Monday, September 28, 2015

Alfred the Great

Before the year 1066, Britain was occupied by several kingdoms which I know very little about. King Alfred the Great ruled Wessex from 871-899, and in addition to expanding military and political power, he pushed education initiatives to get more people reading and writing English.

Part of this education program was the translation of Latin texts into English. King Alfred personally translated a text called Pastoral Care, and explains his process in a preface, quoted here:

"Ɵa boc wendan on Englisc Ɵe is genemned on Læden Pastoralis, ond on English Hierdeboc, hwilum word be worde, hwilum andgit of andgiete"

That is, "to translate into English the book which is named in Latin Pastoralis and in English Shepherdbook, sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense."

The word-for-word, sense-for-sense part is apparently a quote from Jerome, the saint who translated the Bible into Latin. As a method for translation, it sounds like a good idea, but I'm sure is much easier said than done. Even beyond deciding when things should be literal and when they should be sense-for-sense, I would guess that translating a sense is much more difficult than translating a word.

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