah Winters

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