What makes a reliable translator/critical editor? An epistemological question

How can a PhD student be a reliable translator of a complex Sanskrit text? Or, even more difficult, how can she critically edit a text?

Vidyā Jayaraman discusses the issue at her blog, here. Among the many points she hints at, there are the following ones:

  1. How can we rely on a PhD student? Possible answer: We do not rely on her, we in fact rely on her supervisor (sad, perhaps, but true).
  2. How can we rely on someone who has no active knowledge of Sanskrit? Possible answer: Personally, I am very much in favour of spoken Sanskrit, but I also realise that different people may need different upāyas to be able to think along a text. Some seem to be perfectly fine with their work with written signs and need no active command of the language they study. This phenomenon is apparent in the case of lost languages, such as the ones encoded in cuneiform writing systems, and I am by no means ready to say that experts in cuneiform are not able to master the languages they study.
  3. How can we rely on someone who has no knowledge of the full wealth of Sanskrit? Possible answer (with a special focus on philosophical śāstra): Good question. One surely needs to be aware of the whole philosophical arena in order to translate or critically edit one perspective on it (in other words, in order to translate a Mīmāṃsā text, you must be almost a specialist also in Nyāya and so on). If, however, Vidyā thinks also of being familiar with non-philosophical texts, then, in fact, I identify very much with Vidyā’s target, since I hardly read any kāvya and I only read philosophical texts. This polemics has been dealt with already in the past (I remember for instance, in an article by Stephen Phillips) and I can only add that reading kāvya, etc. might enhance a lot one’s understanding of Sanskrit philosophy. But would not reading non-Sanskrit philosophy enhance one’s philosophical acumen and, thus one’s ability to understand also Sanskrit philosophy? Are not scholars of Indian philosophy expected to engage with thinkers who were first and foremost philosophers and only after that speakers or writers of Sanskrit? I might be wrong, and I would be happy to read your opinion about that.

What would be your answers? And your questions?

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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One thought on “What makes a reliable translator/critical editor? An epistemological question

  1. Elisa,

    Thanks for the response. On #3, yes it depends largely on who/what you are studying. If the text or the writer was versatile (in many cases) and has cross references in their own text across disciplines, then it is better that the person who studies such a text also has similar exposure to texts

    On #2, first, I would like to clarify that it is not the commonly-understood “conversational/spoken sanskrit” that I refer to here but the scholastic Sanskrit that has been more or less in continuous use both in written and oral form in specialized institutions, debates and discussions among many Pandits and scholars studying and teaching in certain institutions. The community may be smaller but it is a fact that this is an active community and this is not some kind of “revivalism”. Thus there is a huge difference between cuneiform scripts and this, primarily because of this continuity.