Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Interesting Thing About Translation – Part II

Continuing from the last post on the difference between normal translation and that accomplished by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon—the difference, though seemingly lost on the theorists make all the difference in the world in understanding the translation and accuracy of the Book of Mormon.
    As mentioned in the last post, the theorists look at the Book of Mormon, which uses only one word for large bodies of water–“sea.” Other than the figurative lakes of fire and brimstone, we don’t read of “lakes,” “ponds,” “oceans,” “pools,” etc. 
    Some LDS scholars have suggested that–in at least some instances–the “seas” of the Book of Mormon may have been large lakes or other bodies of water (like the Dead Sea). The Bible uses not only “sea” but unlike the Book of Mormon it also uses “pond,” “pool,” and “lake.” In the D&C we find “sea,” “ocean,” and “pool.”
    Other than wheat, barley, and corn, and the generic term “tree” we find few plants in the Book of Mormon text. In contrast, the Bible mentions the poplar, pine, pomegranate, palm, almond, fig, gopher, chestnut, and olive.  Of the animals listed in the New World portions of the Book of Mormon, thirteen are physical creatures, whereas the remaining animals are figurative and may have been borrowed from Joseph’s vernacular to express common ideas. Two of the thirteen physical creatures are cumoms and cureloms from Jaredite times (for which we have no Nephite or modern translation). Of the eleven remaining physical creatures we find cow, ox, ass, horse, goat, wild goat, dog, sheep, swine, serpents, and elephant.

While “fowl” are said to exist in Book of Mormon lands, (the Jaredites set snares for fowls), no specific bird (nor even the word “bird”) is ever mentioned other than figuratively. However, in the Bible we find the same animals as listed in the Book of Mormon (with the exception of the “elephant”) along with the lion, bear, ape, ostrich, hare, bat, badger, greyhound, ram, ferret, lizard, chameleon, snail, mole, spider, stork, mouse, weasel, tortoise, vulture, frog, crow, camel, and many more
(Another interjectory note: The 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language states that a “fowl” is “The generic name of certain animals that move through the air by the aid of wings. Fowls have two feet, are covered with feathers, and have wings for flight. Bird is a young fowl, and may well be applied to the smaller species of fowls. It is used as a collective noun “fish and fowl.”)
    In the Bible, however, we read not only of birds and fowls but we find the hawk, dove, quail, owl, pigeon, partridge, swan, swallow, and crane. It quickly becomes apparent that reformed Egyptian had a small vocabulary. What does one do with a small vocabulary when there is a need to include a variety of new and unfamiliar items? The solution is to expand the definition of existing words.
    When translators run into the problem of untranslatable words, they resolve the issue by way of several options–such as adaptation, paraphrasing, borrowing, and more. The same thing happens when people find it necessary to label new and unfamiliar items–what is known as cross-cultural onomastica (onomastica refers to the names we assign to people, animals, or things). Anthropologists and linguists tell us that when a society encounters foreign floral and fauna, they often “loan-shift” words–they expand familiar terms to include unfamiliar items. Loan-shifting can also happen during the translation of one language to another. Two languages need not resemble each other phonetically in order for loan-shifting to occur. Instead of creating entirely new words for unfamiliar things, sometimes people tend to “translate” new things into their own language by expanding their current words to include the new item.
(Another interjectory note: To keep Joseph Smith from doing this, no doubt, three things were involved that do not exist in normal translation: 1) Urim and Thumim, 2) Seer Stone, and most importantly, 3) the Spirit acknowledging correctness)

Left: The American Buffalo; Right: (Bovidae Bison) The Bison; the bison is considered to be one of the largest types of cow in the world
   This problem is not limited to ancient societies. The American “buffalo,” for example, is actually a bison and is only distantly related to the water buffalo and African buffalo (the two true buffalos). What most Americans call a “moose” is actually an elk, “elk” are actually red deer, and “antelope” are not real antelopes.
(Interjectory note: This would be important if one were making a zoological record; however, when the translation into English uses common English known words, this technical understanding has little value or purpose)
Loan-shifting has occurred throughout history. When the Greeks first encountered a large unfamiliar animal in the Nile, for example, they named it hippopotamus or “river horse.” Likewise, when the conquistadors arrived in the New World both the natives and the Spaniards had problems classifying new animals. 

Central and South American Catamundi (coatimundi) or coati, is a member of the raccoon family, is active both day and night and an agile tree climber. The species Nasua narica is native to Southwest U.S.
When the Spaniards encountered the coatamundi they described the animal as active, as large as a small dog, but with a snout like a pig. One common Spanish name for this animal was tejon, but tejon is also the Spanish name for the badger as well as the raccoon. The Aztecs called it pisote, which means glutton, but the same term is also applied to peccaries or wild pigs.
(Interjectory note: notice they “described” the animals, they did not try to claim they sere a “dog,” or a “pig.” People are smart enough to know that animals, though they might resemble another animal, are not that animal when it is a different species or type)
    When the Maya saw the European goat they called it a “short-horned deer” and when the Miami Indians, who were familiar with cows, first encountered the unfamiliar buffalo they simply called them “wild cows.” Likewise the explorer DeSoto called the buffalo “vaca” which is Spanish for “cow.” The Delaware Indians named the cow “deer,” and a group of Miami Indians labeled the unfamiliar sheep “looks-like-a-cow.”
(Interjectory note: The word vaca, is from the Latin vacca, meaning cow in the Iberian language (Castilian, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Navarro-Aragon). It is also a type of black and white cow, and is sometimes used for “beef” and “meat.”)
    The reintroduced Spanish horse was unfamiliar to the Native Americans and so it became associated with either the deer or the tapir.
When Cortes and his horses arrived,, the Aztecs simply called the unfamiliar horses “deer.” One Aztec messenger reported to Montezuma: “Their deer carry them on their backs wherever they wish to go. These deer, our lord, are as tall as the roof of a house.” As McGuire explains, When the Aztecs encountered horses and called them “deer”, they didn’t suddenly lose all cognitive sense of the past meaning of the word “deer”–they simply expanded the meaning of that word in their vocabulary to include this new meaning as well as the old ones.
The Spaniards likewise expanded the definition of some of their animal categories. They called the native tapir an “ass,” and some of the Maya called the European horses and donkeys “tapirs” because, at least according to one observer, they looked so similar.

Two photos, adjusted for size differential, show the tapir (left) and the horse (right) that look absolutely nothing alike. It is one thing to consider that a limited vocabulary might result in loan-shifting, that it trying to find something to call an unknown animal, but something else entirely when trying to make a visual comparison
In fact, a tapir and a swine (pig) looks far more alike than a tapir and a horse; and the tapir more resembles the boar and wolf more than it does a horse
Tapirs are often confused with Anteaters by people who see them for the first time
(See the next post, “An Interesting Thing About Translation – Part III,” for a better understanding between normal translation and that accomplished by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon—the difference, though seemingly lost on the theorists make all the difference in the world in understanding the translation and accuracy of the Book of Mormon)

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