Read: 8-3-99 Translation


TRANSLATIONS


M E M O R A N D U M


TO: Universal House of Justice                        

DATE: 3 August 1999 

FROM: Research Department


Compilations on Translation

The Research Department has studied the request from Mr. xxx in his email message of 17 April 1999 to the Baha'i World Centre. He states that, in discussions with Baha'is both in person and on the Internet, he has noticed "a wide variety of views on the nature of translations of the Writings, including such issues as whether the Guardian's English translations incorporate infallible interpretations and the status of provisional translations". He asks for a compilation, preferably in electronic format, of statements from the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice on the subject of translating the Writings. The following is our response.


As Mr. xxx is doubtless well aware, the subject of translation of the Holy Writings is a very complex one. From time to time the Research Department has prepared a compilation in response to particular questions or concerns of individuals and institutions but there is, at present, no one compilation that covers all aspects of the translation process and the policies and procedures relating to it.


The Translations of Shoghi Effendi

Regarding the Guardian's English translations, we have attached a compilation prepared earlier entitled "Selected Extracts from Letters written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi and by or on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice on Translation". These extracts make frequent reference to principles which infused Shoghi Effendi's translations. Regarding whether his translations are "infallible", it seems to us that this issue is addressed in extract (2) of the compilation and in the following statements from letters to individuals written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, respectively:


Concerning the different translations of the Words: It is surely the original text that should never be changed. The translations will continue to vary as more and better translations are made. Shoghi Effendi does not consider even his own translations as final, how much more translations made in the early days of the Cause in the West when no competent translators existed. (14 August 1930)


As regards English, the beloved Guardian's translations are obviously the most authentic and should be used. If for some particular reason, a Baha'i author, when quoting a passage of the Sacred Text which has been rendered into English by the Guardian, wishes to use a translation other than that made by the beloved Guardian, his request may be referred to the Universal House of Justice. Passages from the Sacred Text not translated by Shoghi Effendi, but already in English and published with approval, may be used. If an author wishes to make his own translation of a passage not already translated by Shoghi Effendi, the new translation may be submitted to the Universal House of Justice for approval. (3 November 1996)


Status of Provisional Translations

The Research Department is not aware of any compilations on the subject of provisional translations. However, this subject has been under study by the Universal House of Justice, and some new policies have recently been announced. We have attached a copy of Appendix II: "Policies Governing Authorized and Provisional Translations of the Baha'i Holy Writings into English and their Publication", 4 July 1999.


Attachments 2



Selected Extracts from Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi and by or on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice on Translation


From a Letter Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi

He is interested in accomplishing two things—he would like in the European languages to have as much uniformity with the English translations as possible; he does not wish the Baha'i translations to be in any way a flagrant violation of the rules of the language into which our literature is being translated.


Your Committee must conscientiously study this question, and then do the best you can to have the Baha'i literature in French meet the high standards of the French language and grammar.

(15 February 1957 

to the National Translation and Publication Committee of France) (1)


From Letters Written By or on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice

The matter of translation is a major problem. As you yourself know only too well, to convey exactly the meaning and flavour of a passage from one language to another is often impossible and one can but labour to approach as near as possible to the unattainable perfection. Even our Beloved Guardian, whose skill in this art amounted to genius, characterized his translation of the "Kitab-i-Iqan" as "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 Baha'i Revelation: and he expressed the hope "that it may assist others in their efforts to approach what must always be regarded as the unattainable goal—a befitting rendering of Baha'u'llah's matchless utterance."


The difficulty of translation increases when two languages express the thoughts and metaphors of widely differing cultures; thus, it is infinitely more difficult for a European to conceive the thought patterns expressed in Arabic or Persian than to understand a passage written in English. Moreover, the Beloved Guardian was not only a translator but the inspired Interpreter of the Holy Writings; thus, where a passage in Persian or Arabic could give rise to two different expressions in English he would know which one to convey. Similarly he would be much better equipped than an average translator to know which metaphor to employ in English to express a Persian metaphor which might be meaningless in literal translation.


Thus, in general, speakers of other European tongues will obtain a more accurate translation by following the Guardian's English translation than by attempting at this stage in Baha'i history to translate directly from the original.


This does not mean, however, that the translators should not also check their translations with the original texts if they are familiar with Persian or Arabic. There may be many instances where the exact meaning of the English text is unclear to them and this can be made evident by comparison with the original.

(From a letter dated 8 December 1964 

written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) (2)


A translation should of course be as true as possible to the original while being in the best possible style of the language into which it is being translated. However, you should realize that it will not be possible to translate the Tablets adequately into easy, modern Dutch. Many of the original Writings of Baha'i and 'Abdu'l-Baha are written in very exalted and poetic Persian and Arabic and therefore a similar flavour should be attempted in the language into which it is translated. You will see, for example, that in translating the Tablets of Baha'u'llah into English the beloved Guardian has created a very beautiful and poetic style in English using many words which might be considered archaic and are reminiscent of the English used by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible.


As you point out, a literal translation is often a bad one because it can produce a phraseology of imagery that would convey the wrong impression; thus, a translator is at times compelled to convey the meaning of the original by means of a form of words suited to the language. However, a person translating the Baha'i Writings must always bear in mind that he or she is dealing with the Word of God, and, when striving to convey the meaning of the original, he should exert his utmost to make his rendering both faithful and befitting.

(From a letter dated 29 October 1973 

written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) (3)


Those who are entrusted with the task of translating the Sacred Writings from the original into English should study the original very closely, and then attempt to express as accurately and as beautifully as possible in English that which the original conveys. To do this they frequently have to use various different synonyms in English to give the best translation of the same Arabic or Persian word when it appears in different contexts. Conversely, they may have to use the same English word in different contexts to translate various different words in the original. In doing this they attempt to follow the example set by Shoghi Effendi in his magnificent translations.

(From a letter dated 31 May 1981 

written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National

 Translation and Revision Committee of a National Spiritual Assembly) (4)


With regard to your question about the style of English used in the translation of Baha'i prayers, we are asked to point out that finding an adequate style in English for expressing beautifully the poetic, metaphorical and allusive style of many of the Baha'i Scriptures is not easy. The Persian and Arabic of the Baha'i Writings are themselves considerably different from the current styles and usages in those languages. Shoghi Effendi's solution of using a slightly archaic form of English, which is somewhat equivalent to the use in the original languages, makes possible the use of images and metaphors that might seem strange if expressed in modern English.


Furthermore, styles of writing are changing comparatively rapidly. If it were already found necessary to use a style different from that used for translations fifty years ago, one can estimate that a further change would be called for fifty years hence. One merely has to consider the large number of new translations of the Bible that have appeared, and are still appearing, and yet many English-speaking Christians prefer to continue using the Authorized Version in spite of its proven inaccuracies. Holy Scriptures have a profound meaning for their readers, and to change the familiar words too often can be gravely disturbing.


Books of Scripture themselves mould the language in which they are written. The House of Justice believes that if translators strive to render the words of the Bab, Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha into English in a way that reproduces as accurately as possible the meaning of the originals, that is as beautiful as possible, and that harmonizes closely with the style used by Shoghi Effendi, these Writings themselves will have a far-reaching effect on the ability of Baha'is, and especially Baha'i children and youth, to use the English language effectively for thought and for expression.

(From a letter dated 3 February 1988 

written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice

to an individual believer) (5)


Of course the most fundamental requirement for the attainment of a good translation is the availability of the translator who has not only a thorough understanding of the original language, but also is able to write in clear and beautiful French, so that he can re-express in French not only the true meaning of the original, but can clothe it in language which appropriately reproduces in the French idiom the beauty of style of the original. While a literal translation is almost inevitably a bad translation, the translator must guard against departing from or adding to the meaning of the original even though he may have to use a phrase to translate a word, or reduce a phrase in the original to one word in the French, or recast the order of a sentence, or replace a metaphor which would be meaningless if translated literally by an equivalent one which conveys the same meaning. In translating Shoghi Effendi's writings in particular, you may find that many of his long sentences, which are perfectly clear in English, are impossible in French and must be divided into shorter ones.


If there is no French-speaking Baha'i with the requisite command of both languages, or if such friends are over-burdened, you may most certainly employ non-Baha'i translators. Here, however, you may face another problem, that of the translator's understanding the Baha'i teachings which underlie the words. It would be essential for you to have such translations carefully checked by knowledgeable Baha'is, who can raise with the translator any passages which they feel convey the wrong meaning.


When you are having any of the Sacred Texts translated on the basis of authorized English translations, you should involve in the work one or more Baha'is who are fluent in French and are also familiar with the original Arabic or Persian. Thus, when the translator finds he is unable to grasp the exact meaning of the English words, his understanding can be illuminated by reference to the original texts.

(From a letter dated 2 December 1988 

written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to 

Maison d'Editions Baha'ies) (6)



POLICIES GOVERNING AUTHORIZED AND PROVISIONAL TRANSLATIONS OF THE BAHA'I HOLY WRITINGS INTO ENGLISH AND THEIR PUBLICATION


4 July 1999


The principal purpose of these policies is to extend the use of provisional translations to publications in books and pamphlets, provided that they are of adequate quality, without involving the delays which would be required to have them thoroughly reviewed, corrected and polished.


1. Tablets, or extracts therefrom, translated into English for use or publication by the Baha'i World Centre will continue to be reviewed by an ad hoc translation and review committee at the World Centre and designated as authorized translations.


2. Individual believers are free to translate into English any of the Holy Writings for their own use. Such translations may also be issued electronically, and may be published in circulars or journals without review by anyone other than the editors of the publications, but they must, in all cases, be clearly labeled as "provisional translations."


3. If such translations are to be included in books or pamphlets intended for publication by a Baha'i publisher, the Trust or private publisher involved should forward the manuscript to the Baha'i World Centre for clearance, together with copies of the Arabic or Persian texts used in the translation. If the publisher is not a Baha'i agency, the authors or translators themselves should forward the manuscript and the Arabic or Persian texts to the World Centre for consideration prior to the involvement of any non-Baha'i publisher. If the translations are found to be of a quality adequate for publication, the manuscript will be returned to the sender with a note to this effect. Such translations should be identified as "provisional translations". If the translations are found not to be of acceptable quality, they will be returned to the translator for reworking. This procedure does not replace the normal review process for the book as a whole, which remains the responsibility of the National Spiritual Assembly within whose area of jurisdiction the book or pamphlet is to be published.


—•—


June 30,1999 

Transmitted electronically


To the National Spiritual Assemblies of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, the Fiji Islands, Germany, Hong Kong, India,Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Dear Baha'i Friends,


English Translations of Baha'i Writings and Their Publication


The Universal House of Justice has recently had opportunity to review the procedures related to the translation of Baha'i Writings into English,whether involving whole works or extracts. We have been asked to share with you the following conclusions, which may relate to your publishing programs or to those of other Baha'i publishers within your jurisdiction.


As in the past, certain Tablets or extracts translated into English for use or publication by the Baha'i World Centre or other publishers will continue to be reviewed and approved in the Holy Land and designated as"authorized translations".


However, because of the increasing need for translation of specific material, particularly in relation to growing scholarly interest in the Faith and its various Teachings, favorable consideration has been given to allowing wider use of provisional translations. Individual believers, of course, remain free to translate into English any of the Holy Writings for their own use. Such translations may also be published in circulars and journals without review other than by the editors of such publications. They may also be shared electronically. In all such cases they should be clearly identified as 'provisional translations'.


The House of Justice has now established a mechanism which will allow for inclusion in books and pamphlets of provisional translations which are of sufficiently good quality for wide distribution. Arrangements have been made for such translations to be checked at the World Centre. When these items are to be included in works intended for publication by a Baha'i publisher, the trust or publisher involved should forward them here for the necessary clearance.


In the case of items to be included in works submitted to non-Baha'i publishers, the authors or translators themselves should forward the items here for consideration prior to the involvement of any non-Baha'i publishers. Publications containing such translations, once these have been cleared, should indicate that they are provisional translations.


The translations submitted for checking at the World Centre should include copies of the Arabic or Persian texts used by the translator(s). The items sent will be considered both from the point of view of the quality of the English rendering of the material and as to whether there are any major doubtful points with regard to the accuracy of the translation itself. Those which fall short on either of these counts will be returned to the sender with an explanation. For instance, the translations may need further refining or may contain mistakes of meaning, and, therefore,necessitate improvement before re-submission.


It remains the prerogative of the World Centre to decide on the timeliness and wisdom of publishing English translations of specific Tablets. Some may be identified as not suitable for publication at the present time.


The House of Justice is hopeful that this new arrangement will lead to the availability of a greater amount of translated material and avoid the present delays in approving fully authorized translations.

With loving Baha'i greetings,

Department of the Secretariat


cc: International Teaching Centre Boards of Counsellors Counsellors Baha'i Publishing Trusts George Ronald, Publisher Kalimat Press Oneworld Publications Palabra Publications Office of Persian Affairs, U.S.A.


—•—


THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

BAHA'I WORLD CENTRE 


Department of the Secretariat

16 September 1992


Dear Baha'i Friend,


The questions contained in your letter to ... about the language of Revelation and the status of Shoghi Effendi's translations were referred to the Universal House of Justice. We are instructed to convey the following response.


With respect to your inquiry about whether, in the Baha'i context, English might possibly be regarded as a language of Revelation, the House of Justice asks us to explain that, while Shoghi Effendi's translations of the Writings of Baha'u'llah into English carry with them a large measure of interpretation of the intent and purpose of the Author of the text—an interpretation which he, as Interpreter of the Sacred Text, could alone authoritatively provide—one should not conclude that the English language into which the Writings were translated could, therefore, be considered as a language of Revelation.


As to the special status of Shoghi Effendi's translations, the beloved Guardian in a letter dated 15 November 1956 written on his behalf specified that "this English translation" of a Text should form the "basis" for translations into other European languages. The Universal House of Justice, in a letter of 8 September 1964 underlined the uniqueness of the translations of Shoghi Effendi and provided the following elucidation:


...the beloved Guardian was not only a translator but the inspired Interpreter of the Holy Writings; thus, where a passage in Persian or Arabic could give rise to two different expressions in English he would know which one to convey. Similarly he would be much better equipped than an average translator to know which metaphor to employ in English to express a Persian metaphor which might be meaningless in literal translation.


Thus, in general, speakers of other European tongues will obtain a more accurate translation by following the Guardian's English translation than by attempting at this stage in Baha'i history to translate directly from the original.


This does not mean, however, that the translators should not also check their translation with the original texts if they are familiar with Persian or Arabic. There may be many instances where the exact meaning of the English text is unclear to them and this can be made evident by comparison with the original....


The Universal House of Justice has also clarified that while the English translations of the Guardian might serve as a useful resource, translations into Oriental languages such as Turkish and Urdu could be made directly from the original texts.


We are asked to assure you of the prayers of the Universal House of Justice for the confirmation of your services to the Cause of God.

With loving Baha'i greetings,

For Department of the Secretariat, ...


—•—


Concerning the different translations of the Words. It is surely the original text that should never be changed. The translations will continue to vary as more and better translations are made. Shoghi Effendi does not consider even his own translations as final, how much more translations made in the early days of the Cause in the West when no competent translators existed. 

(From a letter on behalf of the Guardian to 

John Hyde Dunn, 14 August 1930)

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