Painfully Literal

I find interesting a perennial problem among even those students who most acclaim the shift in translation of official liturgical texts toward a more stringent literalism: the strong preference, or rather the almost insuperable urge, to produce “dynamically equivalent” translations of texts for class assignments. I cannot really fault them; once you begin to get the vocabulary, it is very tempting to scrabble for the word for word meanings and then leap to the apparent safety of a sentence that sounds intuitively probable. 

The problem, of course, is that this approach, is fundamental: even when it is more successful than not in a classroom setting with a patient instructor setting the course, the nitty-gritty of the Latin mechanics — case and number for the nouns and adjectives; mood, tense, voice, person, et cetera for the verbs — are never grappled with, and so never get a chance to make sense, to mean anything for the student. The only way to grasp Latin is to get down in the mud with it, grab it by the tongue, and make it show you exactly what it is doing with each and every word, and why. This is why I try to stay literal as long as I possibly can, and sometimes even longer.

I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that, when confronted with the Latin text of can. 921, §3

Perdurante mortis periculo, commendatur ut sacra communio pluries, distinctis diebus, administretur.

to render it into English as

Danger of death perduring, it is recommended that holy communion be administered often, [but] separated by days.

is to offer a demonstrably non-idiomatic translation. But is it accurate? I certainly think so; perhaps no more so than the official CLSA translation of

While the danger of death lasts, it is recommended that holy communion be administered often, but on separate days.

but I think it no less so either. The complement of time in the ablative (distinctis diebus) comes off a bit obscure, because the Latin there is itself idiomatic; some compromise probably needs to be made for greater English clarity. But I do believe it extremely difficult to offer any supposed synonym that captures all of what perdurare means in English better than, well, the word itself.

Words are words, and every translation, no mater how expert (or not) is a interpretation, a creative composition which is either more or less faithful to the sense of the original, but never absolutely completely so. But especially in our grappling with legislative texts, the very sort of texts Latin is so innately suited for, I will always prefer to take it word by painful word.

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