Can a simple mistranslation create an enduring legacy?
Despite ones religious inclinations, it is clear that Christianity has become a solid social construct across the world. However, Katharina Reiss notes that the bible story of the Virgin Birth and the Virgin Mary may have been borne from a case of semantic confusion during the original translation procedure.
In the Hebrew Scripture, the Old Testament talks about almah, or “young women”. However, 3rd century BC scholars translated the Hebrew almah as the Greek parthenos. Hence, the “young women” from the early scriptures became “virgins” in Greek, with this misinterpretation sticking in every translation across the world.
Hence, the notion of the “Virgin Birth” may have been derived from an inaccurate translation.
Translators need to understand and respect the source text. In the extreme case of the “Virgin Mary”, such an unnoticed error has formed a pillar of a prominent religion, while influencing part of our discursive debate.
Consequently, translators do hold a certain responsibility when attempting to accurately translate content. This process can require more than a deep linguistic knowledge, as the analysis, comprehension, and appreciation of a text is seminal to the suitable localisation of written copy.
The translator, therefore, must be more than an expert who transfers linguistic information into a target vernacular. He or she must take the original material designed for one specific culture, and appropriate it for another culture. Hence, the translator needs to understand the target culture, and alter the content to make it suitable for their consumption.
In effect, translators need to be responsible for not only creating an accurate translation, but also ensure that the original thought and meaning is also interpreted.