Gleanings from a Hebrew→English Translator’s Notes (1): On the Indefinite Article / with an intro, “ah, serendipitty! …”


ah, serendipitty! Looking through the files&folders directory on my hard disk that Jonathan rescued for me, bless him, i realized i have some other gleanings to do beside my collatings of memorings. So here’s the first of these… oh, & in the title pic I just made I added an additional [in fact the basic] meaning of the Hebrew word bayit – house; & this ambiguity too is interesting: in Hebrew the Temple is called the Bayit, the “House” (& the First Temple and Second Temple are called Bayit Rishon and Bayit Sheni, & present-day fomenters are planning a “Third Temple”, Bayit Shlishi). Not that my original translation was wrong, but it was inadequate: for most Hebrew readers the last words of Yehuda Amihai ’s wise & moving poem will be read first of all as “the House that was destroyed”, but for some the simpler meaning with its more comprehensive range will seep in as well. & i must add that I wasn’t expecting to write all this when I added ‘or simply: the house – & having written that, I realize I should add that bayit also means ‘home’ (you couldn’t translate into Hebrew the truth that “a house is not a home”), and that the country the Zionists have expropriated is also called the bayit [home] of the “Jewish people”, so that too is a meaning of this word in Amihai’s “the bayit that was destroyed”…

So here’s the first gleaning:

a blessing and a curse
a shame and a disgrace
a majority and a minority (or several minorities)
a history and a geography
a vision and a way
a hegemony and a plurality

it is most difficult to explain the uses of the indefinite article, especially when used with “abstract nouns”, to people who do not use indefinite articles as part of their everyday speaking and thinking.

blessing and curse are words for alternative options, but any particular event can be interpreted as both a blessing and a curse, or as a blessing or a curse, and in English you could not say this without using the indefinite article; in Hebrew you can only say
ברכה וכללה to refer to either a particular case or a philosophical opposition…

shame and disgrace are almost synonyms, and can be discussed generally as emotions or consequences of certain acts, but in any particular case one will say not that
”this is shame and disgrace”, but “this is a shame and a disgrace”.
again, in Hebrew you will say בושה וחרפה for both options.

history and geography are general ideas; you can study history and/or geography, but any particular place/time will have a history or even many histories) and a geography

there is vision (a faculty, sight, or the capacity to envisage a future) and there are visions, but when someone has a particular vision, we will speak of a vision; the word way cannot be used in a way that makes sense without either an article (indefinite or definite) or some other word before it as in “make way” (which in any case is short for “make a way”. Ben-Gurion. wrote a book called חזון ודרך, a title that I found on the Internet has been translated in 2 different ways, one Vision and Way, by someone who obviously doesn’t have the understanding I’m talking about here, because the book is not about vision, but about a vision that Ben-Gurion is propounding, or about “way”, which by itself makes no sense at all; the correct translation, which I also found there, is: A Vision and a Way.

so, as seen in all the examples above, when referring to a particular case, or using “abstract nouns” to present descriptions, be they alternative or synonymous or simply accumulative, we need to use the indefinite article. After (and only after) using it to describe a situation we can then particularize it further, using the definite article “the blessing was that x happened; the curse was that y happened”; “the history of X is complex, and the geography is very varied”.


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