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Errors in Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) translations

Errors in Murty Classical Library of India MCLI  translations

This is a post which will be expanded as people review the 9 volumes translated so far by the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) whose General Editor is Sheldon Pollock.

The error reproduced below is in the form of a review on the Goodreads site.

Siddhartha, a reader of the translated version of the Manucharitra (Telugu) by Allasani Peddana had this to say about the translation. The translated version is named The Story of Manu. The translation has been done by Velchuru Narayana Rao and David Dean Shulman for the MCLI. General Editor of MCLI is Sheldon Pollock.

A background first. Unlike classical languages in Europe, Classical Languages in India are very much alive in both conversational and literary sense. The language Telugu, from which this work was translated here, is the native tongue of more than 100 million people, including yours truly.

I learn't the language as my first language in school and a few Padya's (the numbered verse like thing in the book, for there is no native English equivalent for a Telugu Padya. Verse does not even come close.) in school and remember them by heart even now. The lyrical beauty of them is untranslatable sometimes so i would not mention it.

I am unhappy with how so many phrases were left out of translation. But even that is not my biggest disappointment with this book, it is the number of mistranslated phrases, which, considering one of the translators being a native speaker of Telugu is inexcusable.

A good translation does not merely use a bilingual dictionary and put together the meaning in the native language. We do not need human translators to do that today. A good translation puts the reader in the shoes of the original reader and imparts him the social, cultural and historical background to relate to what they are reading. This translation sadly fails to do that. It simply makes things easy for its target readers, and in the effort, makes it clear that it is intended for non-Indian native English readers.

A few jarring examples, i recall immediately are:

God Brahma is translated as 'the Supreme Lord' or 'the God creator', which at best is an approximation and simply does not convey what the author had in mind. In another phrase, 'Konda Chiluva' is translated as 'Boa Constrictor'. For the uninitiated, There were never any Boa's in India, so please read it as Python.

A verse 'Ghora Vana Pradesa' is translated as 'God Forsaken Place'. Sorry, this is junk. There is no such concept as 'God Forsaken' in Indian culture. The phrase literally translates to 'A dark and deep forest'.

This translation might serve as a good introduction if you are new to Telugu, but if you have some background, it will be a letdown somewhat.

Author: Naveen Chandra

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